Category Archives: Cakes

Banana Bread with Bittersweet Chocolate, Whole Wheat, and Olive Oil

I’m not going to disappoint anyone by telling you that banana bread is really cake, right?  And this banana “bread” is no exception.  It has a couple of healthful flourishes, yes–whole wheat flour replaces some of the white flour, and olive oil and yogurt stand in for butter–but it remains a sweet, dense, chocolatey cake.

And to be honest, I like whole grains in sweet baked goods at least as much for their hearty flavor as for any health benefit they confer (I mean, we’re still talking about cake here).  These whole wheat chocolate chip cookies, this rye flour zucchini bread (also a cake, of course)—the whole grains add a layer of flavor and texture that leave more refined baked goods tasting rather insipid in comparison. Continue reading


Pear Muffins with Cardamom and Vanilla

The ways of the fruit trees are mysterious to me.  One year it’s a bumper crop of plums, this year just enough for one indulgent afternoon.  The apple trees are staggering under the weight of their fruit, but we only got one apricot.  And the pear tree, espaliered out of the way on our small city lot, produced its customary dozen pears.  Which yielded, after a little bit of cleanup and a lot of simmering down, one and a half cups of chunky pear sauce.

We made the most of it with these muffins.

Let me just admit up front that they’re more cake than breakfast, unless you can see your way to combining the two–in which case, I assure you, you won’t be alone.  The crumb is tender, the tops are crisp with sugar, and the muffins are fragrant with the heady scents of cardamom and vanilla. Continue reading

Zucchini Bread with Rye, Basil, and Mint

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It took me all summer to get around to making zucchini bread.  I don’t have a go-to recipe, and I wasn’t feeling inspired.  I didn’t want spices.  I didn’t want nuts.  I didn’t want chocolate.

I wanted this, although I didn’t know it yet.  Butter, infused with basil and mint, so flavorful and delicious that I almost canned the baking idea in favor of just tossing that butter with shredded zucchini.  (I’ll be doing that too, you can be sure.)  The subtle tang of rye.  A little sugar, but not so much that you couldn’t still slather a slice in raspberry jam.  And we have.  Oh, we have. Continue reading

French Lentil Cakes with Yogurt and Fresh Herbs

As promised, we are using up leftover lentils today.  No leftover lentils?  Go start a pot of the little French ones now.  Cover a cup of them with water, toss in a bay leaf, they’ll be ready before your remaining ingredients are chopped.  Which brings us to the next point: this is a more time-consuming recipe than most that I post on this site.  You may not want to start cooking these at 6 p.m. on a weekday–but then again, you might.  Who am I to insist that you eat before 7?

If you’re looking for a “center of the plate” vegetarian main course, look no further.  One or two of these golden cakes, anointed with a dollop of herby yogurt sauce, makes an elegant entree.  At the same time, nobody could blame you for popping one of these into a hamburger bun and piling it with crunchy lettuce and tomatoes.  The perfect vegetarian burger is an elusive thing, but these fit the bill: flavorful, moist, and sturdy enough to pick up in your hand.

This recipe is adapted from the blog Coconut and Quinoa, so all the credit goes to Amy for the little touches that make this recipe work: mashed chickpeas and oat flour to bind the patties without egg, a sauteed grated zucchini for moisture, and piles of herbs, capers, and a spash of balsamic vinegar to brighten and enhance the flavor of the earthy lentils.

Continue reading French Lentil Cakes with Yogurt and Fresh Herbs (click for recipe)

Rhubarb Cake with Crystallized Ginger Crumb

Remember when my backyard rhubarb was barely poking its head up through the ground?  I was happy to see the first signs of spring, sure, and new life unfurling is always inspiring, yada yada, but really?  I was excited because I was already thinking about this cake.

It’s sweet and light, with barely-tart shards of rhubarb nestled in every bite.  It’s topped with a crystallized ginger crumb that gives it a bit of a coffee cake appearance, which lets you get away with serving it for breakfast.  (I’ve never understood why topping a sugary cake with MORE sugar makes it into breakfast fare, but I’m not complaining.)  It’s a family favorite.

This recipe comes from Rustic Fruit Desserts, a book by Portland baker Julie Richardson and chef Cory Schreiber.  If you don’t have it already, you might want to run out and get it right now.  I know I’ll be using my copy all summer. Continue reading Rhubarb Cake with Crystallized Ginger Crumb (click for recipe)

A One Year Old’s First Birthday Cake, or, Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Our baby is one!

We’ve had her in our lives for a whole year.  And what a year the first year of life is!  A baby grows from a shapeless, snuggly bundle of tiny fingers, big eyes, and warmth into a little person who can play peekaboo and demand bananas.  It’s been a good year.

A birthday, at our house, calls for a cake.  I know there are birthday-pie people and people who think one-year-olds shouldn’t eat sugar (they probably shouldn’t), and we aren’t even really cake people so much but…. Birthday. So cake.  I have made this same cake for all three of my little ones’ first birthdays.  Here it is.

You can think of this particular cake in two ways.  If you want to feel virtuous, you can describe it as a tender, butter-free whole wheat cake, glazed with a maple-sweetened cream cheese frosting, chock full of carrots and tinted pink with beet.  If you want to feel honest, you can describe it as a total sugarbomb of a cake, well-suited to any celebratory occasion.

In the past, I’ve grated a beet and squeezed it in cheesecloth to use as pink food coloring.  This time, I came across powdered dried beet at my spice shop and gratefully took that less-messy route.  I bought about a quarter cup of the stuff.  Achieving the magnificently pink hue below required half a teaspoon.  Oops.  Does anyone need some powdered beet?  What should I do with the rest? Continue reading A First Birthday Cake, or, Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting (click for recipe)

Quinoa Cakes with Cheese, Garlic, and Herbs

I think it’s getting to be a dated notion that a big chunk of meat is the most essential component of any meal.  But if you’re trying to eat vegetarian meals more often, sometimes it might feel like the “centerpiece” of the meal is missing.  I sometimes struggle with this although I’ve been mostly vegetarian for many years, and I always marvel at how effortlessly a meal comes together when I’m serving a piece of fish.  Of course it’s often fine not to have one food be the main attraction, but sometimes it’s nice to have a focal point of a vegetarian meal.

These quinoa cakes fit the bill nicely.  They’re high in protein, low in effort (especially if you have some leftover plain or seasoned cooked quinoa), and their tidy presentation looks great on a plate.  They could easily be served with a veggie side and/or salad for lunch or dinner.  I made them for breakfast with salsa and sliced avocado, although they would also have been great topped with a fried egg.  (Isn’t everything?)  They’re versatile, I’m telling you.  And tasty.

As usual, this is more of a template than a recipe.  You can find a recipe, the one that this dish is based on, in Heidi Swanson’s Super Natural Every Day cookbook.  But I say wing it.  You could stuff these with veggies, make them gooey cheesy, or spice them up with hot pepper.  The essentials here are the quinoa, some eggs and breadcrumbs to hold it all together, alliums and herbs for flavoring, and some cheese (or salt!) for salt. Continue reading Quinoa Cakes with Cheese, Garlic, and Herbs (click for recipe)

Earl Grey Chocolate Cake

Shutterbean recently posted this Real Simple recipe for an Earl Grey Chocolate Cake.  And I was torn.  Chocolate and Earl Grey?  Yes.  Dreamy combination.  But Real Simple?  Not for me.  I sometimes want to buy it off a magazine rack, sure, because who wouldn’t want to “Organize Your Whole Life in 15 Minutes” or learn “25 Fast Healthy Breakfast Ideas You’ve Never Thought Of Before”?  But those are false promises, or at most two-page spreads, and when I have actually purchased the magazine I have come away with the feeling that it was really just trying to sell me cleaning products all along.  And I don’t really like to clean.

Luckily, I didn’t let my issues outweigh my love of cake.  Because this is a good one.  I love a chocolatey chocolate cake, which this is not.  (For a moist, delicious, super chocolatey cake, bake these Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes as a cake instead.)  This Earl Grey Chocolate Cake has a lighter chocolate flavor, which is a good thing (weird! I know!), because it allows the tea to come through.  The Earl Grey flavor is subtle, but definitely noticeable.  Intriguing.

The bundt pan that I dug out of the back of my cupboard gave the cake an irresistable chewy-crisp edge.  If you’re a middle-of-the-brownie-pan kind of person instead, don’t worry, all but a few millimeters of the cake is fine-crumbed and moist.  (But oh!  Those few millimeters!  If you are an edge-of-the-brownie-pan kind of person, you will love that edge.)  The bundt pan also made J refer to me (fondly, I think) as a Midwestern housewife.  If you live in the Midwest, do you make a lot of bundt cakes?  I think that is a lifestyle I could definitely embrace.Real Simple Earl Grey Chocolate Cake

I enjoyed making Earl Grey Chocolate Cake in part because you mix everything in one bowl, so it required relatively little cleanup (see above re whether I like to clean).  Boil a cup of water and infuse it for 3-5 minutes with 6 Earl Grey tea bags or 2 Tbsp. loose Earl Grey tea, then set the tea aside.  Spray a bundt or tube pan and set it aside.  Melt and cool 4 oz. semisweet chocolate.*  In your mixing bowl, cream 1/2 c. softened butter with 1 3/4 c. sugar, then mix in 3 eggs. Mix in the melted chocolate.  Continue to mix while adding 2 c. all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking soda, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1/4 tsp. salt, 1/2 c. plain yogurt and that strong cup of Earl Grey tea.  Scoop the cake batter into your pan.  Bake 45-50 minutes at 350 or until a skewer comes out with a few crumbs (rather than raw cake batter) attached.  Let the cake cool for 5 minutes, then turn out of the pan.  Cool, then dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.

*The original recipe called for 4 oz. unsweetened chocolate and 2 c. sugar, but I didn’t have unsweetened chocolate.  Make it easy, use what you have on hand.

Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes

It is lovely to be invited to dinner.  Tonight our gracious hosts fed the many kiddos first and then sent them off to play while we enjoyed an adult dinner in peace.  Brilliant!  Why didn’t I think of that?  We were served this elegant Coq au Vin from Sunset Magazine.  I contributed dessert.

I don’t make these Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes because they’re vegan.  I make them because they’re delicious and very, very moist.  And today I made them because my friend who invited us to dinner can’t eat eggs or dairy.  The recipe is originally from Epicurious.  I scaled it down because a dozen big chocolate cupcakes seemed adequate for two families.

Also, did I mention how easy it is to make a dozen Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes?  Mix 1 c. plus 2 Tb. flour with 1 c. sugar, 1/2 c. cocoa powder, 1 tsp. of baking soda and 1/4 tsp. salt in a big bowl.  Get out a 2-cup measuring cup and mix 1 c. water, 1/3 c. canola oil, 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla and 1 tsp. white vinegar.  Mix the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, divide between 12 lined muffin cups, and bake at 350 for 20 mins.  The wonky-looking bit of frosted cupcake you see in the picture up there is glazed with 1 c. powdered sugar sifted with 1/4 c. cocoa powder with 3-4 Tbsp. boiling water mixed in (just enough to make it pourable, then you dip the tops of the cooled cupcakes in).

The Best Soup of 2011

I’ll give you that it’s 2012 already.  But when this soup showed up on 101 Cookbooks recently, it reminded me of how much we loved it last year.  Friends came over for dinner and I made a few little things to go along with it, too.

First, Nash’s Field Pea or (if you don’t have Nash’s Field Peas, poor you) Split Pea Soup with Curried Brown Butter: I, myself, like to make a big pot of soup–enough to serve unexpected company or to have leftovers for the freezer.   So you could scale this down if you prefer a smaller quantity.  Saute 2 big onions, 6 minced cloves of garlic, and 1/2 to 1 tsp. red pepper flakes in a knob of butter.  When soft, add 3 c. field peas (well sorted and washed and soaked overnight)–or, once the field peas run out, green split peas.  Add 3 quarts water, bring to a boil and simmer until soft.  If you’re using split peas or lentils this might take 30-60 minutes.  If you’re using last year’s field peas from Nash’s, it might take all day.  When the peas are soft, mix in 2 tsp. salt and 1 can light coconut milk.  Puree well, then add additional salt to taste.  In a separate pan, brown 1/4 c. butter, then sizzle in 4 tsp. Indian curry powder for one minute.  Mix most of the curried brown butter into the soup, then serve bowls drizzled with the remaining curried butter and chopped chives.

This Easy Little Bread is just as its name implies and goes great with (butter or cheese and) soup.  Dissolve 2 tsp. yeast in 1 1/4 c. warm water, then mix in 1 Tb. honey.  Meanwhile, mix 1 c. all-purpose flour, 1 c. whole wheat flour, 1 c. oats and 1 1/2 tsp. salt in a large bowl.  Mix wet ingredients into dry until well combined, then scoop dough into a buttered loaf pan.  Let rise for 30 minutes, then bake for about 40 minutes at 350.  Cool on a cooling rack.

A Lemony Kale Salad kept the meal from being too brown: Chop 1 washed, stemmed bunch of kale to smithereens in a food processor.  Toss in a handful of currants and a handful of toasted pine nuts.  Mix up a dressing of 1/4 c. lemon juice, 1/4 c. olive oil, 1/4 c. microplaned parmesan, a minced small clove of garlic, and salt and pepper to taste.  Toss it all together with more parmesan.

And finally, a Meyer Lemon Olive Oil Cake, made from lemons we picked from the tree outside the window when were in California last week.  It’s from Rustic Fruit Desserts, and it’s a family favorite (we call it “glaze cake”).  First, preheat the oven to 350 and coat a 9″ cake pan with olive oil, then granulated sugar.  Beat 3 room-temperature eggs, 3/4 c. sugar, and the zest of 5 Meyer lemons at high speed for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine 1 1/4 c. all purpose flour with 1/4 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. baking powder.  Mix 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla into the egg mixture, then add 1 c. olive oil while the mixer is running at low speed.  Add flour mixture just to combine, then scoop it into the pan and bake for 25-30 minutes.  Glaze with 3/4 c. powdered sugar mixed with 2 Tbsp. Meyer lemon juice.