May Day

I love May. The magnolia trees are blossoming, summer is on its way and my birthday is in a couple of weeks.

When I woke up Sunday morning I looked outside, saw the sunshine and decided that I wanted to make dinner for some friends whom I hadn’t seen awhile. They said yes. I love improptu, Sunday night dinner parties. A couple of weeks ago when I was in Seattle (it feels like a lifetime ago already) I got to meet one of my writing idols, Ms Molly Wizenberg. I will save the details for a future post, but it was a magical moment that left me buzzing for awhile. In honor of this encounter, I decided to make a meal from her book, A Homeade Life.

There is this French yogurt cake that I had been wanting to make (and when I re-read the description on Sunday afternoon Molly wrote that it is the sort of cake that French grandmothers make on Sunday afternoons. Well, perfect…) and I flipped through the index for a main entree. A spring salad caught my eye. Radishes, check. Cilantro, check. Feta cheese, check. Molly mentioned that she likes to serve this as a light dinner along with a hunk of bread or roasted potatoes. Done.

May Day Dinner Party

First course: White wine, beer, green olives, crackers

Main course: Sliced spring salad with avocado and feta (pages 246-247), Bellingham roasted potatoes (look for this recipe tomorrow), wholewheat sourdough bread, beer

Dessert: French-style yogurt cake with lemon (pages 204-205)

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French-style Yogurt Cake with Lemon

From A Homeade Life, by Molly Wizenberg

For the cake:

1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

pinch of salt

2 teaspoons grated lemon zest

1/2 cup well-stirred plain whole-milk yogurt

1 cup sugar

3 large eggs

1/2 cup vegetable oil, such as canola

For the syrup:

1/4 cup powered sugar, sifted

1/4 lemon juice

For the icing:

1 cup powdered sugar, sifted

3 tablespoons lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, sugar, and eggs, stirring until well blended. Add the flour, baking powder, and zest, mixing to just combine. Add the oil and stir to incorporate. At first, it will look like a horrible, oily mess, but keep stirring, and it will come together into a smooth batter. Pour and scrape the batter into a buttered 9-inch round cake pan (after buttering, I sometimes line the bottom with a round of wax or parchment paper, and then I butter that too).

Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake feels springy to the touch and a toothpick or cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Do not overbake.

Cool cake on a rack for about 20 minutes; then turn it out of the pan. Combine the syrup ingedients in a small bowl and spoon it gently over the warm cake. The glaze will be thin and will soak in like a syrup. Cool completely.

Combine the icing ingredients. Whisk well to dissolve the sugar completely. Spoon the icing over the cooled cake.

Serve immediately- the icing will be soft and a bit juicy- or wait until the icing has firmed up, about 1 hour. Whichever way you like.

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Happy May.

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Don’t mistake baking for weakness

The following is a guest appearance on ‘Wisconsin Fun Next Exit’ by Dan Walkner
 
Alice's Manderin Orange Cake awaits its impending demise.

I’m a guitar player.  I have a blog about my band but if I started talking about cakes and other trifles, I may lose all of my already limited street cred.  I rarely cook.  Never do I bake.  My mom used to bake a lot when I was little.  Bread, cookies, potpies (is that baking?), all that stuff.  I remember when I was about 4 or 5 and both my brothers were in school, my mom and I would trudge through huge snow drifts to get to the store.  We had to walk because we couldn’t get the car out of our glacial wall of a driveway.  Once, specifically, I remember helping push a grocery cart full of provisions home through dunes of white powder between Bill’s Red Owl and our house.  Five blocks of it.  At some point my mom started baking this Mandarin Orange Cake for every holiday and birthday and any other occasion where sugary delicassies are required.  If anyone didn’t love it, they were keeping quiet.  Similarly, she made the “mistake” of making the world’s greatest 7 layer salad at some point and now has to make one about every 3 days to appease her loyal following.  (Slight exaggeration, but it’s the best, and I punch anyone who says otherwise.  Also, if you use Bacos in 7 layer salad, there is a special place in hell for you.  Not you Aunt Joan, it was just that once and we all forgive you.)

Alice, Daniel, and William Walkner after a bike ride contemplating Mandarin oranges.

All right.  I started compulsively thinking of the Mandarin Orange Cake for about a week straight.  I called up my Ma and she wanted to mail me the recipe.  I told her it couldn’t wait.  She read me the recipe, and here it is:

Alice’s Mandarin Orange Cake

This has a few steps, but I guess most recipes do.  The main parts are the crunch layer, the cake, and the frosting.  You can do it all from scratch, or cheat, or both.  I cheated and made some alterations.  If you tell my mom I’ll tell her you lie.

Crunch Layer

1 cup graham crackers (I got the Co-op hippie kind, but the regular kind are fine)

1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar

1/2 chopped walnuts

1/2 cup melted butter (I used slightly more.)

Combine the dry stuff and dump in the butter.  Don’t use a microwave.  Use the burners.  They get lonely and won’t fry your chromosomes.  Just make sure the butter and brown sugar get mixed up pretty well or you may have some sticking to the pan.  (A little bit of sticking is okay, as you will soon find out!) 

Using two 8 inch circular cake pans, line the bottoms with half the crunch stuff.  Smash it down with the nearest dull object.  I used a pint glass, but you could use a balpeen hammer, butt of rifle, etc. 

Cake

1 yellow or vanilla cake mix

2 tablespoons grated orange peel

Here, follow the box directions, except when it calls for water, substitute 1/2 of it with orange juice.  So the eggs and oil is the same, but generally it will be a 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup OJ.  Also, for the orange peel, you don’t need a lot or maybe you need more I don’t know.  If you like stuff orangy, go nuts.  Put it in the mix, though.

Frosting

1 can vanilla frosting

1 cup whipped topping (Cool Whip style, not whippets)

3 tablespoons grated orange peel

1 tablespoon grated lemon peel

11 oz. can of Mandarin oranges, drained

Beat frosting in midair til fluffy.  No, actually, you should use a small bowl.  Add whipped topping.  Fold in orange and lemon peel.

Oven should be heated to 350 degrees.  Pour the cake batter equally over the two pans with crunch layer.  Bake for 30-35 minutes, or until you can pass a toothpick in and it comes out unscathed. 

VERY IMPORTANT (my mom yelled this, so I took it seriously): let the cakes cool for 10 minutes.  Any longer and you run the risk of not getting the cakes out of the pans.  Take them out and put one crunch side down.  Scrape the remaining crusty parts into a small bowl and hang on to them.

Frost the first layer with 1/4 of the frosting.  Stack the other layer on, also crunch side down.  Frost the bejeezus out of the sucker.  Top with the Mandrin oranges.  Then, this is my crowning glory that I thought of on my own, sprinkle the crusty crunch layer remnants over the top.  Maybe my mom does this too, but I can’t remember, and until she corrects me I’m taking credit for it.

Thanks Ma, for making this when I was little and inspiring me to obsess over it in the modern era. 

Love,

Dan

So good. Thanks, Ma.