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Not QUITE a Victory: Victoria Sponge, Take I

vsponge1So, as promised, I baked the Victoria Sponge from La Nigella’s How to Be a Domestic Goddess. I followed her directions, using the food processor method, and sandwiched it with the traditional cream and jam (with a few berries) per instructions. Never one to be content with leaving well enough alone, however, I did a bit of reading on the cake, whose simplicity belies its significance.

It’s so-called because it was a common on the tea table of the eponomous queen whose courtiers had, following the death of her beloved Albert, encouraged her to host tea parties as a way of reentering the public sphere. It rapidly spread to the country’s humbler environs as well, and has remained a favorite since. As a beloved standard, the Victoria sponge–or, more accurately, the Victoria sandwich, as it isn’t actually a sponge cake in the strictest sense–has also become something of a culinary barometer: the higher a cook can get her sponge cakes to rise, the higher the esteem with which she is regarded.

Against such lofty antecedents and expectations, I have to admit that I am not 100% pleased with this iteration, so no recipe yet. I KNEW I should have used cake strips–either aluminized cloth or silicone that wrap around the cake to ensure more even cooking and less domeing of the cake–but I forgot to and got two perfectly serviceable, but not perfectly perfect layers. Argh. While Mr. T and our house guests proclaimed the Victoria sandwich to be a delicious success, I’m convinced, however, that I can make it harder, better, faster, stronger. So, recipe to come once I try again, using the by-hand method that demands less leavening and remembering the cake strips. And then we shall see who has the fairest tea table in all the land… *maniacal laughter*

Operation Birthday Cake: Chocolate Chocolate Chocolate

chocbdaycake2There’s little more in life that I enjoy more than planning a PARTY, for lord’s sake. Fortunately, the best aspect of being known to know how to cook is getting tapped early for party plans. Not to say that my winning charms aren’t sufficient on their own mind you, but let’s be real here, the cake helps. It’s been a while, though, since I’ve had the chance to make a birthday cake so I was particularly pumped to receive my marching orders for a cake as chocolate as possible for a good friend’s 1/3 centennial celebration.

Given that I didn’t really have much more than that to go on, though, it took a bit of thinking to get my plan of action together. Since I wasn’t sure how many people would be there, or how many of them would actually EAT CAKE (queens and their carb counts, I swear…), I elected to do a sheet cake. They’re easier to cut and portion than a round, feed more people, and supply a broader canvas on which to write… “Happy Birthday Whomever” is a lot of letters, people!

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Heavenly Ricotta

Ricotta Cheese Pound Cake

I grew up with a deep affection for ricotta cheese, the ‘re-cooked’ byproduct of cheese production.

Wow, doesn’t that sound tasty.

We’ve all had ricotta in things like cannoli, ravioli, and manicotti, but these products are often made with heavily processed, solidified, xanthan gum-injected, astronaut-sealed packaged crap. Not the soft, delicately sublime curds of a fresh, artisanal ricotta.

So, the good stuff. Ricotta is traditionally used in desserts like cannoli, though a handsome dollop of fresh ricotta placed on a fresh mound of pasta is a stunning indulgence.

I’ve never baked with ricotta in a dessert–remember, cannoli filling is not cooked–but this cake caught my eye. It just sounded, well, good. The fact that this is from the kitchen of the endlessly-excellent Babbo Restaurant was, admittedly, also a big selling point for me.

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Obsessing About ‘That Cake…’

ThatBaltimoreCake

I became acquainted with this cake several years ago at the always-excellent Palena Restaurant in Cleveland Park.  Pastry chef Ann Amernick, a D.C. treasure, had this dessert listed on the menu. But by the time we were ready to order dessert (we waited quite some time for a table) they were sold out. Disconsolate, I fumbled across other items on the menu, a bit listless as I was immediately sold on this dessert–jam, lemons…Really, it was exactly what I wanted. Nothing else perked my interest. Suddenly, Amernick emerged from the kitchen, apologized profusely for running out of the dessert, and presented us with a plate of house-made cookies. It was such a nice gesture but I couldn’t get this cake (like Kylie) out of my head.  I asked for the recipe and she said I could find it in a book entitled, “Baking from the Heart,” a compilation of recipes from American bakers. This book predated her most-wonderful, “The Art of the Dessert.”

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Winter time, citrus cake time

MeyerLemonBloodORangeCitrusCake

With Christmas came many new cookbooks for my collection. Chief among them? This tiny little jewel, Rustic Fruit Desserts: Crumbles, Buckles, Cobblers, Pandowdies, and More by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson. A book about seasonal fruit desserts broken down by season? Bring it!

The following cake capped off a dinner party I hosted for some very dear friends visiting  from South Africa. I made it with Meyer lemons (I hoard these during the winter months), blood oranges (another winter favorite) and Indian River grapefruits.

With olive oil being the dominant ingredient here, it’s important to select one that’s of high quality with a deep fruity taste. You want to avoid grassy, strong-biting olive oils. Take a little bit of the citrus and mix it into a small amount of oil and taste. Both flavors should compliment. One should not announce itself over the other.

Perfect for dessert or as a nice breakfast which I enjoyed for the next few mornings.

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PF Farmers’ Market Challenge: Carrots!

carrot1The Fruits have decided to–virtually–kick each other around a little. This week, we’re launching a new, fortnightly feature: the Farmers’ Market Challenge. Every other week Joe (aka the “freshmaker”) will surprise Luke (aka “Mr. Perfect”) with a fresh ingredient from a local D.C. farmers’ market. The challenge will be for each of us to create a dish based on the ingredient while hewing to closely to our own particular m.o. First up are some gorgeous carrots from the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market this past Sunday. Luke’s post is below the fold; look for my carrot creation tomorrow.

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An Apple A Day: Maria’s Italian Apple Cake

ItalianAppleCakeThis simple little cake is full of pleasant little surprises. Firstly, it’s supremely easy; lightly sauteed apples are folded into a quick batter and you’re good to go. Secondly, the apples are paired with just a little lemon and vanilla rather than the usual cinnamon. I’d guess is where the “Italian” comes from. While apple and cinnamon is tried and true combination, this lighter touch really allows the apple flavor to shine. The cake itself bakes up very moist and makes a delicious rustic dessert or sweet afternoon snack.  It’s great to have on hand as it IS so moist that it’s just as lush and tasty three or four days after it comes out of the oven.  Perfect should Miss Marple drop by for a spot of tea unexpectedly.

Your apples should be firm enough to stand up to their quick saute, but should also be ones that you enjoy eating out of hand. Experiment with your favorites!

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