In case you haven’t noticed, I’m not a huge fan of cake as we know it. I’m pretty thrilled when I pull off a layer cake, and I swoon at Molly Yeh’s gorgeous creations, but I’ll almost never go into a bakery, look at the cake options, and say, “ooh, I’ll take a slice of that, please.” In fact, for our wedding we had a rustic and delicious pie station with three sweet and tart options to sample and devour (apple, pumpkin, and cranberry pear, of course) in lieu of the traditional, schmancy multi-tier wedding cake, and our guests didn’t even miss it. But — combine a cake with a brownie, flavor it with almond and orange, and call it a torte, and I will throw my hat back in the cake ring with relish. Continue reading →
Raise your hand if you’re ready for fall. The shifting light means it’s coming, as does that breeze from the north that’s sneakily blown in, even on those hottest days. I know summer’s not over, and the heat is about to descend upon us once again, but there’s golden light at the end of this tunnel. The kind that says it’s okay to turn your oven on, it’s okay to come inside early and eat dinner after the sun sets, it’s okay to wear pants and snuggle up under blankets, warm kitties on your lap and a cup of hot, spiced apple cider to your right. It’s coming.
And while we beckon fall ever closer to our embrace, let’s make another seasonal bridge, this time with gorgeous plums, still ubiquitous right now even as apples take the place of peaches and nectarines at farmers markets. A hint of cinnamon says yes, fall, we’re ready. Enter this perfect plum torte from Marian Burros, here to make you swoon a little at this changing of the seasons. Continue reading →
Last week, we welcomed my nephew into the world: a tiny, pink, strong bundle of love who moves as if he were underwater, looks at us as if trying to understand, then closes his eyes to process where he is, what he’s seen, what he’s felt. I’ve been spending a lot of time wondering what he’s thinking, how his wires are translating his surroundings, the love, the touch of his beautiful, amazing mother and his wonderful father — my brother, now a dad. It’s made me think about life as a continuum, life as stars — tiny specks of light that take generations to reach the eye. The idea that we never truly die if we leave something behind: writing, wisdom, life, knowledge.
So I thought it was only appropriate when we gathered as a family at their apartment after my brother and sister-in-law returned home with their new little life, to bring them our great-grandma’s coffee cake — my mom’s staple, her last-minute dessert, so simple and satisfying in its ease. But at the same time, I wanted to give it a new twist to celebrate the newest generation in our family. And thus was also born cardamom coffee cake. Continue reading →
The first time we drove to Indiana, it was the day before Thanksgiving, and we spent 12 exhausting hours pushing ourselves past state lines. When we arrived at Ray’s parents’ house, late at night, his mom had a feast waiting for us: delicious, hearty lasagna, and sweet, spiced, perfect pumpkin roll — two of Ray’s favorites. After the hugs and the smiles and the warmth of the house, it was the perfect end to a very, very long day. It’s been four years since that pumpkin roll came into my life, and many, many unanswered requests later, I’ve reached past the fear of rolling a cake and I’ve finally done it. I’ve made pumpkin roll — with maple cream cheese filling.
Today, the ImaginariYUM turns one year old. It’s been a pretty amazing year. From my Dad’s Sunday Blueberry Pancakes to Pain au Chocolat to today, you’ve helped me grow bolder, grow easier, grow more comfortable with my abilities and constraints. I’ve made some pretty creative things, tested some things tried and true. Run a marathon, and begun training for another. Learned to enjoy every moment of every season — even the hot, miserable ones, because they all mean something, give something.
And this summer, especially, has been filled with love, and with joy. I was honored to be a bridesmaid and the “pastry chef” for my best friend Tracie’s wedding in July, and then, just last Friday — just a month after I caught the bouquet and he caught the garter, and five years to the day after our first date — my fella asked me to marry him. The love of my life. The guy. The one who says he never really thought the saying “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach” was true until he met me. The one who taught me to love strange midwestern concoctions, and makes a perfect grilled cheese. The one who washes the dishes, is happy to be my guinea pig. The one who never, ever complains when things take way longer to cook or bake than I led on. The one who makes me laugh every day, throws a bag of ice in the tub when I’m exhausted, sore, and whimpering after a long run, reminds me that creativity is like a muscle that needs exercise. The one who sat with me and watched Bugs Bunny cartoons on my phone, in the back of a bar, on our first date, and who will still sit with me and watch Bugs, over, and over, and over again, any day that I ask. That guy.
So on this bloggiversary, I thought it was appropriate to celebrate just a little. With cupcakes. Chocolate cupcakes with salted caramel buttercream, to be exact.
I’m not a big material gift-giver. Probably because I’m a pretty awkward gift-receiver. Sure, it’s always great to rip open some packaging and discover something extremely thoughtful, something you’ve always wanted, or something you never knew you would want but would end up using on a regular basis. It might also stem from the fact that my parents always insist that we not buy them anything for birthdays, Hanukkah, Mother’s or Father’s Day. Maybe we just need to be more savvy (note: parents do NOT want massage gift certificates), but what that has meant is that my gift to my family, my friends, my loved ones, is very often the gift of food. Putting love into a cake, brownies, penne or gnocchi; and the sacred ritual of gathering and filling our souls with that love. It becomes more than a meal, more than a gift: it is an experience, shared, together.
And sometimes, I go into overdrive. This is what happened this past weekend, when my fella celebrated his 33rd. We had blueberry pancakes with actual real bacon, his favorite kickin’ grilled chicken and blue cheese calzones (twice), and this Chocolate Nutella Banana Insanity Cake. Continue reading →
And so, there comes a point in every person’s life when she must decide, once and for all, whether cooked cherries can have a part in her baking repertoire. For me, that point came last week. Except for the earliest parts of my youth, I’ve never loved the flavor. I eschew the cherry Starbursts and Tootsie Roll pops for orange and grape. And I know what you’ll say — those candies aren’t really made with cherries. But the cloying disaster of them tainted their value for me for too long. Even maraschino cherries topping drinks and chocolate-covered ones falsely promising balance are a no-go. Everything just tastes like syrup.
It wasn’t until several years ago that I even started enjoying cherries raw. I remember that first day well: I was hanging out with my old friend Lorraine on a sunny summer day in one of the parks in our hometown. We sat on the bleachers next to one of the baseball fields, catching up, eating black cherries and seeing how far we could spit the pits. And yes, we were in our 20s. The cherries were sweet, but had a hint of acidity to give them brightness. And the pits, instead of being a burden, as I had always thought they were, became the carefree definition of summer.
So cherries have become a regular character in my warm weather novella, playing a supporting role to peaches, strawberries, and blueberries, but a critical role nonetheless. In one of our hottest Mays on record, I’ve been craving those summer bounties, which, for now, still seem like delicacies until our local orchards can catch up after our long, cold winter. So on one of those hot days, along with a pint of blueberries for my Sunday blueberry pancakes, I picked up a giant bag of sweet, ripe cherries.
Raise your hand if you have old leftovers sitting somewhere in your fridge or on your countertop. Come on, stand up and be counted. Me? Oh, that’s me in the corner. That’s me in the spotlight, raising my hand sheepishly and asking you to please step away from my refrigerator, where there are two giant buckets full of old dough, a container of chickpeas and sauteed onions that I’m afraid to even open to dump out, and some pizza sauce from when I made that first bucket of dough, for pizza, I don’t know how long ago. Step away from the fridge. Nothing to see here, folks. Other times there’s that one cookie or scone that my fella and I are both leaving for each other. And we leave it until it gets stale, because neither of us wants to eat the last one. We’ll never learn.
And then there’s the marmalade. The sweet, sticky, beautiful clementine marmalade that I overcooked thanks to a faulty thermometer. Sure, I spread it on toast and mixed it into oatmeal, and it’s been delicious, but it was a bit too candy-like for some of my concoctions, and the jar was still almost full at the start of this past weekend. I made it in January. In my recipe, I said keep it in the fridge for up to two months — just to be on the safe side. Whoops.
But just in the nick of time — or just after the nick of time, depending on whether you abide by the “rules” — a friend of mine posted a recipe for orange marmalade cake on her Facebook page. The recipe’s author, Melissa Clark of the New York Times, recommends good marmalade — caramelized and chock-full of bitter seville orange peel. Caramelized? Accidentally or not — yes! Chock full of peel? Oh hey now! I checked for mold, threw the “rules” out the window, and got to work. Continue reading →
All too often, we spend too much time apologizing for words and actions, or silence and inactions, for which we have no reason to apologize. For speaking too quietly, for asking someone to repeat something he said. For having dinner ready half an hour later than we intended. For asking for help. And for not baking, or writing a blog post, for two and a half weeks. I want to say I’m sorry. I want to throw myself at the mercy of the few of you who read this blog, apologize for having external deadlines, interviews, a raging stomach flu. But I won’t.
Instead, I’ll present to you this gorgeous flourless chocolate cake. Hailing from the brain of the wonderful David Lebovitz, it has four ingredients that you very well might already have in your pantry, and is an easy go-to for a last-minute dinner party — or, hell, a last-minute chocolate craving. I made this for the second night of Passover, when I was no longer sick but hadn’t had any energy to go running around looking for matzoh meal or cake meal or even almonds or hazelnuts or coconut. What I did have was nearly a whole Pound-Plus Bar of bittersweet chocolate, eggs, sugar, and butter. And, with only a few minutes of prep, it was probably the only thing I had the energy to stand in my kitchen for.
I might actually have the worst time-management skills in the world. At 1:00 am last night, I was in my kitchen preheating my oven and seasoning my brand new cast-iron skillet. In my mind, the 1:00 am-to-2:00 am seasoning adventure was a time-saving initiative for today, when I would christen my beautiful new piece of cookery with this gorgeous, fluffy, delicious apple buckle. In reality, it happened because I baked up a dud in the test kitchen last night; spent a good deal of time wondering if this 12-inch skillet, which I bought at a discount home goods store thinking it was 10-inch, would serve my purposes long-term (I decided yes — worth the $15); thinking about whether I should season it tonight or in the morning; and researching, for maybe the third time this week, how one actually seasons cast-iron. Where in the baking gods’ name does the time go??
Continue reading →