chestnut éclairs with speculoos craquelin: a collab with the writographer

The Cousin, impeccable speller (she is particularly precise with the accent aigu) and avid writer, has been one of the few recurring characters on tentimestea, having witnessed and aided in all sorts of strange baking experiences from disaster cake to vaguely okay cake. Over the winter break we once again tried our hand at baking something and these éclairs were the result.

That’s not all though. The Cousin and I both also share some involvement, in some capacity or another, with various forms of social media. In fact, The Cousin recently began her own blog, and thus as a more formal introduction, please meet The Writographer. She kindly complied with my request for her to write a guest post. Quite flatteringly, as I said that she could write about anything she pleased, The Cousin seemed to have found our baking session itself worthy of the blog post–sufficiently such that we have a play-by-play capture. As a writer and photographer, partial photo credit also belongs to her for this post! 

Do take it from here cousin. Greetings readers of tentimestea.

This is The Cousin and today I will be doing a blog entry for my cousin since she is feeling so tired and barely has enough energy to do the actually baking.

While visiting my cousin over the holidays, I was reminding her that she hasn’t been baking much recently. So we agreed that we could bake something together and that I would be allowed to write something for her blog.

To decide what to make we headed to our good friend Google Images and started looking at photographs of amazing desserts, all of which my cousin either called ‘too complicated’, ‘too long’ or just replied by saying ‘no’. After a few minutes of searching, my cousin finally decides to bring up the fact that she’s been thinking of making éclairs. I searched for some images of éclairs, and as expected because of the complexity, they were all shut down and we settled on making bubble éclairs. After a lengthy debate about flavours, my cousin decided we’d do a chestnut pastry cream and perhaps a matcha one, depending on our laziness (although I prefer matcha over nuts). (tentimestea note: It was a one-sided debate. I can be a bit authoritarian when it comes to this sort of thing.)After agreeing on what to bake, we decided to play some games with each other. The first game was the board game called Codenames. A brief summary of this game is that someone gives their teammates hints so the others can guess the codename of the undercover agent before the other team finds their agents. We played on the same team and my cousin is definitely better than I am because all of my hints sucked. After a few rounds of that game, we decided to play Monopoly. Summary is that this game is the longest game ever which encourages people to make money. We only played for an hour and my cousin had the most money but half of her properties had been mortgaged (and I owned Boardwalk, so I’m happy). (tentimestea note: 1. The Cousin could have nothing but the Boardwalk and still be happy. And she did very well at Codenames too!)The next day during our baking session, our first goal was to try and complete a culinary crossword in a magazine. Once we failed at getting anywhere near the end of the puzzle, we decided that we’d actually try and get some baking done. My cousin, who is a super organized person (except when it comes to her room), made a list of everything that we have to do for the éclairs:

  1. Cream puff cookies (really, she’s just adding extra work for us)
  2. Pastry creams (originally chestnut and possibly matcha if we get the chance)
  3. Choux pastry (I do not have any interesting side notes for this one)

To start off on the cream puffs, my cousin started making a list of the ingredients that we’d need. When she listed white pepper and I admitted that I had absolutely no idea what that was, my cousin got me to try white pepper vs. black pepper. In the end, my mouth tasted like pepper, I had coughing fits and I still could not tell the difference between the two different types peppers. (tentimestea note: Curiously enough, I distinctly recall that the Cousin coughed only once.) After we had finished the cream puffs, we started on the pastry cream. My cousin had to get the chestnut purée out of the fridge and all of a sudden, she gasped, and dropped it onto the  floor. She informed me that it was moldy and she couldn’t look at it, as she went to the other side of the room to hide from it. When I looked at the tin of purée, it was indeed covered in mold. I told my cousin that I didn’t want to look or touch that tin and that she was going to have to throw it away. My cousin heroically grabbed a towel, picked up the tin and threw it in the garbage, warning me to not look inside the garbage if I had something to throw away. I tried to convince my cousin after that the moldy chestnut purée was some sort of sign that we should just use a matcha pastry cream. However, she told me that because of the spices in the rest of the recipe, we had to make a chestnut pastry cream, despite my complaints that I dislike nuts of any kind. As my cousin opened a new tin of purée I looked up online wether chestnuts are nuts or fruits (they are nuts and fun fact, coconuts are fruits). (tentimestea note: I’m still deciding whether or not to feel embarrassed that the majority of this post details the moldy puree.) 

As nothing interesting has happened in the kitchen since the moldy purée, as entertainment, my cousin and I decided to listen to Spotify while she baked and I worked on this blog post for her.Oh, The Cousin. Tell me, what did the éclairs taste like? I suppose I will tell you instead: they were quite good! The whole wheat choux was once again lovely in flavour and warmly coloured. The cookie crust on top, flavoured to be a speculoos craquelin, was sugary and crisp, thicker than I expected, but so perfectly reminiscent of melon pan. The chestnut pastry cream had a smooth, silky texture, and the little bit of rum and caramel made it quite nice. It was, however, very runny! It was quite unpipeable, so any piping detail had to come from the generous amounts of whipped cream.

The éclairs are generously sized, though the bubble shape means that each can be divided into three portions quite easily. Next time I would make smaller bubbles or just make cream puffs (which would be delightful with the craquelin). Something to watch out for: the rounds should be touching when they are piped, but if they are too close, they may turn out a bit more oblong. So long as they touch edges, that should be sufficient. The craquelin can also be cut smaller than expected–the craquelin should not overlap between each mound of choux, especially as too much in the joint between the bubbles can make them more prone to coming apart (though into cream puffs!).

I think the cousin enjoyed them even though they were chestnut, not matcha.

chestnut éclairs with speculoos craquelin

Makes 6 very generously sized éclairs. Alternatively, would make around 18 rather nice cream puffs. The bubble éclair shape is inspired by Dorie Greenspan and her book Baking with Dorie.

whole wheat choux

A riff on the whole wheat and brown butter choux that I adored from last time. I made 6 oversized éclairs. I would suggest piping mounds that are smaller–maybe 2-3 cm in diameter instead of 3-4 cm for more reasonably sized éclairs. 

65 g butter

150 g water

1 tbsp sugar

pinch salt

80 g whole wheat flour

around 2 eggs

Preheat the oven to 400F.

Place the butter in a saucepan and cook, stirring, until the butter solids and browned and fragrant. Add the water, sugar and salt (add carefully to avoid any splashing or spitting of the butter). Return to the heat and bring to a boil. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon until it forms a cohesive ball. Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs, a bit at a time, until the consistency is one such that the batter drops from the spoon.

Transfer into a piping bag.

Pipe 4-3 cm mounds. Top each with a round of frozen craquelin (see below).

Bake around 25 minutes or until well browned. Cut a small slit in the bottom and allow the steam to escape, and let cool on a wire rack.

 

speculoos craquelin

Adapted from the cream puff cookie topping from Bouchon Bakery by Thomas Keller and Sebastien Rouxel.

85 g brown sugar

75 g whole wheat flour

a pinch or sprinkle each of ground cinnamon, cardamom, clove white pepper & nutmeg

50 g butter

Mix all ingredients together until it forms a cohesive dough. Cut a piece of parchment paper to fit a quarter sheet pan, place the dough on top, and cover with a second sheet of parchment. Roll out very thinly until the dough roughly fills the parchment paper in some sort of oval-type shape (1/16″). Slide onto the pan and then freeze until firm.

Cut out rounds around 3-4 cm in diameter (match to the size of the choux mounds).

 

chestnut and caramel pastry cream

Makes an excessive quantity of pastry cream. The pastry cream itself was too loose. I’ve been making very eggy pastry creams lately so this one has less egg. 

140 g chestnut puree

270 g milk

50 g heavy cream

4-cm length of vanilla bean

2 eggs

25 g sugar

27 g cornstarch

pinch salt

15 g rum caramel (something made previously and lying around…recipe to be linked in future)

Press the chestnut puree through a fine sieve. Set aside.

Combine the milk and cream in a saucepan. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds into the milk. Heat the milk mixture until steaming.

Whisk the eggs with the sugar and cornstarch until smooth. Slowly whisk in the steaming milk, then return to the saucepan. Cook, whisking constantly, over a medium heat until well-thickened and the starch tastes cooked.

Add one large spoonful of the pastry cream at a time to the chestnut puree and mix until smoothly incorporated. Lastly, mix in the caramel to sweeten to taste.

 

assembly

heavy cream

Whip the cream until stiff and transfer to a piping bag fitted with a star tip.

Slice each éclair in half. Dollop a generous spoonful of chestnut pastry cream into the bottom of the éclair. Pipe a generous amount of whipped cream over top, then cover with the top half of the éclair.

2016 blog year in review

There is so much disheartening to say about 2016. It was a tough year for the world, and in ways I’m having trouble feeling optimistic for the next one.

On the other hand, I guess it was a decent year for the blog, though the past few months have certainly been pretty spotty with the posting. As with last year, here’s a roundup of some of my favourite posts in which I’ve highlighted a few successes.

spinach and egg breads

These were just great fun. The flavours were irrefutably decent: spinach, cheese and eggs (frankly, it would be hard to make an offensive combination of the three). Though, what really made these stand out to me were the shapes, inspired by a bread from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem. They were simple to form and made a perfect container for the egg, a convenient all-in-one hearty baked good.

pomelo mint and rose tart

This is perhaps my favourite tart on the blog thus far. Where it shone was the use of pomelo, a winter fruit, and the balance between dry and moist components. The flavours were quite fun too!

spiced apple and marzipan semlor

I am completely sold on semlor and the classic filling. The use of spiced apple and marzipan however made for a slighty melty and warm filling. Beyond that though, I loved being able to try a classic and traditional baked good, one that is unique and iconic.

lemon and anise easter bread

It is so rare that I actually manage to make sweet enriched breads that possess the desired texture–you know, the soft, tender, fluffy and rich sort of crumb characteristic of bakery milk breads. This one somehow or another did. While the smaller egg breads eventually dried out, the large bread retained its light and pull-apart wispy texture for days. Curiously enough, later sourdough adaptations of this recipe retained some fluffiness as well!

radish and coconut tarts

The tarts themselves tasted quite nice, but my favourite part was the rough puff pastry. While not to the flakiness level of puff pastry, and certainly improvable, the pastry revealed distinct layers that rose and separated in the heat of the oven. Later experiments with rough puff pastry were less successful in terms of flake, but confirmed that this pastry is a viable simpler and much, much quicker alternative.spiced bran muffins with rum-soaked raisins

This list would not be complete without the bran muffin–and not any bran muffin, but this one, which was just so exciting. It is a bran muffin that you (I) eat not for dietary fibre, but because you (I) seem to think that it tastes good. The spices and the excessive use of rum-soaked raisins ensure that. speculoos and peach éclairs

There were two things to adore about these éclairs. While I bemoaned the fact that one overwhelmed the other, it remains that this had 1. a delicious choux with browned butter and whole wheat flour and 2. a smooth and un-gluey pastry cream. I cheerfully wax further on both in the post, but as far as éclairs go, I found these quite solid.

flowery strawberry and rhubarb victoria sponge

As the tentimestea birthday cake, this had to make it onto the list. It also deserves its place by virtue of the simple and ubiquitous glory of the victoria sponge. It’s straightforwards and simple, and can be subject to sufficient variation for infinite renditions, each different from the other.  

black sesame and kinako cookies

This riff off the icing sugar-coated snowball cookie used kinako, a deeply nutty roasted soybean flour instead. Out of some various kinako experiments, this was by far the most successful application of the flavour and powdered format.

black forest cake

I think the triumph of this cake was the tempered sweetness level, through a mildly sweet cake layered with tart fruit and plenty of unsweetened cream. It’s a reminder that some things, like deep red cherries and heavy cream and bitter cocoa, need only a bit of (if any) sweetness to complement, not to overwhelm.

rosemary and tarragon panna cotta with roasted plums

Often I find that combinations of certain flavours are just fine together. They don’t particularly enhance each other, but it’s not as though they are terrible antagonists either. It’s so easy to make an inoffensive yet underwhelming pairing, such that it can begin to get quite dull. However, occasionally I’m pleasantly surprised. This was one example of a novel and purposeful combination, purposeful as in there is actually a good reason for rosemary and tarragon to spend a bit of time together. I also discovered how quick and convenient (yet intimidatingly creamy) panna cotta is as well!

guest post: prune and chestnut vanilla loaf cake

Finally, I’m ending off with the last post of year–a prune and chestnut vanilla loaf cake that was also featured in a guest post for Suzanne of A Pug in the Kitchen. It’s significant to me because this finally prompted me to put up a post, and beyond that, it was a rather very good cake. I’ve mused about vanilla before, but this is a clear demonstration of what wonderful things can happen when vanilla moves from the background to the very assertive foreground.

I noticed that this year I tended towards simpler bakes and more standard flavours. I still love experimentation, but it’s really quite palatable in varying degrees. I’ve felt less desire to try to make things radically different. The Victoria sponge cake, the prune, chestnut, and vanilla loaf, and the black forest cake are examples of this. At the same time, I also enjoy the liberties I’ve taken with the blog–disasters are certainly an ode to that–as a log there’s a certain latitude for disasters which have plenty of lessons to learn and quips to say, and for the partial successes which sit in stasis for now, but are perhaps to be revisited in the future.

In the future, such as this coming year. Maybe.

Happy 2017!

a guest post for a pug in the kitchen: prune and chestnut vanilla loaf cake

I had the wonderful opportunity to put together a guest post for Suzanne of A Pug in the Kitchen. You can take a look over at Suzanne’s blog for the full post, but here’s a bit of an excerpt (I get to quote myself!) about the cake and the recipe follows below.

The cake is unabashedly rich, the crumb possessing a buttery sheen, and is incredibly fragrant due to an incredible quantity of vanilla extract and browned butter. I’ve made merely superficial changes, but I highly advocate them. The prunes and chestnuts, which are two of my favourite things, are homely and warm […] They simply fit perfectly into the backdrop of a dense and vanilla-heady cake, such that even a friend who does not at all subscribe to my obsession with prunes admitted that really, they did seem to work quite well.

I really emphasized the glamourous nature of this cake with a of couple binders and an old stapler.

prune and chestnut vanilla loaf cake

Based on Dorie Greenspan’s brown butter and vanilla bean weekend cake in Baking Chez Moi. Instead of part vanilla bean and part vanilla extract, you can use either: 1 whole vanilla bean or 4 tsp vanilla extract as detailed by the original recipe. I would also consider increasing the quantity of prunes and chestnuts to 150 g each.

1 stick butter

100 g whole spelt flour

138 g all-purpose flour

scant 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1 1/2 tsp baking powder

175 g granulated sugar

3-cm length of vanilla bean

4 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 c (80 mL) heavy cream

1 capful dark rum

100 g dried prunes

100 g roasted and peeled chestnuts, whole and broken into rough pieces

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter a loaf pan and line with a sheet of parchment paper.

Brown the butter in a small saucepan and set aside.

Whisk together the flours, baking powder and salt.

Place the sugar in a large bowl. Split the vanilla bean and scrape the seeds out into the sugar and rub in. Add the split vanilla bean and rub as well to remove any excess seeds (this can then be placed in the sugar bowl for vanilla sugar). Add the eggs and whisk until thoroughly combined, follow with vanilla extract, the heavy cream and rum, whisking until combined.

Add the dry ingredients in two additions, folding in with a rubber spatula. Fold in the butter next in three additions. Lastly, mix in the chestnuts and prunes. Scrape into the prepared pan and bake for 60 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean.

Let cool on a wire rack.

pear, fennel and rosemary cake: a learning experience

So it’s been a few months. What has happened in between is summarized quite well by this cake: not much, and not much super delicious either. Though, while an underwhelming cake, this was a fairly productive learning experience.

There is a tendency for me to lean towards the richer and heavier cakes. I’ve internalized a caricature of genoise and biscuits as dry and tough, and consequently have also developed a slight prejudice against all butter-less cakes (though with a notable exception).And so when wanting to making a dense, fruit-laden cake, I automatically turned to the hegemonically-endorsed basic butter cake (and the easily recalled 1:1:1:1 ratio of the Victoria sponge). And here is what happened: the cake eventually baked, but remained fairly stodgy. The batter around the fruit was a bit underbaked and overly moist. The fruit itself was heavy and wet and did little to complement the cake. It was not terrible nor inedible, but it also wasn’t particularly good.

I compared this result to what I’ve witnessed previously with unenriched cakes, such as this sharlotka. Here, moist fruit makes sense. It provides moisture to an otherwise dry cake. There is a textural contrast between the spongy cake and the dense fruit. And the cake around the fruit may remain a little underbaked as well, but somehow it is not nearly as distressing as the underbaked regions of the butter cake.

Somehow it took this cake and a bit of reflection to realize that perhaps the butter cake is not always the go-to.

The fennel is very inconsequential. I did not use too much and it is unnoticeably subtle, overshadowed completely by everything else. I’ve been thinking an upside down caramelized fennel and lemon cake would be the next step in order to make better use of the taste.This cake was very much intended to be an adventure cake (adventure, used loosely, to also encompass some leisurely reading). The few requirements were 1. warm sorts of flavour and 2. a degree of practicality and sufficient structure to be cut into pieces and wrapped in paper, in half-nostalgia and half-pandering to a certain quaint and picnic-y aesthetic.

Narnia was one of the first longer novels and series that I read as a child, and it formed the blueprint for the type of stories I continued to enjoy and seek out: adventures, not mysteries or romances or school dramas, but the sort of adventures that involve magic and hopefully chatty anthropomorphized animals.

Voyage of the Dawn Treader was my favourite, likely due to the heavy roles of Lucy and Edmund, whom I found so much more engaging and relatable than the distant and only mildly-fleshed out Peter and Susan, and then there was Eustace who becomes rather loveable after undergoing his own character development arc. After that, I found the novels to be lonelier, threaded together by a gradual darkness and decline, culminating in The Last Battle. This may have been as vaguely optimistic and satisfying an end as one could find, but at the time I only found it distressing and sombre. I wanted an Oz-type continuity, which let Dorothy live with her aunt and uncle in Oz forever, but importantly was devoid of supposed endings, conclusions and finality.Now I’ve come to appreciate a good ending here or there. I realized this as series continue to get longer (L Frank Baum was only the beginning). Series, or sets of series, I began reading in school are still ongoing now–things like the character-packed monstrosity that is Warriors (Erin Hunter) and the slightly insipid but funny Cassandra Clare novels. I think I continue seeing mythology-inspired new Rick Riordan works when I pass by the teen sections of bookstores as well.

An ending allows you to glance back and appreciate the series as a whole, rather than always catching up with the next instalment. Perhaps most importantly you can then discover something else. And so when I chanced upon Wildwood by Colin Meloy–of the Decemberists–in a bookstore, at that point unfortunately already well into my teens, I read it thinking how it was exactly what I would have loved when I was younger. An adventure, replete with well-dressed animals and mysterious forests, gender parity of the main characters who are quirky and likeable, and! an ending. It’s a trilogy that stops right there.pear, fennel and rosemary cake

Based on the ratios of a Victoria sponge cake. 

60 g fennel

olive oil

114 g softened butter (1/4 lb)

50 g granulated sugar

2 eggs, room temperature

1 tsp vanilla extract

2 small sprigs rosemary, leaves picked and finely minced

50 g dark rye flour

70 g whole wheat flour

1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp baking powder

60 mL (1/4 cup) milk

2 pears

Preheat oven to 375F. Thinly slice the fennel into small pieces, toss with a bit of olive oil, and place in the oven for around 20-30 minutes while it warms up until the fennel is softened. Set aside to cool.

Line a 8″ square pan with a parchment paper sling. Lightly butter the exposed surfaces of the pan.

Cream the butter and the sugar until light with a wooden spoon. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Mix in the vanilla extract and rosemary.

In a separate bowl, combine the flours, salt, and baking powder.

Slice one of the pears into 4 sagittal slices, reserving the inner two slices (the slices of pear on the cake as pictured above) for topping the cake. Chop the remaining pear and the remainder of the sliced pear into large chunks.

Add half the flour mixture to the butter, mixing until just combined with a wooden spoon. Beat in the milk, then the remaining flour. Lastly, fold in the chunks of pear and slices of roasted fennel. Spread into the prepared pan and place the two reserved pear slices on top.

Bake for around 25-30 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. Let cool on a wire rack and serve with tea.

zucchini with mint and lemon on biscuits

I’ve been feeling a bit like: go away biscuits!  They keep on showing up where they are not exactly necessary…and they’re still not very good! These biscuits may have turned out quite a bit better, but are still not there.

Luckily there are vegetables and yoghurt to pick up the slack. While I’ve only bemoaned the excess of Swiss chard and beets thus far, the zucchini is also prolific. Thus, in the latest biscuit pairing, we have zucchini, mint, yoghurt, feta, and preserved lemon.

The preserved lemon (prepared using Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem) is so intensely lemony. Even while sour and oily and salty, it remains biting and refreshing. Here is the secret I discovered: you can pile on the zucchini so long as you have enough of the lemon, tempered with yoghurt, to provide flavour.

I was inspired by the cover of the smitten kitchen cookbook and her tomato shortcakes. These, on the other hand, have an unfortunate hamburger-like look to them. I think it has to do with the layered slices of zucchini as opposed to a choppy sort of pile of tomatoes. And maybe these stout and bread-y biscuits too…zucchini with mint and lemon on biscuits

chive biscuits

Adapted from the New York Times. Makes around 8 biscuits. 

120 g ap flour

100 g spelt flour

2 scant tbsp baking powder

1 scant tsp salt

5 tbsp cold butter, cut into small pieces

1 bunch chives, finely minced

1 small knob of hard flavourful cheese (parmesan, pecorino, etc)

200 mL milk

Whisk together the flours, salt and baking powder. Rub the butter into the flour. Finely grate the cheese with a microplane zester over the flour, then mix in the cheese and chives with a fork. Add the milk, and mix until it forms a dough. Knead a couple times, then place in a covered bowl and chill for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425F while the dough chills.

Remove the dough, place on a floured surface, and gently press out until it is 3/4 – 1″ thick. Cut out biscuits with a glass or metal ring, place on a parchment lined sheet tray. Form additional biscuits out of the scraps.

Bake for 10-15 minutes or until puffed and browned.

 

assembly

a bit of yellow & green zucchini

thick yoghurt

preserved lemon (made using Ottolenghi’s recipe from Jerusalem)

parsley

mint

feta

Slice the zucchini into rounds 3 mm thick with a mandolin or a sharp knife.

Mix together the yoghurt with chopped parsley, mint and chopped preserved lemon and season with salt and pepper.

To assemble, split a biscuit, spread with yoghurt, then zucchini slices. Add more yoghurt, some additional herbs and chopped preserved lettuce, and finally crumble some feta on top.

pumpkin babka

marThe “perilous whiteness of pumpkins” seems to be on everyone’s mind right now. Yep, like this one and this one and this one. The title is awfully catchy. Perhaps a bit too catchy as it has certainly received a great deal of attention.

However, as someone who loves a catchy title, I also took a go at reading the paper itself. Contrary to the impression I originally picked up from some articles about the paper, the paper is even-toned and far from accusatory. It is, after all, academic writing; it’s not that intent or purpose are at all neutral, but that the writing–at least once you move past that title–remains free of passion, vitriol and superfluous adjectives. I found their integration of disparate pumpkin-related phenomena into something arguably cohesive quite interesting. They describe the role pumpkins play as a symbol rather than a food. (How often, when you think of pumpkins, do you think of a fruitnot an ingredient solely destined for holiday-themed baking, jack-a-lanterns, pumpkin spice lattes (henceforth to be abbreviated as a catchy PSL–because academics love their acronyms. i know, practical reasons.), and so forth…?) As with many symbols, there are associations of class and privilege and race, and that is where the crux of the paper lies.

I don’t think Powell and Engelhardt are writing this to call for an end to PSLs or to decorative gourds. Because I do so very much agree–doing that will not erase privilege and disadvantage. Not in the slightest. Essentially, the symbolism surrounding pumpkins is just one more manifestation of underlying disparities.

There perhaps lies an issue that can be taken with this paper–sure, pumpkins are unique, yes, but are not unique in carrying connotations of upper class and whiteness and privilege. In this regard, a paper could perhaps be cobbled together for just about anything.

However, I think their purpose it is not to vilify the symbolism of pumpkins as the root of all that is wrong in the world–it’s to draw attention to that symbolism. The authors argue that it’s a matter of realizing how much certain hierarchies permeate our lives, what images we strive for, and just how that speaks in terms of social structure and power. It’s an interesting point–though also maybe not immediately translational into enacting change.

So in conclusion: there is much else in the world; it’s just simply that Powell and Engelhardt took the time to write about pumpkins.

Accumulation of critical, relational, and contextual analyses, including things seemingly as innocuous as pumpkins, points the way to a food studies of humanities and geography, that helps make visible the racial, gendered, classed, and placed politics of contemporary life in the United States.

The Perilous Whiteness of Pumpkins

Anyways, succumbing to Thanksgiving-type fervor, here is a pumpkin spice babka…

I think I like the mascarpone filling better–it has a bit more substance and richness, and kept the babka moist as well. The pumpkin gave the dough a gorgeous saffron tone. Next time I would not add in any additional milk or liquid, but instead rely solely upon the liquid in the pumpkin puree. The pumpkin is clearly there, though mostly by virtue of spice-mediated reinforcement.

The bread was also mildly soft and fluffy once baked! Ah, I feel like I am gradually getting the hang of making sort-of soft and fluffy sourdoughs–the key being a pleasantly lively and bubbly sourdough starter.pumpkin babka

Makes two loaves. Vaguely adapted (vaguely) from my previous babka adaptation. Mostly just freehanded, which meant I just kept on adding more flour…

sponge

100 g Kamut

100 g water

50 g sourdough starter

dough

500 g a.p. flour

7 g salt

7 g wheat gluten

45 g sugar

2 eggs

300 g pumpkin puree

35 g milk

50 g butter

mascarpone filling

180 g mascarpone

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp ground nutmeg

pinch cloves, black pepper, salt

3 tbsp sugar

spice filling

softened butter

3 tbsp sugar

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp cardamom

1/4 tsp nutmeg

pinch cloves, black pepper, salt

The night before mix together the sponge and allow to ferment on the counter overnight.

The next day, whisk together the flour, salt, sugar and wheat gluten. Make a well in the centre, add the eggs, pumpkin puree, milk and sponge. Mix together with a wooden spoon, switching to hands when necessary, to form a cohesive dough. Add more flour if needed, but it should be fairly soft and a little bit sticky. Beat in the butter. Cover a let rise completely, 6-8 hours.

Line two loaf pans with a parchment paper sling, and butter any exposed surfaces.

Divide the dough in half. Roll out into a squarish rectangle. Spread with the marsacpone mixture, leaving a border of a few centimetres along one of the longer edges. Roll up widthwise and press to seal. Cut the roll in half lengthwise, place the two halves face up next to each other and twist together, keeping the filling sides facing up. (This is a bit confusing, but I have some process pictures here of another babka rolled in the same style.) Drop into a loaf pan.

Repeat with the remaining dough half, this time spreading with butter and sprinkling with the spiced sugar mixture. I did not use all of the sugar.

Cover the loafs and let rise around 1.5-2 hours or until well puffed.

Preheat the oven to 400F. Brush the loafs with some beaten egg.

Bake for 30-40 min or until nicely browned. The mascarpone one takes longer due to the moisture of the filling; by 30-40 minutes it was cooked through, but the butter and spice-filled babka was a bit dry.

zucchini, caraway and lavender cake

The Cousin and I have looked back at one of our old stories–we had written it years ago, a sprawling epic about twin girls who attend a new school. It was ridiculous and illogical, but so much fun to read. I had a less embarrassing time, as The Cousin has done the most growing up since (this story memorializes even the development of her skill of paragraphing–we go from page-long solid chunks to lovely digestible little bites of dialogue).

Both of our sections revealed the very minimal planning that went into all parts of this story. We noticed how The Cousin cheerfully threw my character (named “Muffy”) under the bus: whenever The Cousin was writing, Muffy was either having a tantrum or being otherwise very annoying. My subsequent section was damage-control, forming some sort of half-hearted justification for poor Muffy’s outbursts. I often wrote some desperate segues into eventually discarded and unpursued plot avenues–oh look, a trophy has been stolen! Oh well, let’s forget about it and let it fade into the background.

But after literally years spent on that story, I was surprised by how much fondness I had for the characters in their strange, half-formed, often self-contradictory personalities. They had been subject of enough thought and discussion to develop a palpable (and contrary) substance of their own.

The Cousin is an even more avid writer these days (while I don’t do anything but essays and this dribbly blog), and her solo efforts speak to the leaps and bounds that her passion for writing has brought her. Characterization, humour, well-written dialogue, and even premeditated plot lines star in her writing. I feel quite chuffed when I think about our old story perhaps playing a foundational role, even if only a cautionary tale of poor planning, in these developments.

I put this cake together during the Cousin’s last visit–it was plenty of good fun that only comes with enthusiastic kitchen company. The sort of fun where you make last minute flavour decisions and just keep adorning the cake.

The cake is moist and very soft, and works well with a heavy-structured icing such as this mascarpone. But does a cake this heavy make sense as a layer cake? Not really–I would prefer it as a single layer, maybe a loaf (the original recipe that I based the cake off is, after all, a zucchini loaf), with one thick swipe of icing over the top. However it makes a great celebration of a slightly overwhelming zucchini harvest–because I’ll admit, nothing says celebration better than a layer cake. zucchini, caraway, and lavender layer cake

zucchini, walnut, and caraway cake

Adapted from smitten kitchen‘s zucchini bread

1 medium yellow zucchini

1 medium green zucchini

200 g oil (1/3 olive oil, and 2/3 vegetable oil)

110 g brown sugar

3 eggs

2 tsp vanilla extract

zest of ½ orange

375 g flour

1/8 tsp nutmeg

1 tsp caraway seeds, ground

1 ½ tsp baking soda

1 ¼ tsp baking powder

1 generous tsp kosher salt

75 g walnuts

1/3 c thick yoghurt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter three 6″ cake rings and place on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper.

Grate the zucchinis, wrap in a dish towel, and thoroughly wring out the liquid. Set aside. Whisk together the oils, sugar, eggs, vanilla extract, and orange zest.

Whisk together the flour, nutmeg, caraway, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Put the walnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse, along with a spoonful of the flour mixture, until finely ground.

Stir the zucchini into the egg mixture, then the flour, and finally the yoghurt.

Divide equally among the prepared pans. Bake for around 30-40 minutes or until an inserted skewer is removed clean. Let cool on a wire rack.

 

lavender cream

100 g cream cheese

100 g mascarpone

25 g sugar

~1 tsp dried lavender flowers

100 g heavy cream

Cream the cream cheese and mascarpone together until lightened. Crumble the lavender into the sugar and then mix into the cheeses. Whip the cream until it is thick and fold into the cheese.

 

assembly

Slice the top off of two layers of cake. Place one layer on a plate, spread with the cream. The cream is quite thick and the cake quite soft and crumbly, so spread carefully until the surface is just covered to avoid a crumbly mess. Repeat with a second layer. Place the final layer on top and generously spread with the remaining cream. As the top isn’t trimmed off the final layer, the cream will be much easier to spread and will not result in crumbs. Arrange: crabapples, edible flowers, and sprigs of lavender.