Yesterday I made two cakes and a pot of soup. This is their story.
First I made this cake: Portugese Orange-Olive Oil Cake. That is because the cake I wanted to make (Orange Almond Cake) requires you to start by simmering an orange for two hours, and I needed to do something to fill those two hours. So: more cake. I live with five and a half people (my parents, my grandfather, his full-time home health aide and his part-time home health aide) and date the world’s most excited eater, so it is not as though more cake is a problem.
I’m not a huge fan of olive oil cakes, but my mom is a huge fan of orange sweets in any form, so I thought I’d give it a shot. The first step is to zest three oranges. I used to hate zesting because I zested with a cheese grater, which basically equals zested thumbs with the cuts full of lemon juice. Not a pleasant experience. But since getting a Microplane zester my zesting life is totally transformed (I sound like I work for Microplane when I talk about this thing, seriously). HOWEVER. Rather than getting the traditional zester – – I got this guy.
I had only ever zested one (delightful!) lemon with it before turning to the olive oil cake, and the zester literally fell apart after 3/4 of one large navel orange. I don’t know if I’m just a really aggressive zester or if the little handheld guy is really poorly made, but whichever it is, I had to zest two and a half more oranges on the fucking cheese grater. This took nearly two full episodes of How I Met Your Mother to accomplish. Also, apropos of nothing, I suck at juicing. We don’t have a juicer or a reamer or any other citrus de-juicing tool, so I just did it by hand, and got very little juice out of my oranges.
SO. I moved on to the batter making stage, and here I would like to shout-out mom and dad for my Kitchen-Aid mixer. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU I LOVE IT and aren’t you glad I live with you so you can eat the fruits of my Kitchen-Aided labors? I would also like to shout out all the amazing people who gave me baking advice on facebook the other week. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU. Since we spoke I have been mixing dry ingredients and wet ingredients separately, mixing things for the required times in the required orders, and my baked goods have achieved new magnitudes of fluffiness. That said, a warning about this recipe: it makes roughly a metric shit-ton of batter. I wound up needing to use both a loaf pan and a square pan to contain the batter for this cake. I might have been able to figure that out in advance had I read the recipe better, but I didn’t, so. Lots of batter. All the batter. On a related note, for Christmas I would like a kitchen elf to butter and flour my cake pans for me.
While that was baking up and the orange for the orange almond cake was still simmering, I made this soup: Celina’s Honeymoon Carrot Soup. That soup is from my new favorite food blog, Jewel Staite’s Happy Opu. You know Staite from Firefly, where she played Kaylee the engineer. Unlike other celebrity lifestyle writers I could name (coughgwynethpaltrowcough), Staite’s blog isn’t pretentious or oblivious. She writes like a real person, cooks real food, and is straight about her situation. You never get the feeling she is unaware of her privilege in eating beautiful food, and she never loses sight of the need for her food to be both delicious and worth its price. Even when she’s eating at a $95-a-plate celebrity-chef-owned hot spot, her focus is on deliciousness and bang for her buck. She just happens to have a few more bucks than the rest of us do, and can therefore seek more bang =P
Anyway. Celina is a frequent guest contributor at Happy Opu, and this soup was the first thing I have tried to cook from there. It was also my first attempt at cooking anything Asian-inflected (the carrot soup is Thai-inspired). This necessitated a trip to Hmart, the local Korean supermarket, to get lemongrass. I had never seen lemongrasss, and apparently neither had the well-intentioned but totally clueless employee who took me over to fresh herbs, where we both stared at packets of fresh sage and thyme with great interest. Another customer very kindly showed it to me since we were both totally hopeless. For your reference, lemongrass looks like this:
This soup also required going to three stores to get cardamom. Three stores. For cardamom. This is not an exotic or rare spice. Is there some international cardamom shortage of which I am unaware? Did everyone decide to cook Asian-inspired food for Memorial Day this year? Either way, they had it at Whole Foods, where they have everything for white people who want to expand our cooking horizons, and I managed to get out with only $25 worth of fruit in addition to the cardamom. I consider that a Whole Foods victory which perhaps best illustrates the depth of my problem.
But so this soup. It requires you to cook everything in one pot and then puree in a food processor or with an immersion blender. We don’t have an immersion blender, but that’s fine. I’ve done this before. I’ve been using a food processor since I was shorter than the counter. I got the food processor set up and started ladling and pouring soup into it. It was about three quarters full when, to my utter shock, broth started cascading out the bottom of the blender. I literally stood there and stared at it for about five seconds before frantically taking the blender apart and saving what was left of my soup. So, you know, open warning: food processors have liquid limits. DO NOT SURPASS THESE. You will wind up wearing whatever you’re trying to make.
After eating my soup I made the orange almond cake with my simmered-and-cooled orange. This cake is a recipe on sale at By the Way Bakery in Hastings-on-Hudson, NY, and was provided to the folks at Dinner: A Love Story by its owner, Helene Godin. I’ve never worked with almond flour before – which, FYI, is simply blanched and finely ground raw almonds – but it’s lovely, really light and soft. One thing I love about this recipe is that the cake looks beautiful straight out of the oven:
(That is not my cake or my image, it just looks like my cake.) I hate cake decorating. I mean I hate it. I read the blog posts on Pioneer Woman about decorating cookies and making cake balls and wonder who these people are and how far away from them I can stay. I am also really really bad at it. So I love a cake that’s gorgeous right out of the oven.
Notes and Verdicts
Orange-Olive Oil Cake by Leite’s Culinaria
Notes: The only thing I changed from the recipe was to reduce the sugar by 1/2 – 1 cup. I do this because my grandmother would have and she was a famously good cook. I also didn’t measure out the juice; I got what I could from the three oranges, made up the difference with Tropicana and hoped that I came close to the 1 1/2 cups asked for. I also ran out of extra-virgin olive oil and made up the last half-cup or so with regular.
Verdict: Tasty. Lovely rich yellow color. Light but undeniable citrus flavor, not overtly orangey. Soft, light and moist in texture. But it just wasn’t that interesting. It’s sort of like a citrusy pound cake. Nothing wrong with it, but nothing exceptional either. I will make it again if requested and probably not if not. B+/B
Thai-Inspired Carrot Soup by Celina at Happy Opu
Notes: The directions are fast and loose, so I felt free to play with the ingredients a little as well. (Honestly they are pretty fast and loose too.) I rarely measure herbs, preferring to eyeball, so I just threw in six or seven stalks of cilantro. I did not add sugar at any point because I am not a crazy person. I used canola oil as my base oil; upped the garlic to four thin cloves; and yes, the finished product really does taste better with fresh lime juice. I probably sauteed the lemongrass-ginger-garlic for twenty minutes before moving on and probably let it all cook for about fifteen minutes once everything was added? The carrots were done faster than expected. I probably put in a bit too much cayenne pepper in terms of flavour, though the degree of spiciness was right where I like it (high). I will say this does need to be strained; my co-eater and I ate ours unstrained, after which she took it upon herself to show me how to use a colander as a strainer. The lemongrass stalks are very woody, and while they’re delicious they’re not happyfuntimes to eat. This recipe also does not make a ton of soup, and in my mind, soup is a several-days meal, so when I make it again I will double the recipe.
Verdict: This is really fucking good, especially if you enjoy Thai flavours. The coconut milk is rich and the lemongrass is off the chain. My co-eater enjoyed it as well. It’s not hard to make at all; the only tough part is the blending, which may just be my own spazzitude. In any case, I absolutely intend to make this again. A
Orange-Almond Cake by Helene Godwin at Dinner: A Love Story
Notes: I changed nothing, except that this cake only needed 50 minutes of baking time. I also don’t have a 1/8 teaspoon so I eyeballed, and I’m pretty sure the cinnamon was closer to 1/4 tsp than 1/8.
Verdict: Oh my god, this cake is a revelation. The almond flour makes it so, so soft and tender, and the flavour it lends is unparalleled. The inclusion of a whole orange, as opposed to just the zest, really ups the orange flavour, and the sliced almonds sprinkled across the top right before baking add a wonderful crunch. I want to have this cake beside me always. The only, singular complaint I have is that while it is literally perfect right out of the oven, as it cools it becomes somewhat moister than I like my cakes to be. You may find this to be a feature rather than a bug. A+