holiday cake break: cranberry torte

Around the holidays, I like to have cake on hand at all times. Cookies are great, too, but it’s cake that really feels festive to me. I like admiring a pretty cake under a dome and I like serving slices of sweetness on Santa Claus plates. As much as I love sinking hours into an elaborate cake project like a Bûche de Noël, the cakes I enjoy most this time of year are the simplest ones. This cranberry torte has been a favorite of mine for a couple of years. It’s a breeze to make, it’s decked out with merry pops of red, and it’s a balanced, sweet-tart treat that feels appropriate at any time of day.

cranberry torte with santa

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sweet and simple pumpkin bread

Yesterday, my mom texted me to say that it was very fall-ish in Portland and that she accidentally-on-purpose bought a pumpkin loaf from New Seasons (a wonderland of a grocery store with an irresistible bakery). I wrote back to say that I had pumpkins on my front stoop, but it was hitting 90° in Springfield this week. Hardly fall-ish. But this morning on my walk, before the sun could crank up the temperature, I caught a faint scent of fallen leaves and noticed that the light was just slightly different than it was a couple of weeks ago. And suddenly I needed to get myself a pumpkin loaf, too.

sweet and simple pumpkin loaf

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ice cream cake for kids and kids at heart

I confess to having a soft spot for homemade ice cream cakes. I like them when they include literal cake or when they’re just ice cream in the shape of a cake. This fudgy, incredibly easy version falls somewhere in between those two poles. It features layers of graham crackers as the “cake” component. The crackers absorb some ice cream and soften a bit, giving the texture enough variety to make it interesting. This cake is currently at the top of my warm weather favorites and is perfect for Memorial Day weekend parties.

ice cream cake

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banana rum cake, and a daiquiri to match

Though this winter has been relatively mild, give or take a blizzard here or there, I still find myself at the annual point of being totally over it. Over the cold, over feeling like it’s dark all of the time, over hats and gloves and puffy coats. I’m hungry for lightness and brightness, and for that sunny optimistic springtime feeling. I know it’s right around the corner (please be kind, March), and in the meantime there are things we can do to make life feel a little brighter. If you’re looking to fight back against the end of winter blues, too, may I recommend this banana rum cake with brown butter frosting. And that you save at least a little of the rum to shake yourself up a banana daiquiri to wash it down.

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impress and indulge: chocolate lava cakes

A few years ago, Ed’s parents Martha and Terry came to D.C. for a late summer visit. Ed and I decided to spend a night cooking for them. The menu came together pretty quickly: parmesan-crusted chicken, green beans with vinaigrette, Pimm’s cups, and for dessert, I said I’d think about what to make. Ed said I should make a chocolate lava cake. I said I’d think about it, but maybe brownies would be easier. He said I should make a chocolate lava cake. I hedged again and kind of dodged it. I love lava cake, but finding the secret to the solid outside-molten center seemed like too much of a science experiment, especially because this was the first time we were cooking for his parents. Ed didn’t waiver. It was the only time—before or since—that he’d been adamant that I cook a particular thing. You sort of have to know Ed to understand that “adamant” for him means politely asking a couple of times in a row. It wasn’t an order, it wasn’t a demand, it wasn’t even a whine, it was simply an idea put forth with enough conviction that I knew he meant it. I still stammered around, mumbling about how I wasn’t sure how to make one and I needed a trusted recipe. And then fate sealed the deal. I’d just checked out Nigella Lawson’s How To Be A Domestic Goddess from the library and right there on page 179 was her recipe for Molten Chocolate Babycakes. 

molten lava cake 01

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more is more banana muffins

When I told Jessica that my next post was going to be about banana muffins, she excitedly responded that her next post was also about banana muffins. She said that maybe this should be Banana Muffin Week on butter poached. I loved that idea. What’s better than a banana muffin recipe? Two banana muffin recipes! One of the best things about banana muffins is how many unique, delicious ways they can come to the party. Based on the world’s overwhelming number of variations on banana breads, muffins, and cakes, I knew it was likely that we’d made two very different treats, and sure enough, we did. Here are the banana muffins that have been on my mind. Jessica will share hers later this week.

banana espresso chocolate chip muffin

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tendresse aux pommes

The name of this dessert is as poetic as its taste. Even the exact translation from french sounds lovely and inviting: “tenderness with apples.” The dessert itself is meant to be a humble bread pudding. More precisely, it’s an Alsatian beggar’s bread pudding (a “bettelman”) made with apples and day-old croissants.

The recipe and what I know about tendresse comes from Clotilde Dusoulier’s Clotilde’s Edible Adventures in Paris, a book I found absolutely indispensable the last time I went to Paris (which was in 2008, sadly). The book not only provides rock solid recommendations for where to eat, but also includes recipes from some of the featured destinations. I suppose the idea is to visit a place, fall in love with a dish, and be able to come home and make it. I did the reverse for this particular recipe. I remember reading the recipe and going to Du Pain et Des Idées specifically for the tendresse aux pommes. And a pistachio escargot (puff pastry rolled with pistachio cream). And a savory croissant. As I was writing this post, I couldn’t remember what kind of croissant I had, so I thumbed through my journal from that Paris trip and found the entry from my second to last day in the city, when I finally made it to the bakery:

All I can say is I’m glad I just discovered this place or even my roomy “travel” jeans wouldn’t fit. I got 3 things because what the heck: (1) tendresse aux pommes (apple bread pudding for which there is a recipe in Clotilde’s book) (2) an “escargot” – swirl pastry w/ pistachio cream and dark choc chips (lawd help me) and (3) a savory mini-pain w/ sesame, feta, & honey. Yes. All three were off the charts. Best I’ve had. The savory thing was such a perfect blend of crunchy and soft, I didn’t know such a wonder could be baked. The escargot was the best. Buttery, soft, yet flaky. Again – a miracle of pastry science. If I could complain, I would say the dark choc was a little overpowering – but that was only due to its high quality. The tendresse was delish also – especially the bites of apple and raisin. I vowed to return every day for the rest of the trip.

Thanks, Mom, for encouraging me to keep a journal when I went to Paris. Really just an old-fashioned food blog.

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