Monday, May 30, 2011

playas and ñamñams

Peering out through the open window is always a thrill; a reminder of where I am, six stories high, wind breezing in through drawn curtains, light filling up my quaint room with a comfortable glow. Every morning I wake up and look down below, at cars strewn in organized haphazardness across the narrow streets, at the tops of people unlocking shop doors for the morning, at the now-familiar sights of bikers expertly whizzing through leafy trees and autos, just to make sure it's all still there.

That it hasn't all been a dream.

That I'm actually in Valencia.

The last time I had left the country, aside from for Canada, was for Italy. That was about 3 years ago this summer. Since then, I've missed the thrill of waking up somewhere new and beautiful, a feeling that I thought I'd never have again. I remember the utter depression that struck me once I got off the plane and returned home, not for being back, but rather for leaving it behind. And I still have dreams of cerulean blue Mediterranean beaches, walking past local vendors and buying as much produce as possible to carry, visiting fish markets permeated by the smells of brine and summertime...these are the memories I have of Sicily, and the ones that I missed the most when I came back home.

[I really am madly in love with Italy, in case you couldn't tell.]

Taken while visiting Peñíscola.

And yet... that feeling has returned.

And I haven't been happier in a long while.

Spain is a country I've wanted to visit since, close to, the beginning of high school. I've been studying Spanish for about 9 years now, which to me is somewhat of a surprise, since when I first started taking it I didn't realize I would love it enough to continue. And now, it's become a part of my life, in a way. So after coercing the parents [and agreeing to pay half], I've escaped to Valencia for one month, to hone my speaking abilities and experience a new culture.

It's been a little under a week since we stepped foot off of the airplane, but I already feel as though I've been here for months. Though there's something to be learned every day, after hours upon hours of walking through narrow streets and lush parks, I've become pretty familiar with our home in the city. My host mother is one of the most adorable women I've ever met [Particularly after watching the recent final match between Barça and Man-United in which I remember her repeating at least 10 times how guapísimo Messi is. Mind you, this woman is 56 years old.], and the apartment that Liz and I are living in is just as lovely.

Valencia is rather famous for its sweet orange trees.

My day-to-day schedule during the week is pretty static; wake up at 7am, shower, eat a simple breakfast of cornflakes and milk, walk the 2 1/2-ish miles to University with Zach, study linguistics for 2 hours, take a 3-hour lunch break at my favorite cafe, study contemporary art for 2 hours, and walk the 2 1/2-ish miles back home with Zach and Liz. From around 8:30-5:30, I'm in the campus area, and after 5 my schedule is pretty up-in-the-air. Currently, filled with [additional] city-exploration, but perhaps in a week I'll have more of a routine.

If I want one, of course.

Which I'm not sure that I do. I enjoy the spontaneity and freedom to do whatever I please in the evenings, particularly if a small siesta is involved.

The routine is different from what I'm used to, but it's becoming easier to adapt. Nevertheless, it's the eating schedule that's most different. I had known of it prior to visiting, after taking Spanish Culture & Civ last semester, but studying is nothing like experiencing.

Basically, the Spaniards eat three main meals per day: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Snacking is highly uncommon, and I don't even think the concept of "grazing" exists at all. Some people will take a small merienda during the late afternoon, but that's typically a very small snack or coffee. My eating schedule normally goes as follows:

  • Breakfast of cornflakes and milk at around 7:30, before I head out. Aside from cereal, I'm not very familiar with what's typically eaten for breakfast. I would assume coffee and perhaps a pastry of some sort, or toast and jam or butter, but since I'm the first in the house to wake up, my mom lays out the cereal and milk while I'm in the shower and then heads back to bed. I don't mind it at all; it's light and filling enough to tide me over until lunch...
  • ...which is normally enjoyed sometime around 2. During the school week, though, my second class starts at two, so I eat sometime between 11 and 12, normally at my favorite cafe.
  • Finally, dinner in Spain is eaten quite late, around 9-10. Our mom usually serves dinner a bit earlier, around 9 [and sometimes 8:30], since Liz and I aren't as used to eating as late as 10. But we've begun to adapt more, so I'm thinking we'll be enjoying late dinners for the remainder of our visit.

It's not so much the lack of grazing [since I seem to eat constantly] that's bizarre for me, but the spacing between meals. Upwards of 6 hours between breakfast and lunch, depending on when you wake up, and around 7 or 8 for dinner. I usually need to take a merienda after class, and that typically consists of some fresh fruit.

I can't complain too much, though, since the food is delicious.

My typical lunch: coffee and a bocadillo.

Actually, better than I anticipated. I'd heard many stories from students who have visited Spain in the past about how they didn't really enjoy the food, but I find it a perfect balance of light and decadent. Not decadent in the sense of being rich, but decadent in the sense of being wholesome.

Especially the bocadillos. I cannot get enough of my mother's bocadillos. They're always mouthwatering, and keep super well in my bag for the few hours that I'm in class. A bocadillo is more or less a sandwich, but made with the most delicious Spanish bread you can imagine. Since it's such a crusty loaf, it never gets soggy the way sliced bread tends to. Plus, mom always changes up what's in it, so it's always a fun surprise. Thus far I've had turkey and cheese [today, in fact, and I think it was manchego cheese, for which Spain is also very famous], tuna and tomato, chicken, and tortilla de patatas.

Cuenca, the most adorable pasteleria in Valencia.

The coffee isn't required, but I can't resist. Zach and I always head straight to our favorite cafe, Cuenca, after linguistics is over and pass an hour or so there, him with a postre and me with a café con leche.

And sometimes, I dare to order a dessert myself.

I dream of the day when I can make desserts as elegant as this.

I love the cafe, because it's exactly what I'd like mine to look like [if, of course, I open one, which I sincerely hope to do sometime in the future]. Full of every pastry you can imagine, fun bocadillos and empanadas, and an variety of amazing coffees.

[Are the coffees delicious because they are actually delicious? Or are they delicious because I'm in Europe? It's hard to say.]

Nonetheless, I usually have to remind myself to stop staring at the assortment of treats so that I don't look like too much of a glutton, but it's hard to resist.

One of the many glass cases of pastries.

There's a list of foods that I absolutely must try while I'm here, and you can bet that I'll keep you updated when I do. But for now, I've only got 20 minutes left until contemporary art, so it's best I end here.

Until later,
¡ciao, queridos!

PS: Yes, ñamñams is, in fact, the Spanish version of "nomnoms." I basically could not stop grinning like a fool when I first heard.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

{DBC} marquise on meringue

It's not actually the 27th quite yet; in fact, it's only the 16th. But since I won't be in the country then, this month's DBC was completed ahead of time, and I've written up this post early to submit on the 27th [Valencia time].

Moving on, I visited Tommy earlier today for our monthly DBC bake-date, and had a lovely time creating this month's challenge: chocolate marquise on meringue.

Chocolate marquise is a French dessert akin to a souffle, though much more dense, consisting of whipped cream folded with egg yolks and a chocolate base sauce. The challenge for this month was to create a marquise and serve it atop torched meringue, and to offset some of the sweetness of the meringue and richness of the chocolate marquise, Tommy and I opted for a mixed berry compote.

[This is one of those desserts for which you'll have to undo the top button of your jeans.]

The actual challenge recipe seems somewhat daunting, since there are so many parts to it, but it's pretty simple over all. I'll give you the recipes for the marquise and the meringue [both of which are a quarter of the full quantity], and as for sauces, you can use any you'd like. The given sauce was a tequila caramel sauce, but I thought caramel might have been too heavy. So instead, we went with a mixed berry compote. Tommy had also suggested white chocolate sauce, and fudge or any other sort of berry sauce would work just as well. It's your prerogative.

Chocolate Marquise on Meringue
Adapted from the May Daring Baker's Challenge
Yields 6 2x2-inch cubes

 For the chocolate base, you'll need:
  • 3 oz bittersweet chocolate (about 70% cocoa)
  • 1/3 cup plus 2 tsp heavy cream
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne
  • 1 tbsp agave syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 tbsp Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • dash freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tbsp butter, softened

For the chocolate marquise, you'll need:
  • 3 large egg yolks
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tbsp plus 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp plus 1 tsp water
  • chocolate base, barely warm
  • 1/2 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 cup Dutch-processed cocoa powder

For the meringue, you'll need:
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1/2 cup minus 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of cream of tartar

To prepare the chocolate base:
Heat whipping cream and chocolate in a microwave-safe bowl for 30 seconds. Remove and stir the chocolate until it melts. If need be, heat for an additional 10 seconds, but be careful not to over heat. Stir in remaining ingredients and set aside.

To prepare the chocolate marquise:
Line a small loaf pan with parchment paper and set aside. Beat egg yolks and egg on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy, 10-15 minutes. When the eggs are getting close to finishing, make a sugar syrup by combining the sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring the syrup to a boil, and then reduce heat and cook for an additional 45-60 seconds. Lower the mixer speed and quickly pour the sugar syrup into the eggs. Increase mixer speed to high and beat until the bowl is cool to the touch, at least 8-10 minutes. Lower the speed to medium, and pour the cooled chocolate base into the egg mixture and mix until just combined, about 1 minute.

Meanwhile, whip the heavy cream until soft peaks form. Fold 1/3 of the whipped cream into the chocolate mixture to lighten the batter, and then fold in the remaining cream, being careful not to deflate the mixture. Pour the marquise into the prepared pan and cover the top [directly touching the marquise] with plastic wrap, making sure that no air bubbles are trapped underneath. Put in the freezer and chill for 3-4 hours [if possible, 6-8 is ideal], until marquise is firm.

To prepare the meringue [do this when ready to plate]:
Preheat the broiler in your oven. Beat egg whites, sugar, and vanilla on high speed until soft peaks form, 5-7 minutes. Add in cream of tartar and beat until stiff peaks form. Gently scoop a generous amount of meringue onto a heat-proof plate. Stick the plate under the broiler, watching it carefully, until the top of the meringue turns a golden brown. This will happen very quickly, so it's important to keep a close eye on the meringue. Remove from the broiler and allow the meringue to cool for at least 5 minutes.

To assemble the marquise on meringue:
When ready to plate, remove the marquise from the freezer. While it's still hard, remove it from the pan by pulling on the parchment 'handles' or by flipping it over onto another piece of parchment.

Cut it into cubes and allow the cubes to sit in the fridge to thaw slowly, about 10 minutes. Once softened, roll the cubes in the cocoa powder. These will start to melt almost immediately, so make sure the plated meringue is on hand. Arrange the marquise on top of the meringue [but handle as little as possible, as these can get very messy] and drizzle with sauce or compote. Place the plated marquise in the fridge and wait until they've softened completely before serving.

In all honesty, the quartered recipe only called for 1/16 tsp of cayenne pepper, but Tommy accidentally added 1/4 tsp [following the original quantity]. Needless to say, I loved the extra heat in the chocolate, so I've kept the 1/4 tsp measurement. But if you're more sensitive to heat, then by all means reduce the quantity. I wouldn't suggest omitting it completely, because it gives the marquise a very intriguing depth of flavor that is far too unique to forgo. We also broiled the meringue rather than torching it, because (1) we didn't have a blowtorch on hand, and (2) we wanted to give the meringue a more even tan. It worked out just as well.

Ours also turned out somewhat messier than it should have...because we waited approximately 2 hours for the marquise to freeze instead of the minimum 3. In future, if I prepare this, I will probably allow it to freeze for the full 8 hours simply for ease of cutting and handling. But the 2 were more than enough for us, and it was still amazingly decadent.

As for next month's challenge...there is almost a guarantee that I will not be participating. However, I promised Tommy I would send him the challenge if he's interested in whatever is selected for June. If he likes it, he has offered to prepare it, in which case I'll update with the challenge post on the 27th and give all credit to him for participating for me.

And as long as it's not something I've been dying to make, I think I can handle a month without baking.

It might even be a welcome break.

[I anticipate suffering withdrawal symptoms two weeks from now.]

Saturday, May 21, 2011

pistachio cake with honey-vanilla frosting

My uncle celebrated his birthday this past Tuesday, but he was on call for most of the week and so we didn't have a chance to get together as a family until this afternoon. I had asked him prior if he wanted a cake, to which he gave me an enthusiastic response of affirmation, and so I sat down to come up with [read: started scrolling through Tastespotting for] interesting cake recipes.

I was just tired of the standard vanilla and lemon, or chocolate and raspberry, or angel food cake with berries combo.

And then I happened upon this recipe: pistachio cake with honey-vanilla frosting. So unique, so exotic, so daring! I fell in love with the concept at first sight, and knew this was going to be my next project.

the mask is courtesy of mustafa's returned from a week-long caribbean cruise.

Pistachio Cake with Honey-Vanilla Frosting
Adapted from cate's world kitchen

For the cake, you'll need:
  • 1 cup shelled pistachios (plus 1/3 cup for decorating)
  • 3 cups all purpose flour, sifted twice
  • 1 tbsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/2 cup vegetable shortening
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 1/2 cups ice cold water
  • 1/4 tsp cream of tartar

For the honey-vanilla buttercream, you'll need:
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, soft but cool, cut into small pieces
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup honey

To prepare the cake:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and line, grease, and flour 3 9-inch or 8-inch round cake pans.

Pulse the pistachios in a food processor until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer about 2 tablespoons of the coarse pistachios to a large bowl. Continue to process the rest of the pistachios until they are almost powdery- but not superfine. Stir the pistachio powder into the reserved coarse pistachios. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt, together over the large bowl containing the pistachios. Stir to combine.

Beat the butter and shortening on medium speed with the paddle attachment until creamy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the sugar and vanilla and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl, add the whole egg, and beat until just combined. Turn the mixture to low.

In a measuring cup, make 1 1/2 cups ice water. Add the flour mixture to the mixer in three parts, alternating with the ice water, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. For each addition, turn the mixer to low to add ingredients, then up to medium speed for a few seconds until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, then mix on low speed for a few more seconds.

In a medium bowl, whisk the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form (This is easy to do by hamd and gives your arm a workout!). Do not overbeat. Gently fold the egg whites into the batter.

Divide the batter among the prepared pans and smooth the tops. Bake for about 30 minutes (9 inch layers) or 35 minutes (8 inch layers), rotating the pans halfway through the baking time, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Turn the cakes out onto the rack, remove the parchment and let cool completely.

To prepare the frosting:
Whisk the sugar and flour together in a medium heavy-bottom saucepan. Add milk and cream and cook over medium heat whisking occasionally, until the mixture comes to a boil and has thickened, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Transfer the mixture to the bowl of a standing mixer with paddle attachment. Beat on high speed until cool (at least 7 or 8 minutes) then add the butter a few pieces at a time and mix until thoroughly incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until frosting is light, fluffy, and smooth.

Add the vanilla and honey and continue mixing until combined. If the frosting is too soft, put the bowl in the refrigerator to chill slightly, then beat again until it is proper consistency. If the frosting is too firm, set the bow over a pot of simmering water and beat with a wooden spoon until it is the proper consistency.

To assemble the cake:
Place one cake layer on a serving platter. Trim the top to create a flat surface, and evenly spread about 1 1/4 cups frosting on top. Add the next layer, trim and frost it, then add the third layer. Spread the sides and top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Garnish the cake with chopped pistachios and refrigerate it for 15 minutes to it firm up before serving.

It is fine to keep this cake at room temperature for a few days. If you decide to keep it in the fridge, let it come to room temperature before serving.

I am in love with this cake. It's so unexpected, in it's own way, and was a big hit with my uncle! Smiling faces, contented looks, eyes closed in enjoyment of the first bite; this is what I live for.

Plus, it was lovely to be able to bake with my mom again; she was a big help with frosting the cake while I stood by in creeper-paparazzi fashion snapping photos.

And now, I'm left with images of Middle Eastern streets and Rumi poetry swimming in my mind.

In other news, seeing as how it's Saturday, I think this may be my last post before I leave [on Monday]. I will write when I can [the quality of the WiFi in Valencia will only be apparent once I'm actually there], and will have the DSLR with me to document all of my gastronomic and sight-seeing endeavors. Saying "I'm pretty friggin stoked" would be a little bit of an understatement, but for now, I'll leave you with pistachio cake crumbs.

thanks, mum.

My place is placeless, a trace of the traceless. 
Neither body or soul.
I belong to the beloved, 
have seen the two worlds as one,
and that one call to and know,
first, last, outer, inner, only that
breath breathing human being.

Friday, May 20, 2011

toffee blondies in a jar

A few weeks ago, I was having a conversation with MattMatt about personality types and the like, which is somewhat unsurprising given that the two of us often speculate on the nature of mankind together [when I'm not teaching him how to virtually assassinate Templars on an HD console]. I'm not actually quite sure how the topic came up to begin with, but it panned out interestingly.

[For example, how between the middle of high school and now, my personality has almost completely flipped from an ENTJ to an INFJ, both of which were highly accurate given their respective time periods. And how Matt's an ENFP (from what I remember), which to me is also spot-on.]

Regardless, I remember Matt telling me how there are five primary ways that we [humans] express love and affection.
  1. spending time together
  2. verbal exchanges of affection
  3. physical exchanges of affection
  4. physical actions to show affection
  5. buying and giving gifts
I found this quite interesting. One, because I had never heard it before; and two, because I think humankind is such a fascinating entity. An entity which I'm always trying to figure out, at least when I can shove my cynicism aside, though for the most part one that I think will always remain, in some ways, an enigma.

Not to mention that philosophy, although enlightening in regards to many areas of contemplation, has only made me more skeptical about how I think about the matter. But perhaps that's the point.

Anyway, I digress. If I had to choose, I think I'd fall into categories 4 and 5 of the above. Doing things for others and giving things to others. Not that I'm morally opposed to the other three in any way, I am just more of a doer than a...speaker? Cuddler? Extrovert? I could also be completely misguided as to my own character, since I'm always learning new things [both positive and negative] about myself, but it doesn't change the fact that I do love giving gifts. At least, those with some shred of sentimental value.

Which is why I bake, of course. It's not like I do it for my own health [quite the contrary, in fact, seeing as how it's just about the worst thing I could be doing for my own health], but I like to see others' faces light up when I give them something I've made just for them. I put a lot of thought into what I decide to bake for others, based on their personality or our friendship, what they like and what they don't, their hobbies and interests, etc.

And yet, sometimes I get bored with the baking. Especially for my good friends. Not that they dislike dessert, but sometimes I just want to do something different. And so I decided to try.

In a few days' time, I will be boarding a plane. It will be my first time on a plane in two years, I believe, which is somewhat of a long time for me [given how my family used to travel to Pakistan every other year to see family before the political climate became somewhat unfavorable and Yusra and I started having to do real schoolwork]. This time, though, I'm leaving for Europe, Valencia to be precise, to hone my fluency [or lack thereof] in the Spanish language. I'll be living with Liz in a homestay, one street away from Zach, and attending university five days a week, studying history of modern Spanish art and phonetics. A short visit, granted, but 4 weeks is all I need to fall in love with a country and make a vow to return.

I realize that I'll be back home before I know it [much to my dismay], but as soon as I am I'll be helping my parents move into their new house, and it'll be scarcely a week after that I'm back at my apartment, interning and working part-time [with frequent, short trips back home on the weekends, of course] until the fall semester begins. Not a whole lot of time to be spent with friends, unfortunately. So before my departure, I decided I wanted to leave a few parting gifts to the Fab Four, of the dessert variety, because at this point they expect nothing different from me, though this time with a small twist: toffee blondies in a jar.

I've seen this done in the past, though I myself had never tried it prior to this past weekend, when I prepared a jar to give to Brinay as a gift. It turned out much better than I thought it would [I also anticipate the worst, most of the time], and she seemed to love the idea, so I knew I had discovered something pretty neat. The concept is simple: layer all of the dry ingredients artfully [i.e. alternating colors, somewhat akin to sand art] in a quart-sized mason jar, and attach a small card with the appropriate quantities of wet ingredients and baking directions, so that the receiver is actually the baker. An inversion of my traditional baked-good-present, but one that I think is really fun for whomever I'm giving it to. Plus, it's easy as peas to bake: all you need to do is dump the contents of the jar into a large bowl, whisk the wet ingredients together, and mix them with the dry ingredients until they come together in a batter. Pour the batter into a prepared pan, and bake in a preheated oven for half an hour for deliciousness.

Toffee Blondies in a Jar
Adapted from bakedbree
Recipe makes one mason jar

You'll need:
  • 1 quart-sized mason jar [can be found in any craft store]
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup mini chocolate chips 
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 cup toffee chips
  • 1/4 cup [1/2 stick] butter, melted
  • 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 tsp vanilla

To prepare the mason jar:
Carefully layer the brown sugar, chocolate chips, flour, baking powder, salt, chopped nuts, and toffee chips. This is most easily done with a 1/4 cup measure, as this will pour the contents most effectively through the opening of the jar. Try to gently level out the ingredients with each addition.

To prepare the blondies [note: this is what you'll want to write on the notecard, along with the measurements of the wet ingredients]:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line and grease an 8x8-inch square pan.
In a large bowl, whisk the melted butter, eggs, and vanilla until blended. Dump the contents of the jar into the bowl, and mix with the wet ingredients until fully incorporated. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25-30 minutes, or until blondies start to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in the pan and cut into 16 bars.

I love how these things look; they're just adorable. Nitya, Hannah, and Noosh loved them as well, and so I was more than pleased. I'm sure they'll taste divine too, though perhaps in future I'll add a layer of coconut flakes. Or peanut butter chips. Cocoa powder for brownies, too.

Oh! The possibilities are endless! This is definitely a treat I'd like to expand upon in future.

Hope you enjoy them as much as we did :)

Saturday, May 14, 2011

moist apple cake

"So you're basically leaving for Spain now, aren't you?"

"Yeah, actually. Only 10 days and then I'm off. It hasn't really hit met yet, to be honest."

"That's understandable. But you'd better keep me updated. With pictures. Of what you eat."

"...I mean, obviously."

I spent about two hours at Para Coffee with Rudhdi yesterday. We chatted about anything and everything, catching up after a grueling week of finals [which would explain the abnormally long stretch of time since I last baked something], reveling in the relief of another semester ending [though we both refuse to believe that undergrad is halfway over], discussing life, classes, people, and summer plans, small coffee in her hand and an iced Americano in mine.

It's odd to think that just last week I was huddled in my favorite armchair at Starbucks [yes, I have a favorite] with my laptop on one knee and Das Capital sprawled open on the other, highlighter behind my ear, and eyes frantically scanning the pages, hoping that Marx's theory on communism would miraculously seep into my overworked brain.

But, somehow, I made through five final exams and a 10-page paper, and had a two hour coffee date to show for it. A wonderful one, at that [I always love my dates with Rudhdi, when neither of us are stressed]. But at the same time, somewhat surreal. Surreal in the sense that four month seem to have gone by so fast; that before I know it I'll be in another country [yes, my DSLR will be going to every restaurant with me, so no worries there, Roods]; that after only a few weeks I'll be back here, interning and working part-time; that the three months between now and the beginning of next semester seem so far, and yet so close.

Time really does seem to fly by as you get older.

I used to be torn about whether that was a good thing or not.

But for now, I'm going to table the discussion, and focus on the present.

Today's my last day at the apartment [at least for the next 6 weeks or so], and so I've been packing and cleaning since I've been up. Once I had my suitcase prepared and PS3 unplugged and stowed in my car, I realized that I really needed to clean out the fridge.

[The last thing I want is to come back in July and find that some bizarre species of mold has raged war on my kitchen.]

There were a few things left, produce that I've put in a brown bag and plan on taking home with me [I smell goat cheese and Swiss chard flatbread for dinner...], but I knew there was something that needed to be done.

I missed Mother's Day this past weekend, as I was here on campus studying for finals, but  had promised my mom that I'd bake her something to make up for it. I actually had no idea what I was going to bake, but knew that I wanted to try something different. And then I saw it: 4 gala apples, sitting in my fridge, awaiting their fate. So what was I going to do?

Bake an apple cake, obviously.

Moist Apple Cake
Adapted from bake fresh 

You'll need:
  • 4-5 medium sized apples, peeled, cored, and cubed
  • 2 tbsp butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup plus 5 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour an 8-inch springform pan.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk butter and 2 tbsp sugar. Toss with apples, cinnamon, and nutmeg and set aside.

In a standmixer, combine flour, 3/4 cup sugar, eggs, canola oil, baking powder, and vanilla, and mix on low speed until combined. Mix in half of the apples. Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth with a spatula. Evenly spread the remaining apples on top of the batter, and sprinkle the remaining 2-3 tbsp sugar on top of the apples. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until golden brown.

Let cool to room temperature before cutting, at least one hour.

I suppose it's a bit of a fall cake, what with the cinnamon and nutmeg, but I'm not really too concerned. Besides, no one says "no" to an apple cake.

I'll be heading out in the next 10-15 minutes, so I've put the cake on a plate and covered it, loosely, with some plastic wrap. It should be totally fine in the car, and the ride's only about an hour and a half, so it won't be too stressful for the cake. Once I'm home, I may prepare a rum sugar sauce to pour on top, but that's still to be determined. I suppose I have an hour and a half to decide.

In any case, hopefully mom will enjoy her Mother's Day cake, even if it is a few days late!

Sunday, May 1, 2011

reeses cake

I don't really enjoy most candy. But I've always, always loved Reese's Cups. I don't know what it is, aside from the possibility that whichever genius invented it realized that chocolate and peanut butter is the most piquant combination of flavors on the planet.

Yesterday, my good friend Nathaniel celebrated his twentieth birthday. Nathaniel and I have been friends since back in high school, and I remember that on his eighteenth birthday during our senior year, I baked him a cake that he loved: chocolate cake with a peanut butter frosting, garnished with chopped up Reese's Cups.

[Then again, I can't think of anyone who wouldn't love a cake covered in Reese's Cups, since they are basically the best food group on the planet.

Made evident by my assertion and strong belief that they alone could qualify as a distinct food group].

Last year I kept up with the chocolate/peanut butter theme by baking him peanut swirled brownies [which turned out more like fudge by the accidental dismissal of baking soda from the batter, but one could argue that they turned out even better that way...?], but this year I thought I'd try and recreate that amazing cake from senior year.

Perhaps he'll think that I did. And even if not exactly the same, this cake is, equally, to die for.

I'll give the peanut butter frosting recipe I used [the frosting is the star, here]; the cake itself can be made from your favorite basic chocolate cake recipe.

Note: as much as I am a huge proponent of all-natural, organic peanut butter without any added preservatives or sugars, I always use the processed stuff when baking. This is because the oils separate from the peanut butter when using an organic kind, and therefore it won't bake as well. So, go get the cheap stuff!

Creamy, Dreamy, Peanut Butter Frosting
Adapted from a combination of countless peanut butter frostings.

You'll need:
  • 1 8-oz package of cream cheese, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups of creamy peanut butter [not all-natural or organic]
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3 cups confectioner's sugar
  • 1/3 - 1/2 cup whipping cream [to desired consistency]

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat cream cheese and peanut butter on medium speed until fully blended. Add in vanilla and salt. Reduce mixer speed to low and slowly add in confectioner's sugar. Beat until incorporated. Slowly pour in whipping cream until reaching desired consistency.

Peanut butter frosting will keep well, refrigerated, for up to 3 days.

To assemble the cake, I baked a chocolate cake in an 8-inch springform pan, trimmed off the top, cut the cake in half width-wise, spread a generous amount of peanut butter frosting on top of the bottom layer, covered it with chopped up mini Reese's Cups, topped it with the second layer, frosted the top and sides, and covered the top with more mini Reese's Cups. It's basically the easiest cake on the planet.

I love both the color and the consistency of this frosting. It's a gorgeous, light caramel color, and the consistency gives the cake a homely feel. Kind of like how your grandmother's Reese's cake would look.

You know, if she were hip and made candy-based cakes.

Happy birthday, Nathaniel! I hope this cake lived up to your expectations :)