one.Posted: August 30, 2010 Filed under: baking, birthdays, buttermilk, cake, chocolate 3 Comments
My baby boy had his first birthday recently.
I know how cliche this sounds, but I really don’t know where the year went.
When my daughter turned one, I was thrilled. I marveled at her existence every single day, and each milestone was another chance to celebrate: she was learning, growing, turning more and more into this amazing little person I was so excited to get to know.
When I met other mothers who greeted their babies’ first birthdays with a little less enthusiasm, I was completely perplexed. Why mourn time passed, I wondered, when the present – and presumably the future – was brimming with wonderful things?
These days, I think I understand that ambivalence a little better.
My son’s birth was a harrowing experience, one from which I feel, in many ways, that I am still recovering. After he was born he spent days in the NICU, having his lungs and tiny belly filled by machine, while I was in another room on a morphine drip, feeling like I’d thrown a party to which the guest of honour hadn’t shown up.
After those first dire days came weeks, then months, of management: me learning to manage my pain, my guilt, my disappointment in myself and my inability to bounce back the way I’d have liked.
A series of difficulties, more and less agonizing, arose for me to manage that fall: my son had colic, my husband had to travel extensively for work. A beloved friend and crucial part of my day-to-day support was killed in a bizarre and tragic fashion.
We found out we had to move, and it took us six months of searching before we found a new place to live.
Somewhere in that period, I realized I had spent more than half of my baby’s life distracted by a haze of worry and grief and pain, and I found it utterly crushing to think that I would not get those first months of his life back, ever.
Eventually, as is always the case, we made our through that period of crisis. The big concerns were settled, and the idea of returning to some kind of balance began to seem not so far-fetched.
Throughout my high-wire act, my daughter continued to be the amazing little person I had taken all of the time in the world to get to know, and my son’s personality began to emerge – and he is awesome. Sweet like his sister, and adoring in the way that makes all mothers of boys secretly swoon. He’s smart and quick and daring, chubby and charming.
I am thrilled that he is one whole year old, that he is strong and healthy, that he is learning and growing so quickly. He and I are as thick as thieves, our relationship none the worse for all of my feelings of anguish and guilt.
But if I could, I would turn back the clock – I would stop time. I would go back and marvel at his existence, every single day, from the moment he was born.
Since that is not an option, I will settle for rejoicing in a present – and presumably a future – brimming with wonderful things…and our family will celebrate, all four of us, with cake.
Buttermilk Birthday Cake with Milk Chocolate Icing
(adapted from Nigella Lawson)
I know that it seems counter-intuitive to post such a recipe in these last, dog days of summer, but please, do us both a favour and take note of it for the next time you have a birthday cake to make. Trust me, you won’t regret it – and I promise I will be back tomorrow with something a little more seasonal!
For the cake:
1 2/3c all purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
3/4c plus 2 tbsp buttermilk, at room temperature
1 tbsp vanilla
1/2c very soft unsalted butter
3 large eggs, at room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and line with parchment two 8- or 9-inch round cake pans.
Sift together flour, baking powder, and baking soda in a medium bowl and set aside.
Whisk together buttermilk and vanilla in a glass measuring cup (or other vessel with a spout) and set aside.
Combine butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat at medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed slightly and add eggs, one at a time, beating 30 seconds between additions. Add flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in alternating increments, beating well between additions, until a smooth, pale golden batter forms.
(You may find, partway through or even towards the end of the mixing, that your batter looks slightly curdled. Please don’t be alarmed – this has happened to me without fail every time I have made this cake, and it doesn’t affect the end result whatsoever.)
Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pans and bake about 25 minutes, rotating pans halfway through cooking time. The cake is done when it is slightly burnished and beginning to pull away from the sides of the pan. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a rack, then turn cakes out onto the rack to cool completely.
For the icing:
250g milk chocolate, coarsely chopped (or use milk chocolate chips)
3/4c unsalted butter
6 1/2c icing sugar, sifted
1 tsp vanilla
1-2 tbsp milk, if needed
Melt chocolate and butter together in a saucepan over VERY low heat, or in a double boiler, or (although I have never tried this) in a microwave. Transfer to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat in icing sugar and vanilla at medium-low speed. If icing is too thick, thin with a little milk.
When cakes have cooled completely, trim of the domed top of each cake. Place one cake, cut side up, on a platter or cake stand. Scoop a generous amount if icing onto this bottom cake (there will be plenty of icing, so don’t be skimpy on the filling) and spread it out evenly with an offset spatula or table knife.
Invert second cake onto the iced bottom layer. Use remaining icing to generously frost the top and sides of the cake (there may be some icing leftover).
special delivery.Posted: June 18, 2010 Filed under: baking, breakfast, cake, carrots 1 Comment
I have begun having my groceries delivered.
The passing mention of this new habit in a recent post did nothing to reveal how momentous a difference ordering food online, and its subsequent delivery, has wrought; so let me just say, unequivocally and on the record:
It has changed my life.
I have always loved shopping for food (and most other things, too), but lately it had been starting to feel like a bit of a chore.
We have several big household expenditures coming up, so we have been making an effort to be more frugal – which has meant less shopping at the pretty little jewel box-like shops along our strip in favour of trips to the vast, faceless and uninspiring (but ultimately more economical) supermarket at the outer fringe of our neighbourhood.
Because I find going to that store the worst kind of drudgery, my husband has been doing the grocery shopping of late – and although his is an errand of mercy and I should be grateful that he does it at all (and I am grateful, really!), I am not always pleased with what he comes home with.
It’s not that he’s a bad shopper – I’d just prefer to do it myself.
(For a while there, because of my control issues, we were making our trips to said giant grocery store en famille, and that was the worst kind of gong show:
Picture the four of us, largely disgruntled and at least one of us hungry, hurtling through the aisles in an attempt to make good choices and buy everything on our list before someone had a major meltdown and we were forced to leave without anything.)
Enter the life-altering on-line supermarket, where the aisles are empty, there is never a line at the checkout, and you don’t have to pay in cash or bag your own groceries.
Yesterday, I ordered everything on my list while nursing my baby and watching my daughter do a 300-piece puzzle.
And then this morning, before I had even finished making my coffee, there was a man at the door with four boxes of fresh food for my family and me.
I was so delighted by the whole thing, I made us a cake for breakfast to celebrate.
Spiced Carrot Breakfast Cake
The disadvantage of this over, say, muffins, is that it takes considerably more time to cook. That said, it also seems to go a lot further (don’t ask me why, since the ingredients are virtually the same), and the presentation is awfully pleasing. Besides, who can resist the notion of cake for breakfast?
1c wheat germ
1/2c applesauce (unsweetened)
1/3c oil (once again, I use coconut, but any vegetable oil will do)
1/2c agave nectar OR thawed apple juice concentrate
1 2/3c whole wheat flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/4 tsp nutmeg
about 2c grated carrots (I grate 2 fairly big carrots – not enormous, but not medium-sized either)
1/2c chopped pitted dates
1/2c chopped almonds
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a tube pan.
Place wheat germ in a large mixing bowl.
Combine buttermilk, eggs, apple sauce, oil, and agave nectar in a large glass measuring cup and whisk until smooth. Pour over wheat germ in bowl and stir to combine.
In a separate large mixing bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. Stir in carrots, dates, almonds, and craisins.
Add flour mixture to buttermilk mixture and stir until just combined. Scrape batter into prepared pan and bake about 40 minutes (check after 35), or until a tester inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Cool 10-15 minutes in pan, then run a knife around the sides to loosen the cake and invert it onto a wire rack.
Serve immediately, or let it cool a little longer before serving.
Makes at least a dozen slices.
waking and baking.Posted: June 4, 2010 Filed under: baking, bananas, chocolate, muffins Leave a comment
(with sheepish thanks to my friend Eden, from whose delightful blog post I ripped off this title)
We all have our morning rituals, the idiosyncratic routines without which we spend the rest of the day feeling slightly off.
Personally, although I have learned to live largely without caffeine these last couple of years, and my drinking alcohol in the morning is limited to the occasional mimosa, I find it very, very difficult to begin my day without some kind of baking, preferably still slightly warm from the oven.
During the recent heat wave in our city, it took me several days of being out of sorts and saying ferocious things to anyone I met who dared utter the words, “we have air conditioning, but we prefer not to use it unless we really need it,” before I realized that a large part of my attitude problem had to do with eating a cold breakfast every morning.
Necessity being the mother of invention (and greed being an incredibly powerful motivator), I decided to try to come up with a warm weather-friendly strategy: rather than giving up the waking and baking altogether, the trick was to make up a recipe so easy and fast that the kitchen barely had time to heat up before I was pulling some yummy thing out of the oven.
With the help of my willing family and what must be the hardest-working ceiling fan in the GTA, I came up with these muffins.
And I have to tell you that, even though the temperature is more moderate now than it was last week, I still can’t get enough of them.
3 very ripe bananas
1/2c oil (I use coconut oil because I’m obsessed with it these days, but go ahead and use whatever you’ve got)
1 tsp vanilla
1/2c thawed apple juice concentrate
1 2/3c whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tbsp instant espresso powder
3/4c chocolate chips
In a food processor, combine bananas, oil, eggs, vanilla and apple juice concentrate and process until smooth.
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and espresso powder.
Add flour mixture to food processor and process until all ingredients are combined.
Scrape batter into a large mixing bowl and fold in chocolate chips.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
While oven is preheating, line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper cups.
Divide batter evenly among muffin cups, and bake 17 – 18 minutes.
Remove from heat (and turn oven off immediately!) and cool 10 minutes or so in pan before transferring to a wire rack.
Serve immediately, or allow a little time to cool.
Makes a dozen.
separation (anxiety).Posted: May 8, 2010 Filed under: baking, breakfast 2 Comments
When I found out I was pregnant the first time, I thought I’d be a capable-but-remote mother. I have never particularly liked children, and had never intended to have any of my own; but I was prepared to take the responsibility seriously and try to do well at my job.
I couldn’t have imagined, then, the rabbit-hole that is falling messily and helplessly in love with your babies.
As it turns out, far from being remote (or, some days, even very capable), I am a mother who actually can’t stand being away from her kids.
I can’t describe the mixture of anxiety and guilt and mild heartbreak that I feel when I have to do something without them for more than an hour. Of course, I can function without having them with me constantly, but I don’t like it one bit.
But yesterday morning, by the time my children and I had hobbled through several hours of games and puzzles and baking and bathing and breakfast, and it was not even 8:00, I was looking for something much stronger than milk to add to my insultingly decaffeinated coffee.
And I also felt an unfamiliar sensation.
I couldn’t put my finger on it until my husband, bless him, offered to take the kids out, and I realized that what I was feeling was the need to not see them for a little while.
That feeling didn’t last long, but while it lasted I took advantage: I pulled a chair out onto the back deck, put my feet up on the railing, and gobbled up this last breakfast bar in blissful silence.
These are a great breakfast, eaten slightly warm with a bit of yogurt drizzled on top. They are also an excellent take-along snack, treaty but healthy and yummier than store-bought granola bars.
1c brown sugar
1/2c oil (I use melted coconut oil, but any vegetable oil would do)
1 tbsp vanilla
1 1/2c oats
1c whole wheat flour
1/4c wheat germ
1/4c unsweetened coconut
1/2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cardamom
1c chopped dried apricots
1/4c chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8″ square pan with parchment.
In a large bowl, beat together brown sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla. Stir in oats.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, wheat germ, coconut, baking powder, and cardamom. Add dry ingredients to wet, and stir to combine. Stir in apricots, craisins, and chocolate chips.
Spoon mixture into prepared pan. Place a sheet of plastic wrap over mixture and, using the plastic wrap as an aid, press batter very firmly and evenly into the pan.
Remove plastic wrap, and bake 35 minutes, or until lightly browned. Cool in pan, on a rack, for as long as you can stand it before cutting into squares.
gratitude.Posted: April 18, 2010 Filed under: baking, breakfast, pastry 2 Comments
My baby has been unwell for a couple of days now.
I’m grateful that it seems to be nothing serious, just a bad cold and a bit of a fever; and although it has resulted in such an astonishing lack of sleep at night (even for us) that I have been stumbling through my days woozy and disoriented, I’m less bothered about that than one might expect.
I am actually a little bit grateful, because in the long nights and (even longer, frankly) days that he’s not been feeling well, he and I have been stuck together like glue.
I love everything about holding him so close, constantly – and it’s a rare treat given that he is my second child and my affections, considerable though they are, are (necessarily) usually divided between him and his sweet sister.
I’m grateful to have had some extra moments to inhale his sweet-apple scent and wonder that he won’t take a soother – so unlike his sister! – and that he gets panicky, just like I do, if he doesn’t have one foot uncovered in bed.
I am also grateful because as I write this, he is asleep.
He stayed asleep (mercy!) when I slipped out of bed.
And the rest of my family is still sleeping, too, giving me an unfettered moment to enjoy a luxuriously hot cup of coffee (I’m on decaf these days, but the placebo effect is remarkable) and make everyone pinwheels for breakfast.
When I was growing up, we had pinwheels for breakfast when we were out of eggs so pancakes or muffins were not an option – because we never knew when they were coming, these resonate in my memory as the best kind of treat. The recipe, of course, is Gwenn’s.
1 tbsp cider vinegar
1c all purpose flour
1c whole what pastry flour
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp salt
1/2c + 2 tbsp butter
6 tbsp soft brown sugar
cinnamon, to taste
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Combine milk and vinegar and let stand while you get on with the making the dough:
In a large bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Cut in 1/2 c butter until it is the size of peas and dough is crumbly.
Pour in soured milk and mix just until it clumps together. Turn out onto a floured board and knead gently 11 times (not more, not less. Seriously! This is the key to the success of your pinwheels!). Add more flour if the dough seems excessively sticky.
Roll dough into a rectangle about 14″x10″. Melt remaining 2 tbsp butter and brush evenly onto dough. Sprinkle brown sugar evenly over butter, and dust with cinnamon.
Roll dough up longwise, to form a cylinder, and pinch along long edge to seal. Cut crosswise into slices about 1″ thick.
Place pinwheels on a parchment-lined baking sheet and bake 15 minutes, until golden.
hello, babycakes!Posted: March 5, 2010 Filed under: baking, bananas, chocolate 4 Comments
My family recently decided to dip a toe into the icy waters of gluten-free eating.
I know you don’t know me that well yet, but you may have already guessed at my level of enthusiasm for such an endeavor – I mean really, I’ve only just begun to welcome dairy back into my daily life, and now we’re giving up wheat? Need I remind you that wheat, not unlike butter, factors prominently in practically everything that is delicious in my diet?
Thankfully I am not the beer drinker in my family, so all is not lost.
Still, I do adore baking (as a noun as well as a verb) and I have not had very many experiences with gluten-free baked goods that I would describe as palatable, let alone tasty.
At least I hadn’t before yesterday.
The above is a photo of my first ever attempt at gluten-free baking, and it was nothing short of spectacular. Honestly. Not heavy and crumbly, not dry, not a tiny little sorry excuse for a loaf, but a lovely, treaty, moist, tasty banana bread. I am paying the highest possible compliment when I say that it didn’t taste healthy at all.
The recipe came from the BabyCakes cookbook. The book’s author, Erin McKenna, is a little militant in her insistence that you follow her directions to the letter, which was a bit of a challenge for me as I have a pathological need to fiddle with recipes. So I did fiddle with this one, but barely at all.
And I’m lucky I got that photo when I did, because minutes later the plate was empty.
I wouldn’t call our foray into the world of the gluten-free a full-on conversion just yet, but if we ever do turn our backs on wheat entirely, baking like this will definitely ease the withdrawl pangs.
Banana Chocolate Chip Bread
adapted from BabyCakes
Where we live, it is cool enough that my coconut oil was solid in its container, so I warmed it in a saucepan set over low heat before using. Also, Erin McKenna insists that ALL ingredients must be measured using dry ingredient measuring cups (not the glass ones with the spouts), so that’s what I did.
2 c Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All-Purpose Baking Flour
2 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp xanthan gum
1 tsp salt (optional – I didn’t use any)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 c coconut oil, plus more for the pan
2/3 c agave nectar
2/3 c milk (Babycakes calls for rice milk, but I used regular old skim milk, because that’s what I had)
1 tsp vanilla
3 mashed organic bananas (about 1 1/2 cups)
1 c chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Using coconut oil, lightly grease a loaf pan – mine is an old Pyrex one, measuring 8.5″ X 5.5″ X 2.5″.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, xantham gum, salt (if using) and cinnamon.
In a large glass measuring cup or jug, whisk together coconut oil, agave nectar, milk, and vanilla. Add to dry ingredients and stir until batter is smooth. Gently fold in bananas and chocolate chips until they are evenly distributed throughout the batter.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake in the centre of the oven for 55-60 minutes, turning pan 180 degrees halfway through cooking time. If the top of the loaf begins to darken before the middle is cooked (as happened to me), cover loosely with foil for the remainder of the cooking time.
Bread is cooked when a tester inserted into the centre comes out mostly clean.
Cool 20 minutes in pan, then run a knife around the edge of the bread and gently invert onto a cutting board. Lift the pan away, and then re-invert the bread onto another board. Cool completely before storing, or cut and serve warm.