Sometimes I wonder if I shouldn’t have been a pastry chef.
In general, I like to think of myself as more of a cook. I find some self-satisfaction in my inaccurate – or more appropriately, unprecise – stirring together of a pinch of this and a handful of that until I’ve made a meal of it. I don’t think of myself as precise enough for baking and pastries.
And yet…And yet, at the end of a very long week, a week where – let’s just say hypothetically – the workdays have been 12 hours long and the brain has taken the spirit captive, I find that precision is what I want. The precision is a respite.
Structurelessness can be a tyrant, and precision and strict guidelines can actually offer solace. In those moments, I take comfort in measuring an exact teaspoon and a half or creaming for exactly three minutes.
I also love pastries for their sheer un-utilitarian-ness. Sometimes when there’s a lot to do, the wise decision is to make those calls or do that laundry, to stop avoiding and cross some things off your list. But sometimes the wise decision is instead to do something that delights you, that has nothing to do with the list.
You don’t need sweets in your life, to be sure, but I think sometimes you do need little things that are “just because,” that aren’t necessities for the body, but may be for the soul. Life needs to contain both basics and beauty, both bread and roses, or perhaps both stews and pâte feuilletée.
Today, the list and baking actually coincide. I’ve been charged (oh who am I kidding, I basically clamored for the job) with baking cakes for a friend’s baby shower tomorrow, and I couldn’t be more delighted. I generally require some excuse to bake, but not much of one, someone to bake for is about all it takes.
I get to take the day and alternate between my never-ending data coding and gently melting chocolate, spicing squash puree, boiling down cider into caramel, and basically filling the house with the most extraordinary smells.
Truth in advertising, this isn’t one of the cakes I’m making today, (today I’m baking all cakes that I’ve never tried before because, well, that’s just what I do) rather, I made it for our neighborhood potluck a month ago (which we – in spite of our newness – somehow found ourselves gently goaded into hosting!). But, all the mixing and measuring I’ve been doing this morning reminded me of this cake, and the fact that I had a few photos of it waiting to be shared.
The potluck was one of those events, advertised only by little notes left in all of the neighbors’ doors, where we had no idea whether 50 people would show up or nobody at all. And I had no idea what to cook. At the last minute I decided a big orzo salad with broccoli pesto and some chunked avocado would suit most people, and would make good leftovers if we wound up hosting a party for only ourselves. And then, just for good measure, I decided to whip up a simple, sturdy, snacking-sort of loaf cake, something easy to slice and be nibbled on by a crowd.
I had first thought to make a clementine cardamom poundcake, but I never love a pound cake as much as I do its slightly lighter, Francophile-ier cousin, the yogurt cake. So, I took the orange and cardamom flavors and transposed them onto a basic yogurt cake, to the accolades of all! Yogurt cake always has a wonderful tight, moist crumb with the sweetness of a true cake, but with enough buoyancy and tang to make an acceptable breakfast or coffee-time snack.
The cardamom and orange perfuming the cake make me think both: sensual, and: Christmas. Which is kind of a disturbing thought, but it is also kind of the most wonderful thought ever. Kind of like having your cake and eating it too. Which you most certainly should with this one.
p.s. We’re westward bound to Washington and Oregon this weekend on a business-y but also fun trip to visit distilleries, talk to people about our awesome investment opportunity, and hopefully eat a great deal of excellent food. I’ll do my best to take lots of pictures! And I’ll be back in just over a week!
Orange Cardamom Yogurt Cake (makes one regular loaf-sized cake) (inspired by this cake)
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. ground cardamom
- 1 – 1 1/2 tsp. orange zest
- 3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°. Thoroughly butter a standard loaf pan well. Dust with flour and tap out the excess.
- Whisk together 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, cardamom, and kosher salt in a medium bowl.
- Rub the orange zest into the sugar with your fingers, then combine this with the yogurt, olive oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Whisk until well blended. Fold in the dry ingredients just until they’re combined.
- Pour the batter into prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake in the center of the oven until top of cake is golden brown and a tester poked into center comes out clean, about 50–55 minutes.
- Let the cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Then, run a knife around the edges to loosen it, invert it onto a cooling rack and allow to cool completely.