Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ginger-Molasses Skillet Cake

“I love snow for the same reason I love Christmas: It brings people together while time stands still. Cozy couples lazily meandered the streets and children trudged sleds and chased snowballs. No one seemed to be in a rush to experience anything other than the glory of the day, with each other, whenever and however it happened”  

― Rachel Cohn, Dash & Lily's Book of Dares

There I was, longing for something sweet. Whatever I was going to make had to be easy, I didn't have the energy. It couldn't involve many ingredients, I hadn't been to the store in at least a week, probably two. The silent snow falling outside made me long for something homey and warm.

the batter

I walked over to my cookbook shelf. Opened one book, flipped through and put it down, too fussy, I concluded. Picked up another, no success. Just as I was about to give up, I picked up Great Desserts a neglected cookbook from 1989, that I probably scored from a thrift store, but who can remember? Almost immediately I turned to page 75, Ginger-Molasses Skillet Cake, under the chapter called Old Favorites. The picture was everything I was looking for. Homey for sure, along with ginger and molasses, I knew I had found what I was longing for.

before going in the oven

just out of the oven

I got to work. This was a fast and easy undertaking. I think searching for my molasses in the pantry took me the longest. This batter was finished just as my oven came to temperature. An almost effortless cake indeed.

This picture was taken on Wednesday 1/18, the bird is sitting on snow accumulated on the deck rail. The other photos below were taken on Tuesday. Overnight we had record breaking snow fall.

But what would it taste like? Would it be worth dirtying the cast iron pan along with a saucepan and a bowl? Should I have faith that I will enjoy it and whip up some cream to accompany my cake now? Yes, I determined. I should whip some cream because I always have a use for freshly whipped cream.

my little guy,  Lucien enjoying the snow

The cake emerged from the oven, the halls of my home wafting with warm spice. I placed the cake on the rack to cool. The smell was intoxicating. I waited all of 5 minutes before indulging in the tempting cake. I took a bite. Heaven, I thought. Moist cake rich with the comforting flavors of molasses and ginger. The edges crackly and chewy from the iron pan. For the second bite, I removed the cream from the fridge and added a dollop. The cream melting in my cake was a perfect addition, a fluffy and luscious element to offset my spicy cake.

birds in the snow

Life was good.

The End.

Our deck Wednesday morning

On Wednesday I had to push away snow to get to their birdhouse. This picture was taken before I filled their food.

The original recipe calls for a 12 inch cast iron pan. I used that size and the cake is on the short side, it's fine, but if given a choice I would use a 9 or10 inch pan for a slightly higher cake. If you use a smaller pan, just keep in mind it will take longer to cook. Also a note about the black pepper. I couldn't taste it in this cake. The cake is spicy in a very good way, but I couldn't tell there was black pepper in it. So don't fret about it. But if it scares you go ahead and leave it out.

Ginger Molasses Skillet Cake

this cake was inspired by one from the book, Great Desserts


1 1/2 cups (150 g.) flour

1 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

3 teaspoons ground ginger

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

3/4 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground allspice

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 cup (150 g.) packed brown sugar, divided

8 Tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

2/3 cup (160 ml) plus 2 Tablespoons molasses

2/3 cup (160 ml) milk

1 tsp vanilla extract

For Topping

powdered sugar-optional

Sweetened freshly whipped cream-optional


Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 180 degrees Celsius, Gas Mark 4.

In a large bowl whisk together the flour, spices, baking soda, baking powder and salt, set aside.

In a medium saucepan add 3/4 cup of the brown sugar, 6 Tablespoons of the butter, and 2/3 cup of molasses, stir over moderate heat until melted and well combined. Add the milk and vanilla, set aside.

Place the remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar, the 2 Tablespoons of butter and the 2 Tablespoons of molasses in a 9,10 or 12 inch cast iron skillet. Place the skillet in the oven to melt the butter and heat the skillet. When it's melted stir it and remove from oven (use an oven mitt).

Stir the wet ingredients in the saucepan into the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon just until smooth.

Right before you pour the batter in the skillet, using a brush or the back of a rubber spatula push the bottom glaze up the sides of the pan and distribute it evenly throughout the skillet. Then pour the batter into the skillet and bake for 20-30 minutes (it will take only 20 ish minutes for the 12 inch skillet, it will take longer if you use a 10 inch or slightly smaller pan.), until a toothpick comes out clean. Don't forget to use an oven mitt moving the pan after it's done.

Serve warm from the skillet with freshly whipped sweetened cream (if desired.) And give it a dusting of powdered sugar if you want.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Orange Olive Oil Cake

"A compromise is the art of dividing a cake in such a way that everyone believes they have the biggest piece."

-Ludwig Erhard

I wanted to make a simple orange cake. I made a few actually. I don't post every cake I bake. I have days where I make a few items I plan to post, but don't because I'm not excited about them, or I don't think I would make again. I want this blog to be filled with only recipes I'm proud of.

Making the batter

That mentality is great, sure, but the result is that I don't post here as often as I'd like. But I'm willing to give up quantity for quality.

I was working on getting the right texture of this cake while being big on orange flavor. I like to use frozen orange juice concentrate because I usually have it on hand to make an Orange Juli-ish on the fly. (Lately I've been making them with less liquid, to be more like a soft serve, yum.) And the juice concentrate allows you to get a stronger orange flavor than just regular orange juice would provide. The texture of this cake is reminiscent of pound cake, although not quite as dense.

ready to go into the oven, I always put a spingform pan onto a baking sheet in case of leakage. This cake didn't leak, thankfully.

This cake is filled with the orange juice concentrate, lots of orange zest, and if you want even more orange flavor, you can add a bit of orange extract.

Beautiful browned cake. My cake cracked in the middle, then I made the crack bigger by placing a knife inside of it to test for doneness. Oh well.

I'm in love with this glaze. It's sweet and tangy, it pairs perfectly with this moist and tender cake. I poked holes in the cake so the glaze can really get in and give you another punch of orange flavor.

the sweet and tangy glaze

I poked holes in the cake with a skewer so the glaze could sink in

  This cake is perfect for an afternoon tea, or snack. It's also super easy. Delicious, moist and easy. A cake I'll happily sign my name to.

Orange Olive Oil Cake

An original recipe by me, Melissa aka The Alchemist

Ingredients for cake

1 1/2 cups (150 g.) all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

3/4 cup (90 g.) sour cream or yogurt, full fat is best

1/3 cup (79 ml.) frozen orange juice concentrate- thawed slightly, enough to blend into the batter well

3/4 cup (150 g.) sugar

3 eggs

Zest only of 3 small to medium oranges, if they are very large, I'd only use 2

1/2 cup (118 ml.) olive oil, use extra virgin if you want a hint of that olive oil flavor, but if you do that I wouldn't add the orange extract (below)

1 tsp. pure orange extract (optional, to give you a stronger orange flavor)

Ingredients for Glaze

1/3 cup (79 ml.) frozen orange juice concentrate

1 cup (110 g.) powdered sugar

2 Tablespoons water

Orange slices for garnish- optional


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, 180 degrees Celsius, or Gas Mark 4. Grease well a 9″ springform pan.

In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt, set aside. In a large bowl, or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the orange juice concentrate, sour cream (or yogurt), sugar, eggs, olive oil, orange extract, (if using) and orange zest, mix well. Add the flour mixture and mix well again for about a minute, scrape down the sides and make sure all is incorporated.

Pour batter into prepared pan and bake 40-45 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. When the cake is done, make the glaze.

To make glaze, add all glaze ingredients to a small saucepan. Mix and cook on high heat till it comes to a boil. Turn the heat down to medium and let boil for 5 minutes or so stirring constantly, until it is sticky and slightly thick. It will get thicker as it cools a bit.

When the cake is done, let cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove sides of springform pan. Poke holes in the cake all over with a skewer. Place a baking sheet under the wire rack to catch glaze. Pour the glaze all over the cake. Let it sit for another 10 minutes or so to let the glaze absorb, then pour more glaze onto it.  Let it sit again for another 10 minutes. So the idea is that the glaze is hot while pouring it in the first and 2nd time, then when you are putting the final amount of the glaze on, it's cooler and thicker to sort of, sit on top of the cake almost like if it were jelly or jam.

Serve with an orange slice for garnish if you wish.

Monday, January 9, 2012

West Seattle - a day trip

view of Seattle from West Seattle

"Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

-Chief Seattle
(an Anglicization of Si'ahl)

Today my husband and I went on a day trip to West Seattle. Only I didn't know where I was going beforehand so I couldn't consult the Internet to find good places to visit. The husband only said he had looked at a map of Seattle, and said he wanted to "go over there, because we've never been there" (pointing to West Seattle, presumably.)

We did o.k. even without the help. This is a great place to walk around stores, and eat lunch. Lots of interesting places, a used bookstore we enjoyed, a few gift stores, record stores, and quite a few bakeries. We had a great time and will definitely be back.

We also drove around Alki Beach, that was a nice drive.

Seattle, from West Seattle

So here's our trip, in pictures.

Sugar Rush Baking Co. Of course I had to purchase a few sweets, I mean for research, we also had some good coffee from here

Outside of Sugar Rush

Bakery Nouveau- I got a few macarons here, but I wish I had consulted Yelp to find out I should have ordered the Almond Croissant, oh well, next time.

a bench on the street

We ate lunch here, this place rules.

My lunch, Death By Macaroni and Cheese with optional bangers on top. Absolutely delicious. My husband couldn't stop eating mine.

The husband's fish and chips and no, that's not a Guinness, that's a Kilkenny, unavailable by the bottle in the U.S. on our next trip to Canada we're planning on bringing some back with us.

inside the Terrible Beauty

inside The Terrible Beauty, I loved the decor here. Great service too. I highly recommend.

A photo on the wall of The Terrible Beauty

Ice cream store and deli, we didn't go in here, alas, it wasn't an ice cream sort of day, but it looked busy inside of the lunch crowd eating sandwiches

a pizza lounge

the pizza lounge has a black leather door, swanky

one of many (we spotted 3 on the main drag)  record stores

Cupcake Royale sign- Of course I got a few mini cupcakes to take home. They have a cupcake called "Royale with Cheese."

Outside of Cupcake Royale

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Tuscan Bean Soup

“The importance of reading, for me, is that it allows you to dream.
Reading not only educates, but is relaxing and allows you to feed your imagination - creating beautiful pictures from carefully chosen words.”

― Eric Ripert

One of my very favorite Christmas gifts this year came from my sister, Mel. It is the book, Avec Eric, by Eric Ripert. Funny thing, because Mel has given me many of my favorite cookbooks. Maybe because she knows me better than almost anyone. We are only 15 months apart in age, so we were close growing up. I miss living near her and her kids. She has a way of listening to me and my problems (though sometimes
ridiculously inconsequential) in a nonjudgmental and very helpful way. She's the kind of person you can just talk to. A virtue quite handy for motherhood, I always thought. Her college age children have always been able to say anything to her. I mean really anything. As if they were speaking to a close, very loving friend. I admire this quality in her and always have. Thank you Mel for all of my Christmas gifts, and for being such a great sister and mother. And thanks for listening.

The veg cooking on the left, on the right, the well seasoned beans

Over the years I have seen Eric Ripert on various shows such as No Reservations, and Top Chef. It's been only quite recently that I have watched the PBS show, Avec Eric. The show follows Eric while he travels to different locations around the world experiencing different cultures' food and traditions. He then comes home and cooks up a meal reminiscent to one he has just encountered, in his home kitchen. It's really a beautiful show.

The cookbook is just as wonderful, if not more so. The book is full of gorgeous pictures, of food as well as locations of places that accompany the food. In the chapter including this Tuscan bean soup for example, there are photos of a villa in Tuscany, stories of foraging for mushrooms as well as hunting for wild boar with the local Italians.

Bread cubes before being transformed into the greatest croutons of all time

These are recipes I want to cook. Some easy, (like this one.) Some more challenging, including a recipe that calls for said wild boar that involves making your own pasta. I could even see myself cooking every recipe in this book. I'm up for the challenge. Not only of skill, but of sourcing the wild boar and other difficult to find ingredients. Don't let that scare you, though. There are plenty of recipes with easy to find components.

Behold, the most wonderful croutons in the world.

Let's talk about this soup. Easy and simple. But these simple ingredients are well placed and well executed to create a very flavorful, delicious soup, in about an hours time. It's simple steps that most home cooks (myself included) overlook that make the difference. For example, in cooking the beans it calls for a whole tablespoon of salt. Seems like a lot of salt for a small amount of beans, but the end result is well, highly seasoned beans that are not at all salty. They pair well with the homemade chicken stock, that has little salt.

The soup is garnished with homemade croutons. These are the best darn croutons I've ever had in my life. I used some great, hearty sourdough bread, (he calls for some crusty Italian bread) (I'm sure the great bread helped) but I've made croutons before, though never this good. I loved taking a spoonful of soup with a crouton in it while it was still crunchy. Croutons in soup isn't something I usually think of outside of French onion soup. It's a nice touch. These are croutons I will definately be making again, perhaps next week in a salad. Thank you, Eric. I'm a better cook already because of you.

This isn't his recipe exactly, it is my riff on it. I used ham, he calls for prosciutto. etc. I've made a few changes, but with Eric's tutelage I managed to create quite a memorable soup.

Tuscan Bean Soup

serves 4

inspired by Eric Ripert's recipe in Avec Eric


3/4 cup (145 g. or 5 oz. raw) dried white beans such as cannellini, white kidney beans or great northern beans or you can also use one 15 oz. can of canned beans, rinsed and drained
1 Tablespoon fine sea salt
1 cup (8 oz.) diced ham
4-6 cups homemade chicken broth- if using purchased broth, make sure it's low in salt, in a carton preferably
2 carrots, diced
2 ribs of celery, diced
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, diced
3 garlic cloves, minced
a small bunch of kale, sliced crosswise into one inch ribbons
3 plum tomatoes-seeded, cored and roughly chopped
2 thyme sprigs
3 Tablespoons chopped parsley- Italian preferably, (but I used curly because that's what looked best from my garden)
1 piece of Parmesan cheese rind, approx. 3 inches in size
salt and pepper to taste

For croutons

1/2 loaf crusty sourdough bread, cut into 1 inch pieces
olive oil
Parmesan cheese

For Garnish

Freshly grated Parmesan cheese


The night before making soup, soak the dried beans in a bowl covered in water (don't add salt) by 4 inches or so. (The beans will absorb some of the water.)

Drain the beans and place them in a medium pan covered in water. season the water with the 1 Tablespoon of salt. Bring the water to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer on low till beans are tender, about 20 minutes. Drain off most of the cooking liquid, reserving about 2 cups of water with the beans.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, heat the olive oil to medium high heat and add the carrots, celery and onion and cook until lightly caramelized, about 6-8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic and ham and cook a few minutes more. Add the chicken broth (start with 4 cups, add more later if it needs it, mine did) beans with their 2 cups of liquid, tomatoes, kale, parsley and Parmesan cheese rind. Pull the leaves off the thyme sprigs and add them. Bring to a simmer and cook for about 30 minutes, until the vegetables are tender. Season with salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, 190 degrees Celsius, Gas Mark 5.

While the soup is cooking, make the croutons. Place the diced bread in a bowl and generously drizzle with olive oil. Add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese and toss. Place on a baking sheet in a single layer. Bake for 10 minutes then use some tongs and toss them, then bake for another 5-15 minutes more, until they are golden brown and crispy.

Taste your soup. Add salt and pepper. Taste again. Add more broth if it needs it.

Place soup in bowl and top with some croutons and freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Serve immediately.