olive oil citrus cake

It was Saturday – the beginning of the weekend, but the end of vacation. The streets were lined with discarded, naked Christmas trees, serving as an unwelcome reminder of holidays past. We walked towards home, numb fingers and rosy cheeks, trying to focus less on what was fast approaching, and more on the present moment. Dreaming of something to lift our spirits, my mind settled on cake – cake with bright, citrus flavors to oppose such gray feelings. I made a promise to myself to move slowly, and to relish in the joy of doing something that I love. Yet, I found it hard to shake the gloom that had rooted itself within me.

And so I found myself in a pattern that I often do in the beginning of a new year. The cheer of celebration and anticipation of untapped opportunities that define the final days of December and first days of January, fade into a less ambitious reality. Goals and dreams that seemed so palpable, suddenly seem distant and unattainable. Confidence and drive slam against a wall of self doubt and fear.

I pour my carefully prepared batter into a springform pan, open the oven, and lift. The spring on my pan releases, and in a cliched metaphor for my slipping ambition, I watch in shock as the batter flows, without restraint, from my hands. Batter covers the stove, spreading almost greedily to the floor – as to say, yup, you failed. The promise of a cake, gone – an opportunity, missed; a goal, unmet – and with it my confidence. The symbolism was staring me in the face.

With a nod of recognition, I picked myself up and started again. I made that cake. I made two cakes, actually. And, with those two triumphs born from one failure, I taught myself a timely lesson amidst a cloud of self doubt. Failure hurts – it’s merciless and cold. But, I’m stronger – we’re all stronger. And, if we stare that failure in the face and push on, we’ll have a greater success to show for it. 

Here’s to a year of letting my hurt confidence drive my determination. I hope you’ll join me.


Olive Oil Citrus Cake

This cake recipe comes from Maialino Restaurant in New York City. I made a few slight changes, and added a glaze and candied citrus slices, which I found even further brightened the herbaceous flavors of the olive oil in the cake. If you’ve never tried olive oil cake before, I highly recommend that you give it a try. Its laden with moisture – almost similar in texture to a bread pudding – and deep flavor. 

for the glaze:

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

1 teaspoon orange zest

1 vanilla bean [split lengthwise and scrape out the seeds]

Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. The glaze should be runny, but thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You can adjust the thickness by adding additional orange juice or confectioner’s sugar, if needed.

 

for the candied citrus:

recipe from Food & Wine 

1 1/2 cups water

1/2 cup sugar

1 orange [or lemon, or grapefruit], sliced crosswise very thinly [about 1/8-inch] 

In a medium sauté pan, combine cup sugar and cup water and bring to a boil. Add the orange slices, in a single layer [the edges of the slices can be slightly overlapping, but you want them mostly in a single layer – if your pan is too small, just split into batches, adding 1 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar for each batch]. Simmer over medium heat, flipping slices occasionally, until mixture starts to appear syrupy and slices are translucent [about 20 minutes]. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture reaches a thick syrup [about 10 additional minutes]. Carefully remove slices from pan [they should still hold together, but will be very delicate], and transfer to a wire rack to cool. I found that my syrup was too reduced at this point to save, but if yours isn’t, I’m sure it would be lovely in a cocktail. [note: I made one batch of candied orange and one of lemon, and had plenty slices left over after garnishing two cakes].

for the cake:

recipe slightly adapted from Maialino Restaurant

2 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour [cake flour will result in a slightly more delicate cake, which I like with the moisture-rich texture of olive oil cake]

1 3/4 cups sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1 cup milk

1/4 cup heavy cream

3 large eggs

1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest

1/4 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup Grand Marnier

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch cake pan that is at least 2 inches deep, and dust with flour. [If your cake pan is less the 2 inches deep, divide the batter between 2 pans – I ended up dividing between an 8-inch and a 5-inch pan].

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, milk, eggs, orange zest, orange juice, and Grand Marnier until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined. 

Pour the batter into the prepared pan[s] and bake until the cake is golden and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean – this should take about 1 hour for one 9-inch cake. I found my 5-inch cake was finished around 40-45 minutes, and my 8-inch cake closer to 50 minutes.

Run a knife around the edge of the pan, invert the cake onto a rack and allow to cool to room temperature. 

Once cake is cooled, drizzle with glaze and top with candied citrus slices, if desired. Enjoy! 

christmas cinnamon buns

As we near the end of December, I’ve found myself reflecting on the past year and its defining moments. I am overwhelmed by countless memories – memories of our wedding, our cousins’ weddings, and time spent with family; memories of welcoming Miles into our lives, our trip to Italy, and celebrations with friends. The boundless fortune and joy that has defined this year leaves me speechless with gratitude and thanks.

Of course, amid this fortune, there were a few struggles too – that at the time seemed punishing and unfair. revisiting them now with a changed perspective, they have taken on meaning and significance. We learned from them and emerged from them stronger than ever. When life throws us lemons in years to come, I hope I can remember that time and perspective will offer understanding, as I have found it always has.

So, with love, faith, and gratitude, I’m raising a glass of champagne [and a warm cinnamon bun] to 2014 – I leave you feeling grateful for what you’ve given me and excited for what’s to come.


christmas cinnamon buns

recipe from Food Network Kitchens

I can’t take credit for this recipe – it is from the kitchens of Food Network [with a few of my own notes]. This is a classic cinnamon bun at its best – simple and true to its reputation – just a buttery, cinnamon-y, warm roll of goodness. A perfect treat for Christmas morning, to enjoy in front of the tree with the ones you love.

for the dough:

1 cup whole milk [I only had 2% on hand, and that worked just fine]

2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast [I used one 2 1/4 teaspoon packet]

1/4 cup plus 1/4 teaspoon granulated sugar

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for bowl

1 large egg yolk

1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

 

for the filling:

all-purpose flour, for dusting

12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened, plus more for the pan

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 tablespoons ground cinnamon

 

for the glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar

1/3 cup heavy cream

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

First, make the dough: warm the milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until it reaches approximately 100 degrees [I usually just test with my finger; it should feel like warm bath water]. Remove from the heat and sprinkle in the yeast and 1/4 teaspoon sugar [do not stir]. Allow to sit until foamy, about 10 minutes. Whisk in the melted butter, egg yolk, and vanilla. 

Meanwhile, combine the flour, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, salt, and freshly ground nutmeg in the bowl of a stand mixer. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and add the yeast mixture. With a dough hook attachment, mix on low speed until thick and slightly sticky. Increase the speed to medium, and knead until the dough gathers around the hook and is smooth [about 5 minutes]. [You can add more flour at this point, if your mixture is really sticky – I didn’t find it was necessary].

Remove the dough and shape into a ball. Butter the mixer bowl, and return the dough to it, turning to coat with butter. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size [Food Network approximates 1 hour and 15 minutes – I found mine took closer to 2 hours].

On a lightly floured surface, Roll the dough to a 12×14-inch rectangle, making sure the longer side is closest to you. Spread the top with the softened butter, leaving a 1/2-inch border along the far long edge. Mix the cinnamon and sugar in a small bowl, and sprinkle over the top of the buttered dough – still leaving that far edge untouched. 

Brush the unbuttered far edge with water. Roll the dough away from you in a tight cylinder and press on the long edge to seal. Cut the cylinder into 6 equal pieces.

Butter a 9×13-inch baking pan and arrange the cinnamon buns, cut side down, in the pan [making sure to leave a little bit of room around each one]. Cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled [Food Network approximates about 40 minutes, but again I found mine took a bit longer – a little over an hour. At this stage, after the buns had doubled in size, I transferred the covered pan to the fridge, to bake the next morning].

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and bake the buns, uncovered, until golden brown, about 35 minutes. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes before serving [don’t be concerned if the buns are swimming in a pool of butter – they will soak it all up as they cool hehe]. 

While the buns are cooling, make the glaze: sift the confectioners’ sugar into a bowl and whisk in cream and melted butter until smooth. Pour the glaze over the buns, and serve warm.