You’ve heard of one-pot meals, but have you heard of one-cake desserts? That’s not a thing, but it should be. Here’s the idea: instead of an elaborate cake that you have to frost or decorate or slice in half, a one-cake dessert is one where a batter goes into a cake pan, the pan goes into the oven, and whatever comes out an hour later is what you serve for dessert (sprinkled, perhaps, with powdered sugar). In my years of dinner party-throwing, I’ve been a big champion of one-cake desserts: Al Di La’s pear and chocolate cake, for example. Or my favorite dinner party dessert of all time: Amanda Hesser’s almond cake. Now a new cake comes along to join the pantheon; this raspberry ricotta cake from last month’s Bon Appetit.
I have a theory that Starbucks has heightened our tolerance for bad, sad pastries. There’ve been moments in my life, at an airport, at a rest stop, where I break down and order a slice of a Starbucks lemon pound cake to go with my coffee. It tastes fine. It’s not bad. It’s sweet, cakey, nicely glazed. But it’s not, by any means, good. Most people don’t know that because most people don’t take the time to make their own glazed pound cakes; but if you do take the time, yours will be light, where theirs is dense. Yours will be authentically flavored, whereas theirs tastes synthetic. Yours will be made at home with love whereas theirs is made in a warehouse. Plus, if you make your own, you can use tangerines instead of lemons.
There are four oranges in this cake. I repeat, the cake that you see above these words? There are four whole oranges in it. FOUR WHOLE ORANGES. I know, I collapsed when I heard about it too. But putting whole oranges into a dessert is a thing, a thing I first heard about on Ruth Reichl’s blog when she wrote about Nancy Silverton’s olive oil cake with whole oranges in it. This isn’t that cake. That recipe has you dice three oranges and throw them into the batter with rosemary, pine nuts, and raisins. In other words: an orange cake for wimps. This orange cake–which comes from a British cookbook that I bought at Omnivore Books in San Francisco–has you boil four whole oranges for two hours, remove the seeds, then pulverize them in a food processor before mixing them with sugar, eggs, almond flour and baking powder. That’s it. It’s the most orangey cake you’re likely to eat in your lifetime.
“Take a risk or play it safe?” That was the question I asked myself the day before Besha Rodell and Rachel Shukert came over for dinner last week. Rachel I wasn’t nervous about. Even though I’d never met her before, I knew we’d click because we’re both musical theater geeks. The food would be secondary. I also knew I’d click with Besha, who I had met before (at Proof Bakery last year) but that’s not what made me nervous. What made me nervous is that Besha is a food critic. A food critic! Can you imagine cooking for a food critic? I was kind of freaking out.
The Neverending Story was one of my favorite childhood movies. I loved the back and forth between Sebastian eating his peanut butter and jelly sandwich in the attic of his school and young Atreyu on his white horse (well, not for long…Artax!) journeying to kill The Nothing. Mostly, though, I loved the idea of this dusty old book, discovered in a hidden-away book shop, that teleports our young hero to another world. I felt the same way, the other day, making a dessert from a cookbook I bought at Bonnie Slotnick’s in the West Village.
Here in L.A. it’s harder to get in touch with my old New York self, the self who used to make an afternoon snacking cake. If you say the words “afternoon snacking cake” here in L.A. you will be shot by the body police, buried in a mountain of silicone, and never heard from again.
So I made sure to close all the blinds when I set out to make this cake from the most recent Food & Wine; a cake perfect for nibbling in the late afternoon or for breakfast or with tea in the morning.
What’s a birthday dinner without birthday cake?
There has to be cake. And after polling Craig on his preferred dinner option (the aforementioned birthday lasagna), I queried him about cake. His response: “Yellow cake with chocolate frosting, please.” That’s when a hyperlink appeared in my brain sending me to this cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen.
“Whoah,” you’re probably thinking, “am I on drugs? What’s going on here? That picture, it’s so good, so professional, so unlike any picture I’ve ever seen on this blog before. What gives?!”
I’ll tell you what gives: I didn’t take that picture! (Collective gasp.) No, that picture was taken by my new best friend for the next year or so. Say hello to Elizabeth Leitzell (here’s the link to her website), the new snapshot photographer who’ll be coming along with me taking pictures of me cooking with famous chefs for the cookbook I’m writing for Artisan. Last week, I cooked a dinner for her and my book intern Tyla Fowler (the blogger behind Without a Microwave) as a gesture of good will before the cookbook work begins.