Archive for the ‘sugary sweet!’ Category

I’ve been longing for the fall, so I made a carrot cake, the color of fall leaves.

It is soft and spiced with ginger and orange, cinnamon and the sweetness of carrot. It has equal amounts of whole wheat flour and white flour. Shredded coconut and ground almonds make an appearance. Its cream cheese frosting, flecked with orange rind and flavored with rum, is rich and festive.

I learned that butter, honey, sugar, vanilla and milk, heated, browned and condensed into a glaze, is magnificent. After I made it, I kept thinking of excuses to eat the remainder. It’d taste good on yogurt. Or toast. Or, just off my finger. Finally I poured all of it onto the cakes.

Yes, the cake has both a glaze and a frosting. It’s opulent. It’s spirited. It’s three layers of fall, frosted. If I don’t look outside while I’m eating it, I can pretend that although the sky is blue it’s chilly outside, that trees are bright with color, that the smell of fallen leaves is in the air. I think about wearing scarves, and stepping on pine cones, and all the varieties of apples, and of course I think of pumpkins. I think of hot apple cider, and apple orchards, and warm pies. I think of that stretch on my parents’ street which looks like a painting when the trees turn orange and yellow and red. I think of how September always feels fresh, like the beginning, although I know it’s the first step towards winter. But I can’t shake it. I love the fall and I miss it so.

I miss seasons like I miss people. Is that horrible? Next year, I’m coming to America in the fall.

This is a three layer cake. I took one layer to my writing group dinner and stacked the other two. If you want to make only one cake, divide the recipe into thirds. Don’t be intimidated by the lengthy ingredient list; the cake is very much worth it.

Spiced Carrot Layer Cake
adapted from Saveur

For the cake:
1 cup (227 grams) unsalted butter, plus more for pans
1 1⁄4 cups flour, plus more for pans
1 1⁄4 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp. baking powder
1 tbsp. baking soda
1 tbsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. kosher salt
1⁄2 tsp. ground allspice
1 cup shredded coconut
1⁄2 cup finely ground almonds
3 cups finely grated carrots
1 1⁄2 cups packed dark brown sugar
3 eggs, separated
1⁄2 cup plain yogurt
1⁄4 cup orange juice
1 tbsp. orange zest
1 tsp. vanilla extract
for the Glaze:
4 tbsp. unsalted butter
1⁄2 cup sugar
1⁄8 cup water + 1/8 cup yogurt, shaken together
1 tbsp. honey
3⁄4 tsp. baking soda
1⁄2 tsp. vanilla extract
For the frosting:
8 tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1⁄2 cup mascarpone cheese
3  8-oz. packages cream cheese
2 tbsp. dark or spiced rum
1 tbsp. orange zest
13.5 oz. (385 grams) confectioners’ sugar
1. Make cake: Heat oven to 350°. Butter and flour three 9″ round baking pans; set aside. Heat butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat; cook until it browns.  Chill until solid. (Here’s a tutorial on browning butter.)
2. In a bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder and soda, cinnamon, ginger, salt, and allspice. Mix shredded coconut and almonds together. Combine nut mixture, carrots, and flour mixture; mix.
3. In a bowl, beat together browned butter and brown sugar until fluffy, 1–2 minutes; beat in yolks one at a time. Add yogurt, juice, zest, and vanilla; beat. Add flour mixture; beat. Using a hand mixer (or stand), beat egg whites to stiff peaks; fold into batter. Divide batter between pans; smooth tops with a spatula. Bake for 30–35 minutes. Let cool slightly.
4. Meanwhile, make glaze and icing: In a 4-qt. pan, combine 4 tbsp. butter, sugar, buttermilk, syrup, and baking soda; boil. Cook until dark, 3–4 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in 1⁄2 tsp. vanilla. Spread glaze over each warm cake. Remove cakes from pans; transfer, glazed side up, to racks. Let cool.
5. In a bowl, beat remaining butter, mascarpone, and cream cheese with a mixer until smooth. Add remaining vanilla, rum, and sugar; beat. Mix in remaining orange zest with a spoon. Chill frosting. Spread 1 1⁄4 cups icing evenly over 2 cake layers; stack, top with remaining layer. Frost top and sides. Chill before serving.
SERVES 16 – 20

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Bombay is high on heat and humidity. When I was melting in October, people just muttered cryptically. October was an oven, but it was the infamous “May in Bombay” that would be the test of my survival in this bright, blistering city. The heat is brash and inescapably agitating. I’m waiting for June’s promise of ominous skies and cold, sudden rains. Oh, the things I look forward to now.

I bide my time and divert my mind by making and eating cake.


Ostensibly, I made this sort of plain looking lemon-yogurt cake with figs for my mom-in-law, for Mother’s Day. She really liked it (whew), but when I ate my first piece, I literally felt transported -to a balmy place where my only thoughts were about the mild perfume of ground almonds, the dusty pink of fresh figs and the fragile subtleties of spring, all that is the opposite of a brazen Bombay summer. So I ate another piece, and then another, marveling at the cake’s dewy lacing of lemon and frankly, it’s a good thing I made this cake for my mom-in-law and not for myself because that means there’s still some remaining at her house right now, where I’m going for lunch in an hour. There, I’ll have another soft slice of the season that Mumbai’s missing: the spring.

It’s a simple path to happiness for me. Dorie Greenspan, whose recipe I adapted, says that this French yogurt cake is “absolutely foolproof and shamelessly easy.” I tweaked her recipe by folding in the fresh figs (you can make it with any other fruit or no fruit at all), upping the amount of lemon rind, and substituting brown sugar for half of the white sugar. And at the very end, I squeezed the juice of one lemon all over the top of the baked cake and let it slowly seep through the moist, freckled layers to give it a very faint, tart tinge. DSC_1011

Don’t be alarmed if it looks squat; this is a low, short cake, something you would eat around tea time, or for breakfast or lunch. Or even for dessert, with some whipped cream, fresh fruit, or jam. But I like to eat this spring cake plain, to savor the scents of almond, lemon and fig. Dorie says the cake is best the day after it’s made, which is when we ate it.

A Cake for the Spring, or Lemon Yogurt Cake with Fresh Figs
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (Indian refined sugar has bigger crystals than American refined sugar. When I’m baking, I usually stick my sugar in a mixer/grinder so the crystals become finer and resemble American sugar. I have no idea if this makes a difference to anything but I do it. Don’t grind it too much or you’ll make confectioner’s (or powdered) sugar.)
grated zest of 5 Mumbai lemons (or 1 American lemon)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower (I used sunflower because that’s what I had)
4-5 fresh figs, sliced in 1/4 inch rounds, then halved
juice from one Mumbai lemon

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F (or 175 degrees C). Generously butter the bottoms and sides of a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan.

Whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.

With your fingertips, mix together the sugars and zest in a medium bowl until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the yogurt, eggs and vanilla and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very well blended. Add the dry ingredients in 3 steps, whisking after each addition. Use a rubber spatula to wipe down the edges of the bowl and fold in the oil. You’ll have a thick, smooth batter with a slight sheen.

Pour 3/4 of the batter into your prepared cake pan, using the spatula to spread it all over. Place as many fig halves as will fit all over the batter, and then pour the remaining batter over the figs trying to hide all the pieces. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to the counter and let it cool for five minutes, then take it out of the pan and let it cool some more. Squeeze the juice from one lemon all over the cake. Let cool to room temperature and eat!

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I went to Mahabaleshwar this past weekend and stayed at the Dina Hotel, a Parsi-run inn with pretty gardens, impeccable service, and antiquated charm. A wooden wall calendar hung in the dining room and classical music was the soundtrack for every meal.

Mahabaleshwar in the mist is what we went to see, hoping the hill station would have emptied out, the rain turning the town upside down, causing people to flee from the heavy, cloudy sky.

But though the days were wonderfully gloomy, the red earth remained dusty and dry, keeping the town relatively active for this time of year. When we walked into the reservations office of the Dina Hotel, a man, his wavy gray hair combed to the side, peered up at us over his glasses, grunted, and then leafed through a large reservations book, its pages furled by damp.

The enclosed balcony in front of our room overlooked the carefully tended gardens. On our right was a playground with a few pieces of happily painted equipment; my favorite was the forlorn swingset with its lonely bucket seats.

We ate a few decent meals at Dina (breakfast, lunch, dinner and tea were included in the price of the room) but didn’t agree with the assessment of our neighbor, Paras, who, after extending an invitation to partake in his evening balcony spread of whiskey and “bites,” told us that he and his wife found the food at Dina “awesome.”

We did have a remarkably light chole one evening, and on our first lunch, the snowy dahi vadas sprinkled with freckles of the brightest red chili powder were nutty and airy. We also enjoyed the racier version of the traditional baked beans on toast, spiked with onions and spicy like pav bhaji.

Chai, unfortunately, was not Dina Hotel’s strong point. When we stirred milk into the weak English tea, flat, glossy fat bubbles skimmed the surface of our cup. We asked for tea boiled with milk but even that tasted insipid, though infinitely more palatable than the other watery concoction.

At Brightland Holiday Village’s restaurant, The Olive Garden(!), we ate delicious thin crust pizzas, both topped with our choices: one olive, mushroom and garlic combination and one green onion, tomato and green chili pie.

We sat outside both nights we had dinner there and the patio, slick with the sheen of rain, reflected lights in a blur. The hotel, busy during the day with screaming kids splashing in the pool, was much more pleasant at our 10:30 dinner time.

The paneer tikka that we got as an appetizer one night was served on a portable tava (stove) with skinny loops of red onion and a fresh mint chutney. Our pesto pasta was cooked with an over enthusiastic amount of garlic, but the pine nuts, Parmesan and sun dried tomatoes helped balance the dish.

At the Gymkhana we played table tennis and, along with the flies that settled on every available damp space, enjoyed a hot afternoon snack of chips (fries, but apparently not as good as they usually are) and spicy ketch-up with our chai.

Despite the rain outside, a few men insisted on playing tennis on the puddle stained courts. Hm, wet balls.

We wandered through the Mahabaleshwar market, stumbling across gems like Elsie’s Bakery, where the pastries resembled the ancient cake collages framed on the walls.

We also walked past a game where the grand prizes included a gigantic boombox and a boxy portable television for those kids skilled enough to roll the ball into the right slot.

My favorite among the places we ate was the Bagicha Corner, a strawberry and corn farm with covered outdoor seating and a store that sold bizarre glass figurines.

We shared a Makkai Frankie (Makkai=corn) and a Makkai Cheese Frankie, crispy, flaky rolls oozing with sweet corn, onions, green pepper and garlic. I preferred the plain frankie because the cheese was too buttery and salty and overrode the fresh corn taste.

For dessert we shared a tall glass of strawberry juice and one of strawberries and cream, in which sliced strawberries were tucked between scoops of strawberry ice cream and fluffy sweet cream.

Such meals can make me fall in love.

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This post about the 10 best ice cream sandwiches in New York made me drool. I can’t wait to try Ronnybrook Farm Dairy‘s sandwich because its ice cream is…too good…and Bierkraft‘s “fudgy chocolate brownie” sandwiches since it’s located so close to me but I’m most excited about the pumpkin cookie ricotta gelato sandwiches at One Girl Cookie. Pumpkin and ice cream makes a great combination and the store has other intriguing items on its menu, like fig-flavored sheep’s milk ice cream. Y-U-M.

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We went to BLT Steak for Sandeep’s birthday dinner. Steakhouse dinner invitations come my way infrequently (hmmm), so I thought I should scope out the scene.

Tanned people with nary a golden lock out o’ place milled around the bar, where we waited for 20 minutes despite being on time for our 8:45 reservation. We eventually got seated at a round table (always a plus) in the enormous dining room where the walls, ridged with angular siding, created an atmosphere reminiscent of a furniture showroom.

My friends all ordered steaks (1 medium, 3 medium rare) while I had the much more interesting and varied task of selecting the sides. I choose:

Stuffed Mushrooms: The breadcrumbs were deep-fried and their oiliness distracted from what could have been a meaty (ha!) dish that better complimented the juicy and absorbent qualities of mushrooms.

Parmesan Gnocchi: Delicious. I wish I had gotten a sharper picture of this snowy pile of Parmesan and the lovely clouds of gnocchi bathing in a cream sauce underneath. A little rich? Certainly… :)

Onion Rings: I realize that onion rings are very much a matter of personal preference. BLT’s looked funny, a congealed fried tower. I liked my first bite a lot but these onion rings did not stand up to the test of time- the tempura-esque batter became rapidly soggy from the weight of the oil.

Creamed Spinach: I was curious, never having eaten “creamed spinach.” Yummy! It tasted just like saag paneer from an Indian restaurant, minus all the spices.

My question, which I posed to my dinner companions and to the waiter, was, why are these steak sides so rich? People always talk about how filling steak is; my friends couldn’t manage more than two bites of the sides because they were stuffed from their entrees. I imagined that tomatoes and onions, or asparagus dressed in a light lemony butter would be more appropriate steak sides both for the contrast in taste and weight. But the waiter and my friends and Wikipedia told me that steak is traditionally served with starchy sides.

For dessert we ordered the chestnut chocolate sundae (see previous post for a full-length picture), beautifully presented in a tall skinny glass with whipped cream and a cherry on top, in which fleshy, sweet chestnuts and crunchy candied ones were hidden between scoops of chocolate ice cream and thick chocolate fudge. Delightful Decadence!

And finally, we ordered the peanut-butter chocolate mousse with banana ice cream but Sandeep ate most of it himself, not realizing it was one of the desserts we’d ordered to share. He had been silently working on his cake for so long that finally one of the other boys turned to him and said, Sandy, you’ve been quiet. How’s that cake? “Oh man, guys, this is the most incredible chocolate cake I’ve ever had- I was just thinking- you guys should really try some.” Waq, tasting his first bite, was like, “Sandy this is the mousse we ordered!…and you ate the whole thing.” And so we each got a lick of what remained.

Onion rings, spinach: $9; mushrooms: $10; gnocchi: $10; dessert: $10
Bistro Laurent Tourondel Steak is at 106 East 57th street, New York, NY.

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A couple weekends ago, we threw a Gnome party to celebrate the coming of spring. Anthony and I did extensive gnomic research and learned that gnomes 1. live in forests 2. are happy-go-lucky vegetarians and 3. like melancholy tales. We thought they sounded just like us.

[Art by Elana Snow.]

We slipped some spring sweetness into beer by adding a dash of lemonade to make radler, a German drink of wheat beer and lemonade. Alongside, we served some forest morsels. First was a bowl of Garlicky Sesame-Cured Broccoli Salad with a box of toothpicks nearby for people to pick their little tree of choice.

It’s a simple recipe that calls for marinating raw broccoli in a toasty dressing of sesame oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and cumin for at least 2 hours and up to 48 hours. The results of all that time soften the broccoli until it’s popping with warm, juicy flavors. It’s surprising how good- and popular- this salad was.

We also made Cinnamon Cupcakes with Chile-Chocolate Buttercream Frosting. Above is a picture of the cinnamon, ancho chile powder, cayenne, and vanilla extract splattered onto the butter and sugar batter.

They were awesome. The cinnamon cake base was only slightly sweet, just as I like it, and worked perfectly with the spicy and totally intriguing chocolate buttercream. These might be my favorite cupcakes ever.

So, Elana is our artist-in-residence and one of the most wonderful people ever. We met freshman year of college when we were both assigned to the Gildersleeve (…just like Gryffondor) house in AMR II. Elana lived with Malka and I lived downstairs with a vegan girl.

Long story short, I liked cheese and needed someone to eat it with, so our friendship bloomed. E and I lived together junior and senior year which was maybe the loveliest time ever. Anyway, Anthony and I spend way too much time discussing how much we appreciate Elana, and then he had the great idea to ask her to draw decorations for our party.

She was busy all week and had to be in NH the day before our party but brought a bag of markers on the train to make the posters. She said, “I was on the train and I started to draw gnomes. But plain and simple gnome drawings just bored me to tears. I kept looking at their cute little wise gnome faces and thought ‘I wonder which issues are important to gnomes. If a gnome were to run for president, what would his platform be?’ And then I became completely obsessed with the idea of a gnome election. It really took off from there.”

These posters have a permanent place on the wall above our couch. Thanks, Elana!

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