Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cake Experiments - Chocolate Beet Cake

Before I introduce you to my latest cake experiment, please take a blog-reading break and enjoy this song. (Trust me, you might need it). Okay, you can push play and then keep reading. Ready?

Kasia, a friend of mine who also has a food blog (Kasia's Kitchen), has raved about Joy the Baker for years.  One day she pointed me to this Chocolate Beet Cake recipe and begged me to try it, to see if it really worked or tasted good.  I bookmarked it (pinned it, really, since I now keep track of recipes I want to try in Pinterest) and then bought beets with no plan at the farmer's market.

I can't be the only person who does that... buys vegetables without a plan.  After all, that pushed me into using fennel for the first time and planting a jalapeno pepper in my garden.  But most of the time, I don't think to add them to cakes.  Okay, except for squash and green tomatoes and carrots.  I take it back.  Vegetables belong in baked goods!

Still, this is my first experience baking with beets.  I'm actually new to liking beets in general.  I had canned pickled beets for years as my only exposure to the vegetable, and wasn't a huge fan.  One year while we still lived in Indiana, we had a nice dinner at the Wolfgang Puck restaurant at the Indianapolis Museum of Art (it appears to have been replaced by something else).  I ordered a roasted beet salad, which ended up being little solitary stacks of roasted beet, goat cheese, and beet chip - and it was delicious.  Ever since, I've been a little more curious about them.  I even make a salad with beets, field peas, and goat cheese.  This is why I bought the beets in the first place!

Chocolate Beet Cake
I am getting way off track here.  Hi.  This is a picture of the chocolate beet cake that I made, and it was delicious - dense in a good way, and very moist.  The recipe lives over at Joy the Baker, so please pay her a visit and try making this amazing cake.  Her pictures are gorgeous, because she also added beets to the icing.  After reading her comment about beet strands, I elected not to do the same, which probably got more people to try the cake, but in the end I think I would have enjoyed the extra flavor layer of beets.

One thing I did wrong, and you can kind of see it in this picture - I used the largest grater I had instead of the smallest.  Since you don't puree the beets, the finer they are grated, the more even in texture the cake will be.  That's something I'll do differently next time.  And there will be a next time.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Book Review: Apron Anxiety by Alyssa Shelansky

Apron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the KitchenApron Anxiety: My Messy Affairs In and Out of the Kitchen by Alyssa Shelasky
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Because I received a copy of this from the publisher, I am reviewing it the same week it comes out! While I was given a copy for free, I wasn't asked for anything (nor did I ask for a copy!), so these are my honest thoughts.

Anyone who knows my feelings on memoirs should understand that four stars is no slight praise for Alyssa Shelasky. After all, I almost gave up in chapter 2, which I will refer to as the "name dropping chapter," where she talks about her days (more often: nights) as a writer for various well-known TV networks and fashion/entertainment magazines in New York. It is shallow, it is silly, and I found her incredibly annoying.

Without that contrast, I think you wouldn't get a chance to understand how she grows. Alyssa had a relationship with a fairly known 'celebrity' chef (I'll let you Google it since in the book she refers to him as Chef), one taking her from her comfort zone and dumping her into a solitary existence in DC as he rode the swell of fame to opening several restaurants. It is an isolation that anyone living with a restaurant person would know well.

She has to go through a journey to find herself, to find happiness but also just a hobby, and food becomes her salvation. The fact that she'd never cooked in her life makes the story more charming, and it helps that she has no problem making public mistakes. It started with her blog, Apron Anxiety, and turned into this book. I don't often laugh when I'm reading, but her description of her first meal for Chef had me giggling.

It isn't just that she learns about food. Any tedious journalism major could go through that journey, and the potential for an inauthentic experience is what I was fearing when I started the book. I felt her personal journey to be far less shallow than she appeared toward the beginning, and she learned to get to know people who she had originally dismissed, and to stand up for what she needed from her life.

There are recipes throughout this that make for a feel-good read, as if the reader could recreate moments that were meaningful for the author. And... yeah, I might need to make that tomato soup.

A few bits from the end:

"You learn that there's nothing bad about feeling safe and there's everything good about inner stillness; and above all, just because you're an extraordinary person who deserves extraordinary love, it can't come at the expense of everything else that makes you whole."

"Everyone cooks for matters of the heart. We're all in the kitchen because it fulfills a longing inside, whether it's for grace, survival, a renewed sense of self, or just the thrill of it all - these are the stories that get us there, keep us there, or sometimes take us away. But without the people who have moved us, pushed us, left us, maybe even hurt us, then really, it's only food."

Thursday, May 24, 2012


Egyptian Basbousa
I'm finally getting back to baking items for my Around the World challenge!  Back in February, I read The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany (you can see my review here).   The main character in this book set in Egypt is the building, but one of the people moving throughout the story is Zaki Bey, who has interesting ideas about women.  One of them includes how they pronounce the S in basbousa!
"All these varied and teeming experiences have made of Zaki el Dessouki a true expert on women, and in 'the science of women,' as he calls it, he has strange and eccentric theories that, whether one accepts or rejects them, definitely deserve consideration... Zaki Bey also believes that how a woman pronounces the letter 's' - specifically - is a clue as to how ardent she will be when making love.  Thus, if a woman says a word such as 'susu' or 'basbusa,' for example, in a tremulous, arousing way, he concludes immediately that she is gifted in bed." - The Yacoubian Building by Alaa Al Aswany
Basbousa is a relatively simple cake, made with semolina or sometimes farina.  I hunted down farina for this recipe, which is why mine is fairly pale (semolina would be more like a corn bread).  While the cake is still hot, it is covered with a lemon-honey syrup that soaks in.  The cake is dense and not too sweet, but still tasty.  I enjoyed Jessie Oleson's personal basbousa story over on Cakespy, and used her recipe for Brooklyn Basbousa.  Please check it out and whip up a pan!

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rum Cake

Rum Cake
If you've ever traveled anywhere in the Caribbean, Florida, or the Bahamas, you will confirm that Tortuga Rum Cakes are everywhere.  Our favorite flavor is Blue Mountain Coffee, and we even tracked another one of those down on our recent trip. 

Rum Cake Slice
It is a tradition where I work to bring in a treat from where you have traveled - one of those nice things to do that is in no way an obligation, but we have a bunch of foodies and we seem to enjoy this tradition.  Tortuga Rum Cakes, while delicious, are a little spendy if you want to feed thirty people, besides being bulky to travel with.  I decided to hunt for a recipe to try on my own.  Most recipes I could find were all copied from one source, and while I couldn't identify where it started, it included cake mix and pudding mix.  I'm not against those things, but I wanted to bake from scratch, so I kept hunting.

I stumbled across a recipe from Southern Living, November 2005, and bookmarked it to try.  It seemed like it would have a lot of flavor between the lemon zest, rum, banana liqueur, and soaking syrup, and I was not disappointed.  This is going in my recipe file to bring back again!

Rum Cake
  • 1 1/2 cups butter, softened
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons grated lemon rind
  • 1/2 cup dark rum
  • 1/4 cup banana liqueur
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup whipping cream
  • Rum Syrup
  • Powdered sugar 
Beat butter and granulated sugar at medium speed with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla, beating until blended. Add lemon rind, beating until blended. Gradually add rum and banana liqueur, beating until blended. (Batter will look curdled.)

Stir together flour and next 3 ingredients; add to batter alternately with whipping cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Beat batter at low speed just until blended after each addition. Pour batter into a greased and floured 10-inch Bundt pan.

Bake at 350° for 55 to 60 minutes or until a long wooden pick inserted in center of cake comes out clean.

Cool in pan on a wire rack 15 minutes. Pierce cake multiple times using a metal or wooden skewer. Pour Rum Syrup evenly over cake. Let stand 45 minutes. Remove from pan; cool completely on a wire rack. Sprinkle evenly with powdered sugar before serving.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Bakery Review - Sarafina's - Marigot, St. Martin

So many pastries
Would you believe me if I told you that there is an amazing French bakery in the Caribbean? Technically it is in France, in Marigot, on the French side of Saint Martin/Sint Maarten, and is called Sarafina's.

Real Caribbean Croissants
We were on a three hour island tour with a taxi-van, and the driver said he'd be happy to take us, but that we should know that we may not want to leave after tasting it. There are breads everywhere. An entire case of cakes, another of gelato, and a very long case of pastries and sandwiches. We got croissants and some assorted cookies, and the croissants were a true highlight.

Legs and pastries
The clientele is clearly a mix of all different nationalities, residents and visitors, and it was very busy. Some of the workers spoke French, others English, and I must have heard four languages just sitting around in the dining area. I would say this is a place not to be missed if you ever find yourself on the island (and seriously, get away from the port, take an island tour, it is such a better way to learn about the place where you are!).