Yes, it’s time. I decided that Tuesday night was as good as any to take on a large baking project – and particularly one that required me to strongarm copious quantities of batter from bowls to pans, and plenty of chopping. My family has been making this dark fruitcake for years; it’s a low-maintenance fruitcake, not requiring aging or brushing with liquor, loaded with dried fruit and nuts – apricots, figs, cherries, dates, citron – not a green glacé candied cherry in sight. Adapted from The Joy of Cooking, the 1997 edition – the edition is important, as there are completely different dark fruitcakes in different editions. (And no, it doesn’t call for eggs.)

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It’s nice when things that don’t take much time accidentally turn out awesome, isn’t it? When apples are in season, they make me want to bake – pies are nice in theory, but I’m not always in the mood to make one. An apple cake is a lovely thing, especially when it’s more apple than cake, and when you have a buttery dough you can stir together in a few minutes and know by heart, so that in spring it can be berry or rhubarb cake, in summer it can be a peach or plum cake. This is the sort of cake I like best – I think most days I’d choose this over a fancy chocolate tower held together with ganache.

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If we were to compile a book of family recipes, this upside down pear gingerbread may just be on the cover. We have it every Thanksgiving – it’s our pumpkin pie – and although gingerbread in general is not my favourite, this cake is. It’s special but not fancy, with a soft interior and chewy, caramelly edge, and is one of the very best vehicles for whipped cream there is. One of the biggest selling points of an upside-down cake is the fact that it needs no decorating. When you invert the cake the pear slices end up on top, making it look gratifyingly complete with no need for frosting. It does, however, scream for ice cream or whipped cream – provide a bowl of it alongside for people to serve themselves, or put a dollop on each slice. Pear gingerbread is also perfectly suitable for breakfast – in wedges with hot coffee, or smothered in thick Greek yogurt.

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I am blessed with a son who doesn’t ask for elaborate cakes on his birthday. He did once, when he turned 5 and requested a How to Train Your Dragon cake. Mike and I worked all night to piece together whatever specific kind of dragon he wanted made out of cake and frosting. We were proud – but it looked like a five year old made it. When we presented it in all its green glory to the table full of kindergarteners, one (having not touched or tasted it) said, “it tastes like toothpaste”. They collectively recoiled in horror over the suggestion of a mint-flavoured cake, and despite our protests that it was just green, it didn’t taste like mint, none of them would take a bite. W goes for substance over appearance, which I hope translates to other things in life, which is a relief because I have very little patience for cake decorating. Also – his birthday falls on the August long weekend,Continue reading

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I impulsively made my mom’s chocolate pudding cake for dinner tonight. My dad was coming by to eat with us, and his presence triggered a memory of my mom cobbling together some sort of dessert at the last minute when there wasn’t a little something sweet in the house, as he opened all the cupboards in search of a square of chocolate. She had a few standbys and this was one of them. Since chocolate is his thing, I mixed it together and slid it into the oven alongside the pork tenderloin. (At the table, W asked me how long it had taken me to make it. About ten minutes, I said. ‘Well,’ he said, ‘I absolutely must have this recipe!’) This request was followed by a handful of others on twitter, so I thought I’d post it. Partly in order to bookmark it myself.

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I love this old photo of a birthday cake I’ve been making for years – my mom and sister share a birthday, which was this week, and for as long as I can remember (since my mom was a kid, so far before that) they’ve had this spice cake with penuche icing. They’re the only ones in our family with a standard cake that cannot be strayed from – the rest of us jump from chocolate to cheesecake to ice cream cake to croquembouche – but they’re never even asked what kind of cake they want. I personally am a fan of the old-school wobbly layer cake slathered with buttercream. (We also have a tradition of making money cakes – with foil-wrapped coins between the layers. Is this a thing where you are?)

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The blackberries are early this year. By weeks, at least – usually we catch them (if we’re lucky) only at the very end of our trip, around mid-August. But this year we arrived to find the first few already hanging heavy on their vines, and we’ve discovered a few spots where we fill our empty coffee cups, sand pails or whatever containers we can rummage from the car each day. I learned, from experience and the book I’m blissfully in the middle of reading, that some blackberry vines produce fruit and others – the thick, spiky ones – act as the first line of defense, reaching out beyond the edges of the thicket to grab at your clothes and skin as you reach for ripe berries. The darkest, sweetest ones will all but leap into your fingers-I taught W if they resist, even a little, to leave them for next time. The beauty of a blackberry bush is that they don’t all ripen at once,Continue reading

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It was 27 degrees today with sun and blue skies in Calgary. Tomorrow, the forecast is for snow and a high of 2. Back off fall, you’re coming on too strong. The (very small) consolation of going from high twenties to zero is that you can pull on your woolies, turn on the oven and bake a pie. Or a cake. And eat the whole thing yourself because fall just up and snubbed you altogether, just like spring did. It’s tough getting the shaft. With my condolences, I offer a spice cake with salted caramel. (Now that swimsuit season is about as far away as it’s going to get.) Granted, I still have no oven to turn on. This is a cake I made way back when I had an actual kitchen, not a microwave on a cart in the dining room and a barbecue in the back yard. I made it to use up overripe pears and salted caramel that did so well onContinue reading

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Once in awhile, I come across a recipe that really blows me away – not only because it’s delicious, but because it utilizes some original technique I would never have thought of. This chocolate quinoa cake is a perfect example – it’s not made with quinoa flour, but actual cooked quinoa, whizzed into a batter with sugar and eggs and cocoa, then baked into this rich, dark cake that has a texture better than any gluten-free cake I’ve tried. Just look at it! It tastes as good as it looks. It comes from Patricia and Carolyn, authors of the superhit cookbook Quinoa 365: The Everyday Superfood, a book you may have seen practically everywhere for the past few years. It came at a time when quinoa was new and exotic, and people weren’t sure what to do with it. I made this cake years ago, and people keep asking about it – I just realized I never did post it here, and so here youContinue reading

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