Playdate Cardigan

I’m making an effort to get caught up on blogging past projects, which means going way back to a project that I finished nearly a year ago and that Jude has already outgrown. I’m certainly glad I didn’t wait to put it on him before it got blogged.

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I started this little cardigan the week before Jude was born and finished it up around the time that he turned a month old. The pattern is the Playdate Cardigan from Tin Can Knits, which is part of their Max & Bodhi’s Wardrobe Collection. It’s a basic little v-neck cardigan with drop sleeves and pockets that is available in their full “baby to big” size range—so from 0-3 months all the way up to a 59” chest. I made the 6-12 months size, which I knit using a single skein of Madeline Tosh Twist Light in the Artic colorway.

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I don’t recall making any significant changes to the pattern. I’m pretty sure that I knit it according to the instructions for the size without making any changes to the sleeve or body length. I do recall being very skeptical that I would like putting this cardigan on Jude and feeling pretty certain that he wasn’t going to get much wear out of it. My primary reservation was related to the pattern gauge.

It might just be an effect of being a frequent sock knitter who is used to knitting fingering weight yarn at a gauge of 8-9 stitches per inch, but knitting a fingering weight yarn at 6 stitches per inch (the gauge called for by the pattern) just feels overly loose and airy to me. And because of this, I didn’t feel like the sweater would be warm enough for Jude during fall and winter. And I was also worried that the loose gauge would make the resulting sweater look sloppy.

Of course, once it was blocked it DID NOT look sloppy at all—it turned really well. And Jude actually did get a lot of wear out of it. I started putting him in it with the sleeves cuffed when he was just a few months old and he was wearing it until he was stretching out the buttons this spring. So I’m glad I was wrong. This lightweight cardigan turned out to be very versatile through fall, winter, and spring and, of course, he looked very cute in it.

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I still don’t really like knitting a fingering weight yarn at fewer than ~7 stitches per inch. I think I really just prefer the feeling of creating a denser fabric. If I made this again, I might seriously consider subbing in a sport weight yarn for a more comfortable knitting experience, but I think that might just be an idiosyncratic preference.

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To really highlight how behind I am on getting projects posted to the blog, Jude turned one a couple of weeks ago, which means I got to bake and decorate his first birthday cake! I made the Monkey Cake recipe from Smitten Kitchen. I filled the cake with the fudgy buttercream from the recipe and used a standard vanilla buttercream for frosting and decorating the rest of the cake. I also ordered a whole pound of banana candies in the name of fulfilling my creative vision for this cake, because I am nothing if not ridiculous. Of course, the only thing that matters is that he liked it. And he did. 🙂

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Lemon Bundt Cake

We had some friends over for dinner at the end of February and decided to try to will spring into existence by making turkey club sandwiches and this lemon bundt cake. We’re just now getting to the point where we have the occasional 40 degree day, so the whole “willing spring” thing didn’t work. But the cake was excellent.

Lemon Bundt Cake via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com

Looking for a lemon bundt cake recipe turned out to be a little bit of an ordeal. I came across a lot of recipes that either called for weird ingredients like lemon jello mix or were basically a doctored lemon cake mix. Everyone has their own baking perogatives, and using lemon jello in a cake batter just isn’t one of mine. I also found a lot of recipes that rely on lemon extract for an infusion of lemon flavor, which is better than the above options, but still not great. I’ve made cakes with lemon extract before and haven’t been completely happy with the result.

This recipe originally comes from Cooks Illustrated, which you know means that it has some kind of trick up it’s sleeve to get good lemon flavor from, you know, actual lemons. The recipe has you mince your lemon zest to release a little extra flavor and then soak the zest in fresh lemon juice to amp the flavor up even more. It’s kind of brilliant. With this lemon zest/juice mixture added in, you end up with a cake with a definite lemon taste that’s light and fresh. Then when the cake comes out of the oven, you load it up with a double coat of glaze to give the cake some real tang. I would recommend making this a day in advance if you have the time/the willpower to resist. The flavor and texture of the cake both improve with time.

Lemon Bundt Cake via sweetalchemy.wordpress.com 

I didn’t have buttermilk on hand, so I soured some whole milk with (obviously) some lemon juice. The cake turned out well, but the glaze tasted a bit flat so once the glaze was at the right consistency, I whisked in 2 tbsp of melted butter. The butter isn’t necessary, but I thought it improved the flavor of the glaze. I don’t know if it would be necessary if you were using buttermilk—I look forward to trying this recipe again with buttermilk to find out.

Also: I ate this cake every morning for breakfast until it was gone. I regret nothing.

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Lemon Bundt Cake (originally from Cooks Illustrated, found via Carnal Dish)

Note: You’ll need 5-6 tablespoons of fresh lemon juice for this recipe. You should be able to get all the juice you need from the 3 lemons you will zest for the cake, but it wouldn’t hurt to buy a 4th lemon just to be safe.

For the cake:

  • Zest of 3 lemons
  • 3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 3 c all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 3/4 c buttermilk
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • 18 tbsp (2 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 2 c sugar

For the glaze:

  • 2-3 tbsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp buttermilk
  • 2 c powdered sugar
  • 2 tbsp melted butter (optional)
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease a bundt pan.
  2. Mince the lemon zest until it resembles a fine paste. Combine the zest with the lemon juice in a small bowl and allow it to sit for 10-15 minutes.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. In a separate bowl or measuring cup, combine the lemon juice mixture, the vanilla, and the buttermilk. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk.
  4. Using an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low and add 1/3 of the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Add in half of the buttermilk mixture and beat to combine. Repeat, alternating the flour mixture and the buttermilk mixture until all the ingredients have been combined. Be careful not to over-mix—use a rubber spatula to incorporate any lingering flour.
  5. Scrape the batter evenly into the prepared bundt pan. Bake until the top of the cake is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean, about 45-50.
  6. While the cake is baking, whisk together the ingredients for the glaze, starting with 2 tbsp of lemon juice and adding more gradually until the glaze is thick but pourable.
  7. When the cake is done baking, allow it to cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Then, invert the cake directly onto the wire rack. Place a plate or pan beneath the rack and drizzle half of the glaze over the cake. Allow the cake to cool on the rack for an hour. Drizzle the remaining glaze over the top of the cake and continue to cool until the cake is room temperature.

Lemon Angel Food Cake

Last year for his birthday, Aidan requested an angel food cake. This wasn’t actually the first time he made the request, but I managed to talk him out of it in past years, partly because angel food cake seemed boring and bland to me and partly because I was kind of intimidated by the prospect of making the cake. As a rule, anything that involves beating egg whites to various states of stiffness makes me extremely nervous. When I’m dealing with egg whites, I feel like I’m constantly standing on the edge of failure, and I am not a thrill-seeker. Still, Aidan was pretty insistent about angel food being the only kind of cake he wanted, so I got to work.

My first big decision involved buying a pan, which proved to be more complicated than I would have liked. See, angel food is one of those things that bakers seem to have very strong opinions about. And by strong, I mean that there are many angel food enthusiasts who have very specific ideas about the equipment and process one should use to make angel food and who are equally certain that deviating from these methods will result in a really crappy cake. The strongest of this contingent’s opinions revolve around the choice of a pan and the consensus seems to be that the ideal pan should be non-stick, slightly abused/well-loved from years of use, and have a releasable bottom. Basically, if you spend enough time reading about angel food cake best-practices, you will probably walk away from your research feeling like if you haven’t been fortunate enough to inherit a pan from your great-grandmother, you’re screwed.

Nordic Ware Angel Food Cake Pan, via Target.com

The only pan I could find – Nordic Ware Angel Food Cake Pan, via Target.com

The argument behind this ideal pan is that an abrasive surface on the sides of the pan will allow the cake to “climb” higher while baking, resulting in a lofty cake and tender crumb. This makes good sense to me, but the material reality of the situation was that the only pan I could find locally was a non-stick, single-piece tube pan. I thought pretty seriously about ordering a more ideal pan for upwards of $40 and then remembered that I am a broke grad student. So I decided that my cake would have to be motivated enough to climb non-stick pan walls. Having a releasable bottom still would have been preferable, but in lieu of that feature, I put a piece of buttered parchment paper at the bottom of the pan. (I can’t locate an exact source, but I’m pretty sure Martha Stewart told me this was an acceptable thing to do.) Once I ran a knife around the edges of the cooled cake, the parchment paper allowed the cake to slide right out of the pan without and problems and the finished cake seemed plenty lofty and light.

My second big decision was to use Ina Garten’s Lemon Angel Food Cake recipe because I generally trust Ina in high-stakes baking situations. The recipe was a very, very good decision and I would highly recommend it. The cake gets it’s lemony flavor from the addition of lemon zest, but I think you could just leave the zest out for a very good traditional angel food cake. Because I was nervous about the cake turning out, I was especially meticulous about following the recipe instructions. If it said to sift something together over and over, I did it. If it said to add something in half-cup increments, you better believe I measured that shit. If it said to beat something for a minute, I timed it. I don’t actually have a sifter, so I sifted everything by passing it through a fine-mesh strainer, which worked out really well. I’m not kidding when I say dealing with egg whites makes me nervous. But my care was rewarded. The resulting cake was awesome. The crumb was just right and the cake had great flavor—I couldn’t believe that I remembered angel food cake as boring and bland. Most importantly, Aidan was pleased. We ended up sharing this cake with four other friends and it received rave reviews from each one.

Half an angel food cake

I also made up a lemon honey yogurt sauce from this Giada de Laurentis recipe to go with the cake—I left it on the side and let people add it if they wanted it. Honestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of the sauce. The sauce itself was perfectly good but it reminded me of something you might put on top of pancakes or waffles, and I really didn’t think the cake needed anything else. However, everyone else (including Aidan) really liked the sauce and eagerly drizzled it over their cake slices. So when I make this again, I’d probably consider making the sauce as well to have on hand as an option for people.

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Lemon Angel Food Cake (from Ina Garten, original recipe available on Food Network)

  • 2 c sifted superfine sugar, divided
  • 1 1/3 c sifted cake flour
  • 1 1/2 c egg whites (10 to 12 eggs), at room temperature
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp cream of tartar
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 tsp lemon zest (from 2 lemons)

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 350F degrees.
  2. Sift 1/2 c of the sugar together with the flour. Sift the mixture 3 more times.
  3. Beat the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in an electric mixer using a whisk attachment. Beat on high speed until medium-firm peaks form. Reduce mixer speed to medium and add remaining 1 1/2 c of sugar by sprinkling it over the egg whites. Continue whisking until the mixture is thick and shiny. Add in vanilla and lemon zest and continue whisking for another minute or so until the mixture is very thick.
  4. Sift a quarter of the flour mixture over the egg white mixture and use a rubber spatula to fold it into the mixture. Continue this process, adding a fourth of the mixture each time, until the flour mixture has been completely incorporated.
  5. Pour the batter evenly into a 10” tube pan (ungreased) and bake for 35 to 40 minutes. It will spring back to the touch when finished baking. Take it out of the oven and invert the cake pan on a cooling rack until completely cool. When cool, gently run a knife around the edge of the cake to help release it from the pan.

Lemon Honey Yogurt Sauce (from Giada deLaurentis, original recipe available on Food Network)

  • 1 c plain yogurt
  • 1/4 c honey
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Directions: Whisk ingredients together until smooth. Drizzle over slices of cake before serving.

Really Good Chocolate Cupcakes

I am pretty much a baking traditionalist. I like classic flavor combinations, and I like classic desserts. And what’s more, I was raised in the Midwest and so my definition of what constitutes “classic” is largely determined by my Midwestern sensibilities. I’m wary of baking fads (I’m giving you the side-eye, cake pops), and I don’t like dessert hybrids. I love cheesecake, and I love a good red velvet cake, but red velvet cheesecake seems like the kind of thing that would make me wish I was eating my standard cheesecake recipe. I don’t like overly complicated recipes that call for ingredients I wouldn’t normally keep on hand. And I just can’t get behind recipes that involve baking mixes. I mean, if you’re already going beyond simply adding oil and eggs to the mix, then why not just make the whole thing from scratch?

I am guided by two primary goals as a baker: 1) to build up a library of recipes for really great, classic baked goods like chocolate chip cookies and bagels; and 2) to continually focus on improving my technique so that I can do things like make a really good loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread (my current project) or consistently whip up a really good all-butter pie crust. These goals mean that I am content to make the same things over and over and over again without feeling compelled to try something new or raise the bar. That’s kind of boring. These goals also make me a mite snobbish (see comment above about baking mixes). So it goes. The point is that when I acknowledge and stay true to these goals rather than worrying that I should try making marshmallows like all the other cool kids, I enjoy my time in the kitchen more and am generally more pleased with the results of my work.

Of course, all this is a long-winded way of saying: Baker, know thyself. Think about what you like to make and why, and let that guide your baking projects. And also, maybe try weaning yourself off of baking mixes if you haven’t already. Or at least don’t do that weird thing where people mix them with things like black beans or Diet Coke. Because, ew. There’s just no reason for that.

Chocolate Cupcakes

 

This chocolate (cup)cake recipe is one of my go-to recipes, and it gets rave reviews from everyone who tries it. When I eat these cupcakes, I think of the scene in Matilda where the evil headmistress punishes a kid by making him eat a gigantic, insanely rich chocolate cake. I am almost certain this was the recipe used to make that cake. These cupcakes have a wonderfully tender, sticky crumb and the chocolate ganache frosting spread on top makes them out of this world. My theory is that what makes this cake really excellent is the coffee incorporated into the batter. Much like the chocolate stout cake I’ve made before, I think the presence of a bitter agent in the batter helps bring out some of the deeper notes in the chocolate flavor, which balances the sweetness of the cake nicely.

I decorated these particular cupcakes to look vaguely record-ish because they were for a birthday party where our friend was showing off his new turntable and tube amp, letting people share their favorite records all night. Since the chocolate ganache frosting is naturally a dark brown, it was relatively easy to turn it black with some black food dye. Using my signature low-tech decorating techniques, I spread the frosting on, ran the tines of a fork around the cupcake to create the record grooves and then slapped one of those candy melt wafers flat-side up for a record label. I piped a dab of the ganache in the middle of the candy melt and Bam!: vaguely record-ish cupcakes.

Double Chocolate Cupcakes (Adapted from Gourmet, March 1999)

Notes: My major adaptation to this recipe is, obviously, to use it to make cupcakes. If you want to make a layer cake, double the frosting recipe and refer to the original recipe (linked above) for baking times. I’ve tried filling these cupcakes in the past, but wouldn’t recommend it since the cake isn’t firm enough to stand up well to the filling process. I would also highly recommend making these a day in advance since the texture and flavor of chocolate cake significantly improves with an overnight rest.

For the cake:

  • 3 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I used Ghirardelli)
  • 1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
  • 3 cups sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 3/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 c buttermilk
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla

For Ganache Frosting (simply spread onto the top of the cupcakes, this will make enough to frost the entire batch. However, if you’re the kind of person who likes to pipe on a generous little mound of frosting, you’ll want to double the recipe)

  • 8 oz semi-sweet chocolate (I’d recommend using something a little on the nicer side)
  • 1/2 c heavy cream
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter

Make the cupcakes:

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees and line a muffin tin with baking cups.
  2. Finely chop the chocolate and then combine in a bowl with the coffee. Let the mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.
  4. In another large bowl, beat the eggs until they are slightly thickened and lemon-colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer, and a bit longer with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add the oil, buttermilk, vanilla and melted chocolate/coffee mixture to the eggs, beating until combined after every addition.
  5. Add the sugar mixture and beat on medium until just combined.
  6. Fill the baking cups 2/3 full with batter and bake for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Allow the cupcakes to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.

Make the frosting:

  1. Finely chop the chocolate.
  2. In a small saucepan, bring the cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over medium-low heat, whisking until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  3. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chocolate, whisking the mixture until the chocolate is completely melted.
  4. Cut the butter into pieces and add to the frosting, whisking until smooth.
  5. Transfer the frosting to a bowl and allow it to cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. You can speed the process up by putting the bowl in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes, although you’ll want to check on it every once in awhile, stirring to make sure its cooling evenly and making sure that it doesn’t become too firm.

Chocolate Peanut Butter (Birthday!) Cake

It got so busy around here, I lost my head. Frankly, I’m still not sure that I’ve been able to get the damn thing back on straight. The good news is that amidst all the crazy, I managed to find time to have a little get-together to celebrate my birthday a few weeks back. As a gift to myself, I made dinner and cake for my grad school cohort. They are a fantastic group and all pitched in to buy me this gift:

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So much gorgeous yarn!

As part of my hella-broke lifestyle, I have only been buying yarn on the cheap for about two years now, which means basic discounted wool that is always purchased for a very specific purpose. All of these super-soft, beautiful skeins are things that I would not allow myself to buy at the moment. But now I have the luxury of getting to try them all out. It’s badass. And after spending nearly four months without picking up my knitting, this is just the kind of thing that I needed to get me inspired again. Thanks, friends!

As part of my birthday get-together, I made my own cake. This, of course, flies in the face of conventional birthday wisdom which says that someone should make (or buy) a cake for you. I have no place in my life for conventional wisdom. Why wouldn’t I seize the opportunity to make myself the World’s Most Decadent Cake on a day that demands decadent cakes, especially if, you know, I really like to make cakes? Aidan suggested that it makes it seem as though other people (like him) could not make a cake that was good enough for my tastes. For the record, I would like to say that this is absolutely not true. I have never met a cake I didn’t like. I do not discriminate against cakes of box-mix or bakery origin. I believe that all cakes are meant to be enjoyed. And if you bring me a cake and I already have one made? Then we will rejoice together in the sheer deliciousness of our double-cake bounty.

That said, this recipe is getting filed away under “EPIC.” Dense chocolate cake + peanut butter cream cheese frosting + chocolate peanut butter ganache = divine. Aidan described it first as evil because “it’s so good you just keep eating it until it makes you sick” and then later as chocolate cake sandwiched between layers of peanut butter chocolate fudge. I call it the best birthday gift I have ever given myself.

chocolate peanut butter cake

It is admittedly a little homely, what with it’s gloppy chocolate glaze. But this cake does not need the pretense of decorations or fance. This cake is a scrappy boxer waiting to deliver a knock out blow. This cake is contending for a starring role in The Cake in the House.

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Janeane Garofalo – The Cake in the House
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Jokes Joke of the Day Funny Jokes

I followed the recipe as is, with the small exception of making a double layer, rather than triple layer, cake. The cake batter is actually a one-bowl recipe that does not call for the use of an electric mixer. Relying on a whisk alone can make the actual mixing of the batter a bit hairy. You can think of it more optimistically as a fantastic upper arm workout. Or whip out the mixer. Whatever. Deb at Smitten Kitchen recommended freezing the cake layers for easier construction and frosting of the cake. I wrapped my cake layers in plastic wrap, put them in freezer bags, and let them freeze overnight before putting the cake together. It came together in a breeze. Per her recommendations, I also froze the frosted cake for about an hour before making and pouring on the peanut butter chocolate glaze. The cake was still a little cold when we cut into a few hours later, but that certainly didn’t affect its deliciousness.

So, in conclusion, I emphatically encourage you to make this cake. And then promptly invite me over.

cake slice

Chocolate Peanut Butter Cake (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, where it was adapted from Sky High: Irresistible Triple -Layer Cakes)

  • 2 c all purpose flour
  • 2 1/2 c sugar
  • 3/4 c unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 c sour cream
  • 1 1/2 c water
  • 2 tbsp distilled white vinegar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter the sides and bottom of 3 8″ round cake pans (I used 2 9″ pans instead). Cut circles of parchment paper to lay on the bottom of each pan. Butter the parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt. Add the oil and sour cream and whisk until blended. Gradually beat in the water. Beat in the vinegar and vanilla. Beat in the eggs until well blended, scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans.
  3. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for 20 minutes, then invert onto wire racks and remove the parchment paper. Let the cakes cool completely.
  4. To make assembling and frosting the cake easier, freeze the cake layers for at least 30 minutes.

Peanut Butter Frosting:

  • 10 oz cream cheese
  • 1 stick unsalted butter at room temp
  • 5 c powdered sugar
  • 2/3 c creamy peanut butter
  1. With an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar a cup at a time, beating until blended after each addition. Continue to beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3-4 minutes.
  2. Add the peanut butter and beat until well blended.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Glaze:

  • 8 oz semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 3 tbsp creamy peanut butter
  • 2 tbsp light corn syrup
  • 1/2 c half-and-half
  1. In a double boiler, combine the chocolate, peanut butter, and corn syrup. Whisk until the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.
  2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the half-and-half, beating until smooth. Use while still warm.

Lemon: Cake and Bars

snowy street

So this winter thing is still happening. I find that around this time of the year, winter just starts to feel ridiculous and a little cruel–there’s been plenty of cold and snow fun to last us for a long time, and yet (at least if you live in any kind of Northern climate) you are forced to deal with the fact that there’s still a lot of winter to go. So much so that things like “spring break” just take on a tone of mocking because you know damn well that it’s still going to be freezing and snowy and there will likely be no “spring” to speak of at all.

But there are bright spots. For instance, the Wegman’s I shop at has had a tantalizing citrus display positioned at the front of the produce department for the past month or so, which is where I picked up the Meyer lemons I used for these recipes. Meyer lemons seem to be a big deal around food blogs, what with their sweeter taste and deeper yellow color. Plus, the fact that you can maintain a Meyer lemon tree in your house is infinitely charming. But now I’m just not sure that Meyer lemons and I were meant to be great friends. It turns out that some people want lemon flavor without all the cheek-sucking tartness, and these people seem to really appreciate the Meyer lemon. I, on the other hand, found myself unsatisfied by the lack of cheek-sucking tartness and briefly considered making some lemon curd just so that I could duck into the refrigerator and eat a spoonful at random. So I am not one of those lemony-sweet people. Although, to be fair, I don’t think I can completely write Meyer lemons off until I’ve tried making a Shaker lemon pie.

meyer lemon cake

All of my feelings about lemons aside, both of these were really good recipes. The Meyer Lemon Cake is easy to throw together and would especially be a big hit for those aren’t on a quest for maximum tartness. The cake batter itself is flavored primarily with lemon extract and a bit of lemon zest, which results in a subtle and more delicate lemon flavor, although you still get more intense lemon-ocity (a term coined by one of my professors) at the top of the cake where the glaze seeps into the crumb. If you make this, you should definitely heed to recipe’s warning to use a light-metal loaf pan as the cake does, indeed, get very brown very quickly.

lemon bars

While the cake was honestly, truly good, it did not quite provide me with serious lemon-ness I desired and so I turned to Ina Garten’s lemon bars recipe as my answer. I actually ended up using two Meyer lemons for this recipe and one standard lemon that happened to be laying around in the fruit bowl. I’m not sure how the mixing of the two impacted the flavor since this is the first time I made this recipe, but I do know that I definitely ended up with something closer to tart lemon flavor I wanted. This is a great recipe that is incredibly easy to make. It takes a little longer to make than you might expect since the shortbread crust requires chilling, pre-baking, and then some cooling before you add the lemon filling and do the final bake. But none of the steps are intensive and your hands-on time is minimal, so these are easy to make while you’re in the midst of doing other things. The original recipe yielded a 9×13 pan of bars, but I cut the recipe in half. My only recommendation would be that you make these a day ahead of time–after 24 hours, the taste and texture of the filling improve and the shortbread crust seems to settle a bit so that it isn’t *quite* so crumbly. I believe we’ve got some department potlucks coming up, and I think I might have to make a pan of these again to bring along. Definitely make this recipe.

In other random news, Aidan and I are likely going to buy a new camera today. We’re not getting anything fancy, but hopefully replacing our (repeatedly dropped) five-year-old camera will yield some nicer pictures. Here’s hoping!

Meyer Lemon Cake (Originally from Saveur magazine, found via Food Gal)

Be sure to use a light metal loaf pan for this recipe, or the cake will over-brown.

  • 8 tablespoons melted butter, plus extra for greasing pan
  • 2 tbsp dry plain bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup blanched almonds
  • 1 1/2 c flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/3 c sugar, plus 2 tbsp for glaze
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 c milk
  • 2 tbsp lemon extract
  • zest and juice from 2 Meyer lemons
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease an 8×4″ loaf pan with butter and then dust with the bread crumbs. Tap the sides and top of the pan to get rid of any excess bread crumbs.
  2. In a food processor, process the almonds until you have a fine meal and then set aside.
  3. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt.
  4. With an electric mixer, cream together the melted butter and 1 1/3 c sugar until light. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until just incorporated. Add half of the flour mixture, then the milk, and then the remaining flour mixture, beating until incorporated after each addition. Add the lemon extract.
  5. Using a spatula, fold in the almonds and lemon zest. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 65 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
  6. Let the cake cool on a wire rack. Meanwhile, mix together the 2 tbsp sugar and lemon juice to create the cake glaze. Use a tooth pick to poke some small holes in the top of the cake to help the glaze seep in. Using a pastry brush, brush the glaze onto the top of the cake until you’ve used all of the glaze. Allow the cake to cool in the pan until the glaze has set, then remove the cake from the pan, and allow it to cool completely on the wire rack. When it’s cool, wrap the cake in plastic wrap and let it sit for 24 hours before slicing.

Lemon Bars (adapted from Ina Garten)

The original recipe yields a 9×13 pan of bars. The recipe here reflects the changes I made when I cut the recipe in half in order to make an 8×8 pan. I also cut down a bit on the amount of sugar in the filling.

For the crust:

  • 1 stick unsalted butter
  • 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 c flour
  • Pinch of salt

For the filling:

  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/4 c sugar
  • 1 tbsp grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 c fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 c flour
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. For the crust, use an electric mixer to cream together the butter and sugar until light. Add the flour and salt and mix until just combined. Gather the dough into a ball, and then gently press the dough into the bottom and 1/2″ up the sides of an 8×8″ pan. You may need to flour your fingers to keep the dough from sticking. Allow the crust to chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
  2. Bake the crust for 15-20 minutes, until very lightly browned. Let the crust cool on a wire rack. Leave the oven on.
  3. While the crust is cooling, whisk together the eggs, sugar, lemon zest, lemon juice, and flour. Pour the filling over the crust and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the filling is set. Allow the bars to cool completely on a wire rack. Dust with powdered sugar and cut into squares. For best results, make these bars one day ahead of time.

Fat Acceptance and Carrot Cake

Allow me a serious moment. I promise to reward you with cake.

I began 2010 in a really dark place, struggling with a pretty serious depression that I eventually started to refer to as “my sadness.” My sadness was full of insomnia-producing anxiety, deep guilt, and an absolute deflation of my self-confidence. My sadness was a life-sucking vampire, and not the sexy kind.. I feel lucky to have recognized that I was depressed and to have also recognized that my sadness was not the result of there being something fundamentally wrong with me. I struggled for the first half of the year through a long process of trial and error to figure out what kinds of things I could do to help myself feel even a little better. Not everything worked, but a lot of things did and the final breakthrough came when I allowed myself to step away from the world a bit and dedicate the summer to rebuilding myself. It was good. I owe a lot of where I’ve come over the past year to my support system—to good friends, family, and especially to Aidan.

Things like yoga and writing and establishing routines were all helpful, but light really started shining through the cracks when I stumbled across fat acceptance blogs and Health at Every Size advocates. These writers spoke (and continue to speak) to truths that I think I have known but not allowed myself to live for a long time:

  • That fat shaming runs rampant through Western culture and creates a deep fear that disciplines our bodies.
  • That diet culture (including all of those “lifestyle changes” that essentially act like diets in disguise) give rise to all kinds of disordered eating and fraught relationships with food.
  • That we are increasingly narrowing our vision of the acceptable body rather than appreciating body diversity.
  • That diets only ever work in the short term and maintaining weight loss from dieting is statistically improbable.
  • That we have come to mistakenly conflate health with weight. This conflation is particularly damaging when we get discouraged from doing things that can improve our health (like exercising regularly) because we don’t see the weight-loss results we desire.
  • That continual dieting does more harm than good to our physical and emotional health.
  • That what Kate Harding refers to as The Fantasy of Being Thin often leads us to put our lives on hold, expecting that things will magically come together and we can become the person we’ve always wanted to be if we can just manage to reach our “ideal” weight.
  • That medical terms like obesity and medical scales like the BMI further fat shaming and naturalize the narrowing of acceptable bodies rather than encouraging health.
  • That there are a whole host of medical studies that have proven that diets do not work, that weight is not a measure of health, and that dieting is harmful to health, but these reports are rarely circulated in the mass media outlets where stories about dieting, weight loss, and the so-called “obesity crisis” sell better.
  • That our bodies don’t need to be whipped into shape, but rather that we need to learn to listen to our bodies and the natural cues they give us so that we can feel as good as possible, and that feeling good will always be a better barometer of health than a number on a scale.

When I finally stopped worrying about my weight and severed myself from The Fantasy of Being Thin, I felt free. And most importantly, I learned just how much energy I had been pouring into worrying about my body–energy that I was able to dedicate to my work and toward creative pursuits like baking and blogging that have brought me a lot of joy and that give me something to feel confident about rather than ashamed. All of this is not to say that fat acceptance of HAES are easy roads with no bumps or that deciding to accept my body as it is was something that happened over night. It is a process that takes work. But it is a process that is definitely worth it. And while I think it is important to feel good about myself and would hope that you feel good about you too, I also know that the body politics that fat acceptance embraces intersect in important ways with other social justice movements. That is, unlike dieting, fat acceptance and HAES is not a solipsistic enterprise but rather has the potential, if we only work to seize it, to contribute to the fight against racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, transphobia, xenophobia, ableism . . . and the list goes on.

I’m writing this now because of a campaign called the 2011 ReVolution. Marilyn Wann and a number of other wonderful people have set up a fantastic blog space that now houses a whole host of resources about fat acceptance and HAES, encouraging people to spread the word on social networking sites throughout the month of January. The goal is not only to raise awareness about FA and HAES, but to also try to counteract so much of the diet and weight-loss blather that pours out around New Year’s resolutions. I’m contributing my voice to the 2011 ReVolution cause because I believe deeply in resisting diet culture, in celebrating body diversity, and in transferring the energy we waste disciplining our bodies into more vital social justice work. So I just want to encourage you to check out some of the resources available at the above link and to throw out questions–I’d love to talk about this more! I’ve also listed some of the FA blogs I regularly read on my Favorites page. Check them out.

And now to cake. I made this carrot cake for a program dinner because I was tired and stressed and needed a sure thing. Carrot cake tends to be one of those things where people over-do it with add-ins like raisins and nuts and too many spices. It also suffers because it’s the kind of thing that people try to turn into a healthy, guilt-free dessert. The truth is that it is best when it’s simple, and most satisfying when we allow it to be what it really is: a humble slice of mid-twentieth century American life. If you have a food processor, shredding the carrots takes no time at all. And when you pull it out of the oven, you can slather it with some cream cheese frosting, throw some chopped pecans on top for a little pizazz, and make the people in your life happy. Very happy.

carrot cake

Best-Ever Carrot Cake (From Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, 75th Anniversary Ed.)

  • 4 beaten eggs
  • 2 c flour
  • 2 c sugar
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 3 c finely shredded carrots
  • 3/4 c vegetable oil
  • 1/2 recipe of Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (below)
  • 1/4 c chopped pecans (optional)
  1. Grease and flour two 9″ round cake pans or a 9×13 cake pan. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and baking soda.
  3. In a medium bowl, combine the beaten eggs, carrots and oil. Add the egg mixture to the flour mixture and stil until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s).
  4. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. If making a layer cake, allow the cakes to cool for ten minutes before removing from the pans. Allow cake to cool completely on a wire rack before frosting.
  5. When the cake is cool, frost and sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired.

Maple Cream Cheese Frosting (from Smitten Kitchen)

  • 2 8 oz packages of cream cheese, softened
  • 1/2 c unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 c pure maple syrup
  • 2 c powdered sugar

Beat cream cheese, butter and maple syrup until smooth and then slowly add powdered sugar. If necessary, refrigerate for 30 minutes to an hour until frosting reaches a spreadable consistency.