Tag Archives: holidays

Through Green Colored Glasses

13 Mar

When we were little bickering children, my older sister (an artist now, imagine that) claimed all the colors for herself.  Red, purple, pink, blue… the whole rainbow was off limits to me.  Except green.  Bullying, six-year-old Ava, in her infinite generosity, gave me green, and that was that. From then on, green was my favorite color.  And I believed her.  At my fifth birthday party, the balloons, paper plates, and party hats were bright green; my bedspread suddenly matched the recycling bin; and our mother dressed us in matching jumpers—Ava would be donning a bright magenta ensemble while I was always conspicuously the color of phlegm.

So it’s no wonder I felt the attraction to Ireland immediately.  The green landscape that became my backdrop for a year felt oddly like home.  It’s as if, from the moment Ava told me I loved green, Ireland became my homeland.  I’m a descendant of Russian and Hungarian Jews, so of course this isn’t really true… and I guess under this same rationale, my peculiar affinity for pickles around the same age could have placed me just as comfortably in Hungary or Germany.  But that’s beside the point, and for the purpose of this story, Ava led to green, which led to Ireland.

You’ll see it all over this blog… from Whiskey cakes to Guinness cookies to Bailey’s cupcakes—I just love all things Irish (particularly the booze and baked goods).  So, of course, I had to bake something to commemorate this St. Patrick’s Day (which I have never really celebrated, spending my past Patty’s Days in Greece, cramming for finals, or working long waitressing shifts).  I am aware of the obvious absurdity of the “holiday,” though, and can’t help but detest the way drunken American kids take this day as an excuse to swig massive amounts of bright green beers while wearing leprechaun hats and Mardi Gras beads.  So instead of making some kitschy green-frosted cupcake, I stuck with a classic—Irish soda bread.  Traditional, simple, and delicious.

Irish Soda Bread


Ingredients:

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, stir the dry ingredients together with a whisk.  Make a well in the center and add 1 cup of the buttermilk, reserving 1/2 cup.  Stir the dry ingredients and buttermilk with a fork, gradually adding more of the remaining liquid, until a dough is formed.  The dough should be soft and sticky, but not smooth.

Knead the dough lightly on a floured surface for 1 minute.  Form into a slightly flattened circle.  And make a large 1/2-inch deep X with a sharp knife in the center.  Place on a parchment lined cookie sheet and bake soda bread for 40-45 minutes. The bread is ready when it is golden and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Allow it to cool slightly, and then enjoy with a pat of Irish butter and perhaps a pint of Guinness.

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Love in the Time of Cupid Cake

13 Feb

As a baker, there are certain, and many, occasions when one is expected to deliver.  Birthdays and religious holidays are obvious baking domain.  I’ll never forget the Passover in which I appeared empty handed, distracted by the hours I had spent that day filling out college applications.  I arrived at the Seder, prepared to relax and enjoy the food that had been cooked by my hosts.  But no, my dear, expectant family and friends were horrified when their token baker appeared macaroon-less.  Never again will I attend a holiday function without some appropriately themed dessert in tow.  Even smaller, routine dinner parties require a confectionary contribution.  I was recently invited to a “wine and baking” party, in which everyone enjoyed a delicious spread of cheeses, meats, and baguette, while I was relegated to the kitchen to bake the apple pie.  I rolled out the pie dough and cursed them all under my breath as I bitterly swigged down my wine.

Therefore, despite my lack of interest in this upcoming fictitious holiday, I was forced to brainstorm Valentine’s Day dessert ideas.  First, as I envisioned the impending “holiday” which so far, includes a 3 o’clock dentist appointment followed by my plan to lure my parents into joining me for a brooding happy hour, I could think only of baking Lolita-inspired bittersweet chocolate tarts, Romeo and Juliet-themed poison pastries, and broken-heart shaped cookies.

But really, I’m not that cynical.  And although, on a daily basis, I surround myself with little more than a good novel, my Dorie Greenspan baking bible, my brand new Cuisinart electric mixer, my parents, and a handful of lesbians, I really can’t complain.  Plus, if I ever do get depressed enough about my boyfriend-less existence to sit around eating bonbons and watching sappy Romantic comedies, at least I know I can make my own, delicious homemade bonbons.

And so, after ruling out the clichéd chocolate, heart-shaped, and red hued Valentine treats, I went to my dad for literary inspiration.  We considered “Finnegan’s Cake”—a Joyce’s “Ulysses” inspired cake of lemon soap.  But again, this seemed a bit too cynical, far too obscure, and way too tricky to successfully accomplish… and plus (although I hate to admit it), I haven’t even read the epic novel.

So we went with simplicity: Cupid and Pysche.  The myth tells of Cupid’s adoring pursuit of beautiful, mortal Psyche, and of her subsequent hunt for him (this spoke to my twenty-first century, girl-powered, egalitarian sensibility that women, too, should have to do a little bit of work in the courting process).  In the tale, Cupid disguises himself as mortal and claims Psyche as his wife, visiting her only in the night.  Promising her a happy future, he warns her only to refrain from attempting to see him or discover his identity.  So, Psyche agrees, and begins to love him deeply, despite having never laid eyes on him.  But Psyche’s jealous sisters terrify her into believing that her mysterious husband could turn into a serpent, creep into her womb, and devour her and her child.  Consumed by paranoia and fear, Psyche retires to their bed with a lantern and a dagger.  Cupid awakens to find the lamp held to his face and his wife raising a dagger to his chest.  But, Cupid’s beauty startles Psyche and she stops herself, letting Cupid escape.

Psyche, in despair, searches everywhere for her lost love.  After lengthy trials that lead her to the Underworld and back, Psyche still cannot find him.

Finally, Cupid realizes that he desperately misses Psyche, and pleads to Jupiter that he rescue her from this (for lack of a better phrase) wild goose chase.  Jupiter agrees to stop the madness and lawfully wed Cupid and Psyche.  But, of course, it can’t be that easy; and as Psyche journeys back from the Underworld, she falls into a deathly sleep.  Cupid gallantly rescues her, bringing her back to life, and carrying her back to Olympus, where they finally wed.  Jupiter presents Psyche with a drink of sweet nectar, which immortalizes her, allowing her to forever be united to her love.

Okay, so long story not so short (but it never is with those Greek myths), Cupid and Psyche are finally joined by this sweet drink of nectar and ambrosia, the food of the gods.  And what is more romantic than unrequited love?— practically murdering your husband, performing tedious and demeaning tasks to reclaim him, and traveling to the Underworld all for the sake of love.  It melts my cynical little heart.  So, of course, I had to bake a Cupid and Psyche inspired cake, honoring the flavors of ambrosia—oranges, coconut, and sugar.

Eloise’s Cupid and Psyche Cake
Adapted from Nigella Lawson’s Clementine Cake


Ingredients:

  • 3 oranges
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 1/3 cups ground almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened shredded coconut

Preparation:

Place the oranges in a large pot and cover with water.  Bring to a boil and cook for about two hours until they are tender all the way through and pierce easily with a knife.  Cut the fruit into quarters and fish out any white bits and seeds.  Put the fruit (skin and all) into a food processor and puree.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Add the eggs to the food processor with the pureed oranges and pulse until combined.  Add the dry ingredients and mix well (you can do this all in the food processor, if it fits, or mix it in a large bowl).  Pour into a buttered and parchment lined 8 or 9-inch springform pan.

Bake for about an hour, when a toothpick inserted comes out relatively clean (it’s a very moist cake).  Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan.

Unmold the cake and serve with whipped cream and chocolate shavings.

Notes:

You can make this cake ahead.  It tastes best after a day or two and keeps for up to four days—you know, in case you have to go chasing your fiancé to the ends of the earth.  Although, in that case, you may want to freeze it.

I actually think this cake is better with clementines, in which case use about 5 boiled clementines.  It is also amazing with a dark chocolate ganache, which I left out purely because I am stubborn and wanted to be contrary about Valentine’s Day.  Do yourself a favor, and melt some semi-sweet chocolate with butter to spread over the top of the cake.