“You see, he was going for the Holy Grail. The boys all took a flier at the Holy Grail now and then. It was a several years’ cruise. They always put in the long absence snooping around, in the most conscientious way, though none of them had any idea where the Holy Grail really was, and I don’t think any of them actually expected to find it, or would have known what to do with it if he had run across it.”
― Mark Twain, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court
I love you also means I love you more than anyone loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that no one loves you, or has loved you, or will love you,
and also, I love you in a way that I love no one else, and never have loved anyone else,
and never will love anyone else.
“Here we are again!
Bless me, I believe I said that before—but after all you don’t want Christmas to be different each year, do you?”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, Letters from Father Christmas
Christmas for my family was different this year.
One (1) of my three (3) brothers couldn’t come to the East coast for Xmas.
We’re celebrating in the city, rather than upstate, which means an apartment and a baby tree rather than a big house with a fireplace.
And we have the cutest, most adorable mini addition to our family with my baby niece, Emilia.
I honestly can’t believe how perfectly cute she is.
Cannot get enough of her chub!
So although we didn’t have some of our traditions this year, we still had a lovely time together.
Gifts were opened, brunch was had (I made Belgian waffles, my mom made a delicious polenta dish, we all drank mimosas and coffee), and much cooing over the baby was done.
Now that I’m not a kid anymore, I am reminded each year that what I love most about Christmas is being with my family.
This year, I am especially reminded that home is where your family is.
So, about this cute little pastel Christmas cake.
Technically, everything except the reindeer’s ribbon scarf is edible. (No toothpicks used here, just uncooked spaghetti lol.)
The decorations are made of (non-gelatin) fondant that I added tylose powder to to make it more like gumpaste (firm and quick setting/drying).
Sculpting the reindeer took days, as I did each piece in turn.
I painted it with gold food coloring and used pink luster dust to add the blush.
The gingerbread house is made of a new recipe of gingerbread that I created, which has no eggs or water so that it doesn’t bubble and maintains its shape. It’s much more building-friendly, and although it doesn’t taste quite as good, it is still far more delicious than “construction” gingerbread.
Let me know if you want the recipe!
I stuck the gingerbread house together with melted white chocolate, and I will never use anything else! It is far more dependable than royal icing, because it sets quickly and, importantly, is just a little bit pliable when it sets—you can avoid things cracking and falling all apart because of a little push or drop here and there. It even survived a subway ride where it was rattling around in a tupperware a little.
A simple royal icing made the piped decorations, the snow on the trees, and the icicles.
My inspiration was the endlessly creative and cute Juniper Cakery, a bakery in the UK.
I hadn’t worked with fondant in so SO long, and while it’s not the tastiest thing in the world, it’s not entirely inedible, either. It also makes sculpting work so enjoyable and smooth.
For making something like a gingerbread house or a figurine that is unlikely to be eaten and isn’t integral to the cake, I really recommend it. You might be surprised as I was!
The cake itself is a soft-crumbed, lightly fragranced orange spice cake, redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and cloves, with orange and lemon zest.
It’s made using a reverse creaming method, meaning that you beat very soft butter into the dry ingredients, including the flour, before adding the wet. Bittersweet orange marmalade is spread between the layers to add an extra hit of citrus.
Finally, salted chocolate buttercream, made with unsweetened chocolate and extra cocoa powder to really amp up the chocolate flavor, enrobes the cake.
Orange, chocolate, and spice is a warming, cozy combination that evokes winter and Christmastime to me. If you’d rather leave out the citrus, a chocolate spice cake would also be delicious.
Merry Christmas, everyone! And to those who don’t celebrate this holiday, a peaceful and happy day.
Orange Spice and Chocolate Cake
makes 1 2×6-inch layer cake
for the orange spice cake:
1 egg yolk
150 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) yogurt, sour cream, or buttermilk
180 grams (1 1/2 cups) flour
200 grams (1 cup) sugar
1 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
zest of 1 orange
zest of 1 lemon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground anise
113 grams (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) butter, extremely soft
for the chocolate frosting:
175 grams (1 1/2 sticks, 12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon salt
50 grams unsweetened or bittersweet chocolate
340 grams (12 ounces, 2 1/2 cups) powdered sugar
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1-2 tablespoons cream or milk, only if needed
orange marmalade, if desired
Make the cake: grease and flour 2 6-inch pans.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk eggs, egg yolk, and buttermilk together.
Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, zest spices, and salt together.
Beat butter into the dry ingredients until it’s fully incorporated; mixture should be clumpy but there should be no large pieces of butter at all—aim for more of a paste, without overmixing.
Slowly stream in the wet ingredients while whisking.
Once fully incorporated, scrape the bowl and whisk another few times.
Portion evenly into the two prepared pans.
Bake for 18 minutes, or until a tester comes out with only a few moist crumbs.
Allow to cool completely.
Make the buttercream: whip butter on high until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
Meanwhile, gently melt the chocolate over low heat with a bain-marie or in a microwave, going in small bursts.
Add the salt, half the powdered sugar, and cocoa powder to the butter; whip until incorporated.
With the mixer running, slowly stream in the melted chocolate.
Once fully incorporated, add the other half of the powdered sugar a spoonful at a time.
If the frosting is too thick, add a tablespoon or two of milk (I didn’t have to do this) and whip to incorporate.
Level the cakes if they have domed and spread 2 tablespoons of orange marmalade over the bottom cake.
Crumb coat the cakes with the frosting, and refrigerate for at least 15 minutes, and up to 2 hours.
Frost the rest of the cake thickly; I had about 2 tablespoons of frosting leftover, so if you want to add decorative piping, frost the cake a little more sparingly.
Decorate with fondant if desired!
“Sometimes when I look at you, I feel I’m gazing at a distant star.
It’s dazzling, but the light is from tens of thousands of years ago.
Maybe the star doesn’t even exist anymore.
Yet sometimes that light seems more real to me than anything.”
—South of the Border, West of the Sun, Haruki Murakami
In the throes of warm happiness; or the bleak confines of sadness; or the boiling, poisonous depths of anger, it is hard to imagine a stronger emotion than that which has caught you, in that moment, in a tight, isolating embrace.
But increasingly, I find myself believing that nostalgia is the strongest emotion.
When you think about it, of course it is. This revelation is indeed not one at all, for no other emotion so fluidly combines each of your senses, as likely to be triggered by the scent and taste of a food or someone’s neck as the sight of a landmark or beauty mark, or a chilled wind or brush of familiar fingers or the soundtrack of a particular time of your life.
The empty melancholy of nostalgia makes my brain vibrate with a painfully pleasurable resonance. I can feel it mushrooming through my body, as my chest walls and throat constrict, as if I am hugging myself ever closer, ever tighter.
Wandering around the chilled campus of my alma mater for the first time since I gathered up all of my unknowns and heartbreaks and moved across the country, I felt that familiar emotion bubbling up aggressively, threatening to burst the tight seams that I have so much difficulty loosening.
I will admit to only a couple hot, confused tears borne of happiness and sadness.
Walking underneath the gates where we passed as first years, in our welcome ceremony, and then returned underneath to graduate into adulthood, I felt shivery and strange.
Always the students three years above seemed older, wiser, more ready. They left and I was temporarily sad, but the next year, life mostly just ticked onwards. It always felt far away.
In the end, I watched myself graduate into adulthood at essentially the same detached distance as I had all those who had gone before me, not because I wasn’t feeling intense emotions, but because it was simply a function of time passing, and naught can be done to stop that.
It happens whether you accept it willingly or not.
Still, the nostalgia I felt under Cobb Gate wracked me. My memories surprised me with their proximity. I yearned to be back in that time of my life, to be that person who I was when I first passed underneath the archway, or at least to be the person I was when I filed through for the last time.
I’m well past college at this point, emotionally and timewise.
Still, the nostalgia brought me back in an instant.
How lucky our species is, that possibly our keenest emotion is actually the dullest; the sharpest, clearest edges are smoothed by the blurriness of reminiscence.
I reckon perfect recollection would be a heavy burden indeed.
Instead, we sweep aside the boring and mundane entirely. We often view old flaming passions with bemusement. The trenches we trudged through seem much less deep and dark when looking backwards.
The gashes rent by grief, blessedly, are smoothed and filled in by fonder, treasured memories.
Even wild happiness is bridled in hindsight, as we shape it to fit what we know would come next; the magnitude of joy may stay the same, but there is little, if any, mystery or surprise to nostalgia.
Nostalgia is not an act of discovery. It is the opposite. It is an act of returning to a place—or a time, or a person—that feels like home.
RETROUVAILLES, subst. fém. plur. Fait, pour des personnes, de se revoir, en particulier après une longue séparation.
The cake I’m sharing today is unexpectedly nostalgic; a bit of a surprise twist on a classic.
The base swaps carrots for parsnips, imparting an extra earthy softness to the flavor; it’s rounded out with nubbly coconut and a hearty hit of warming spices. Miso caramel sauce, brought almost to the point of burning so that it retains a faint smokiness, is layered between the cake as well as mixed into the fluffy, creamy buttercream.
An extra pinch of salt here and there cuts the rich sweetness.
The frosting is swirled with extra caramel, and the cake is topped with the prettiest color-coordinated sprinkles.
Thanks so much to Wilton Cakes for providing me with materials used to make this cake!
Speaking of nostalgic, I’ve been using Wilton products since I started baking from scratch—I literally bought all of my starter items from the AC Moore in Ithaca (before it closed!). They had 2 1/2 aisles of Wilton products, and whenever my mom would go to pick up scrapbooking supplies or frames, I would wander over and daydream about making fondant flowers, baking armies of cupcakes, and using every cookie cutter ever invented.
Below are some links to products I used for this project, and how they can help you create beautiful baked goods more easily.
for the miso caramel frosting:
150 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
60 grams (1/4 cup) water
90 grams (1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) heavy cream
30 grams (2 tablespoons) butter
2 tablespoons white (shiro) miso
big pinch salt, to taste
225 grams (2 sticks, 16 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
650 grams (5 cups plus 3 tablespoons) powdered sugar, as needed
60-80 grams (1/4 – 1/3 cup) heavy cream, room temperature, as needed
big pinch salt, to taste
Make the cake: grease and flour 3 6-inch pans and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grate parsnips finely, using a cheese grater or a food processor with the shredding blade.
Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, spices, and salt together.
Stir sugar and canola oil together, then whisk in the eggs one at a time.
Gently stir in the shredded parsnips and coconut, being sure to break up any large clumps.
Add the dry ingredients over the wet, and gently fold in, stirring firmly once or twice at the end to ensure homogeneity.
Portion out the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 25-35 minutes, or until a tester comes out with a few moist crumbs and the cakes are golden and the tops springy to the touch.
Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack and cooling completely.
Make the caramel for the frosting: place sugar and water in a small pot over medium heat.
Cook the caramel until it reaches an amber color; immediately remove it from the heat and whisk in the heavy cream and butter.
Whisk vigorously until the mixture is homogeneous, then pour into a bowl and add the miso and a pinch of salt; whisk again until the miso has broken up and incorporated.
Allow to cool completely, then add salt to taste if needed.
Make the frosting: whip softened butter for at least 3 minutes, until light in color and fluffy and smooth.
Add 1/4 cup of the miso frosting and start mixing on low speed.
Add in 1/4 cup of the powdered sugar at a time, stopping regularly to scrape the sides of the bowl.
Once 4 cups of the sugar have been incorporated, add 1/4 cup of heavy cream one tablespoon at a time.
Scrape the sides of the bowl and whip on high for 30 seconds to ensure homogeneity.
Add the remaining amount of powdered sugar if the frosting is too thin; add an additional few tablespoons of heavy cream is the frosting is too thick.
Place 1/3 cup frosting on the first cake round; drizzle on about 2 tablespoons of caramel.
Repeat with the next round, then crumb coat the whole cake.
Frost the cake thickly, placing dots of caramel randomly around the cake to swirl into the frosting as you smooth the outside.
Pipe decorations on top as desired, then decorate with Wilton sprinkles!
Disclaimer: I was provided with a product in this post for free, in exchange for my honest and fair review. All opinions are my own. Bisous!
“There is no exquisite beauty… without some strangeness in the proportion.”
― Edgar Allan Poe
The days are cool and bed is extra cozy.
Finally, even New York City is bearable.
It’s time to embrace pumpkin everything, Beloved!
Things in my life have been happy-crazy-busy, and will be for the foreseeable future.
Taking time to create can sometimes add extra scheduling stress, but when I make something I’m truly happy with, I’m reminded why I love blogging and baking so much.
I’ve been planning to make a hexagonal cake for ages now—but it’s remained on my ideas/to-make list, gathering dust.
When I finished the photos and stepped back, mouth full of a bite of cake, I was overcome with an indescribably proud and excited wave of emotion.
I love sharing things here, with you. I can’t imagine life any other way.
I had my heart set on using dulcey chocolate here, and I couldn’t find it anywhere, frustratingly.
I decided I’d take the extra step and caramelize white chocolate myself, but I had inadvertently put time constraints on myself (this post had to be done today, to be part of the virtual pumpkin party!), and worried it wouldn’t come out perfectly.
I always worry when I try something new for the first time in the kitchen.
Luckily for me, I stopped at a different Whole Foods on my way home from work one night. The lines were all super long, and I resigned myself to one that didn’t quite seem interminable.
Much to my surprise, the side section of this line had many containers of dulcey fêves. I snatched one up and silently thanked the universe.
This serendipity made making this cake even more satisfying.
This cake is a classic pumpkin base, soft and moist without being dense.
It’s carved into hexagonal shapes and briefly frozen to ensure crisp edges.
The cake is enrobed in spiced Italian meringue buttercream, silky smooth and redolent with cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves, balanced with a hit of salt.
A modest drizzle of Valrhona dulcey chocolate ganache, which bewitchingly tastes like caramel and white chocolate at the same time.
Sliced and served with an extra swirl of dulcey chocolate, this is autumnal heaven.
84 grams dulcey chocolate
70 grams (4 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons) heavy cream
Make the cake: preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Grease and flour 3 8-inch round pans.
Whip butter and oil together until smooth and shiny, about 3 minutes.
Add in sugar, molasses, salt, and spices and whip on high for 3 more minutes.
Scrape sides of bowl and add in one egg; beat for a full minute before scraping sides again and adding the next.
Repeat once more so that all the eggs have been fully incorporated, then scrape the sides of the bowl.
Add flour, baking powder, and baking soda on top of the batter.
Add the pumpkin on top of the dry ingredients.
Slowly start to stir; mix on low until the pumpkin and dry ingredients are mostly incorporated.
Scrape the sides of the bowl once more and stir on medium speed to ensure that everything is homogeneous.
Portion out batter evenly into the prepared pans.
Bake for 30-40 minutes; a tester should come out with a few moist crumbs and the internal temperature of the cake should register around 210 degrees F.
Allow to cool completely.
If carving the cake, wrap and freeze the cakes for at least one night.
Carve the cakes into a hexagonal shape using a template and freeze again.
Make the icing: place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Place sugar, salt, and water in a small pot over medium heat, fitted with a candy thermometer.
Begin to whisk egg whites while syrup heats up.
Once syrup reaches 245 degrees F, the egg whites should be at semi-stiff peaks.
Pour the hot syrup into the meringue while beating at high speed.
Whip until the meringue is glossy and cooled to body temp.
Add the spices, then beat in 1 tablespoon of the butter at a time, beating until the frosting comes together into a glossy, fluffy, light mixture.
Make the ganache: heat heavy cream until simmering, then pour over chopped chocolate.
Allow to sit for 3 minutes, then whisk quickly until the ganache comes together in a shiny, smooth, homogenous mixture.
Allow to cool while you frost the cake.
Frost the cake with a crumb coat, then chill for a few minutes.
Finish frosting the cake and chill for at least 15 minutes.
Pour the ganache over the cake as desired.
Decorate with edible flowers!
He called her a melon, a pineapple,
an olive tree, an emerald,
and a fox in the snow all in the space of three seconds;
he did not know whether he had heard her,
or all three together.
—Virginia Woolf, Orlando: A Biography
Do you consider yourself a picky eater?
I’ve never been a picky eater. I do avoid an entire food group because I’m vegetarian, but that’s not because I didn’t like the taste of meat, but rather that I no longer cared to eat animals. (Phew, didn’t mean for that to sound accusatory. I just don’t want plant based eating to be conflated with pickiness!)
When I was a little kid, I didn’t like spicy-stinky kimchi, but that quickly faded, presumably because it would go against my very genetics to turn my nose up at kimchi.
I didn’t love blue cheese, but didn’t encounter it often enough to make a fuss when I did. I always loved beets.
Chewy, bouncy textures (common in Asian desserts) have always entranced me.
Red adzuki beans, broccoli stems, pickled lemons, mushrooms, eggplant, tofu, kale, egg salad: all on my favorites list.
However, I always thought I didn’t like olives. Wouldn’t touch the little buggers, green or black or kalamata.
I knew I already loved olive oil—one of my favorite snacks has always been crusty bread dipped in olive oil with salt—but I had always refused olives as an icky precursor to that pourable gold. En fait, it wasn’t until college that I tried them, prompted by someone I trusted and an overwhelming desire not to embarrass myself in front of them with an uncultured palate.
I can hardly believe that I once didn’t like olives, since they are now one of my absolute favorite foods.
So much dislike and hatred and fear of otherness is due to ignorance and inexposure. How much could be solved by a simple introduction of the unknown by the familiar or the trusted.
I mean, look how guzzl-able a green smoothie is. Add enough banana and a good helping of nut butter and even the most chlorophobic person won’t mind the spinach.
Our inability to see the fallibility of the assumption that if we haven’t directly experienced it—haven’t directly heard or tasted or seen it—that it doesn’t exist, or shouldn’t exist, or couldn’t possibly be good, continues to stun me.
We are all trapped within our own narrow umwelts.
Am I about to try to slop the metaphor of picky eating onto current events? MAYONNAI- MAYBE.
We should look to those whom we elect to be the trusted ones, to introduce us and bring us together rather than tearing us apart. They should vouch for us all, but not at the expense of others outside of our nation, either.
Bigots shouldn’t be allowed to hold office.
Discriminatory palates shouldn’t get to dictate what goes into the melting pot.
Those who wave the bible around to justify themselves would do well to remember that the commandment is to Love Thy Neighbor, not Choose Thy Neighbors Out Of People You Already Like.
The ridiculous fear-mongering over immigrants and POC and the denial of the Everywoman’s lived experience represents the worst of the assumptions we can make about others of backgrounds different than our own.
Here’s the bottom line: today is the last day to register to vote in many states. Are you registered yet?
I urge you to take just a minute to check, or double-check.
No matter from which side of the aisle you will be heard; your voice deserves legitimate space.
Let’s not choose politicians who don’t think everyone’s voice has value, or who talk over others.
The incessant lying isn’t helping to open our minds. We must force ourselves out of our comfort zones: do your research, thoroughly.
Don’t rely on one source for your news. Do your best to empathize.
Try an olive, or two; extend that selfsame branch.
Back to olive oil, now.
This cake was hailed by some as the best they had ever tried.
When I took my first bite of the slice shown in these pictures, the fork nearly dropped out of my hand.
The cake is outrageously soft and plush, with a moist, even crumb that is almost silly in its unbroken uniformity. Creamy whole-milk ricotta combines with peppery, lemon-infused olive oil from Pasolivo to create a delightfully subtle flavor profile; almond flour adds softness to the structure, and a glaze made of yet more ricotta and olive oil adds continuity to the taste and a light crunch to the exterior of the cake.
This is the pan I used, from Nordic Ware. I think it’s just gorgeous, with all its dramatic swooping swirls.
Additionally, it’s about half the size of a standard bundt pan, which means I can fit it in my cram-jam packed pantry and it bakes up much more quickly than a 10-cup bundt cake.
Just make sure, as with any bundt pan, to grease the edges, corners, and hidden nooks very well!
for the glaze:
2 teaspoons lemon-infused olive oil (such as Pasolivo Lemon Olive Oil)
2 teaspoons ricotta
115 grams (1 cup) powdered sugar
generous pinch salt
milk, as needed
Make the cake: grease and flour a 6-cup capacity pan; use a mini bundt, or an 8 x 3-inch or 9 x 2-inch pan.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Whisk olive oil, sugar and salt together in a large bowl until fully incorporated.
Whisk the eggs in, one at a time, making sure each is fully incorporated before adding the next.
Add the ricotta and stir until it is halfway incorporated.
Add the flour, almond meal, baking powder, and baking soda on top of the batter, and stir to fully incorporate the dry ingredients and the ricotta.
Pour into prepared pan and smooth top.
Bake for 45 minutes to an hour for a mini bundt, and 35 minutes to 45 minutes for a round pan.
A tester should come out with a few moist crumbs and the internal temperature should register at 210 degrees F (begin checking at 45 minutes for a bundt, and 35 minutes for a round pan).
Allow cake to cool.
Make glaze: whisk olive oil into ricotta until smooth.
Whisk in powdered sugar and salt; it will be thick.
Thin the glaze until it is of pourable consistency using 1/2 teaspoon of milk at a time.
Place cake on a wire rack with parchment paper beneath it.
Pour glaze over the cake, then collect drippings (if desired) and pour over cake a second time.
Disclaimer: I was provided with a product in this post for free, in exchange for my honest and fair review. All opinions are my own. Bisous!