One thing I'm thankful for is when friends manage to dig me out of my cave and take me on new adventures. Academia and food-writing/blogging/baking can both sometimes be quite solitary endeavours, so time out of the house to see and do new things is always appreciated.
A week or so ago, my friend Nadeen asked me to go with her to Heidi Swanson's (of 101 cookbooks blog fame) new book signing party at the ever-wonderful Omnivore Books in SF. I must confess that I don't really follow Swanson's blog, but I have cooked from it before via random Google searches; for example, the apple butter recipe that I used here was from 101 cookbooks, and it was fantastic. Then, in the week leading up to the book signing, I've started seeing reviews and covers of Swanson's book and recipes exploding onto the blogosphere with very favorable reviews, so I was excited to see what it was all about.
Of course, to best understand someone's idea/philosophy of food, you cook from their recipes, so I scoured through 101 cookbook's recipe index looking for a dessert to try. The first thing that I realized was that Heidi Swanson is a far more healthy human being than I am. For one, I don't think you'd ever find anything like this on her blog. Sure, she doesn't really run away from butter or cream, but she uses far less of it in ten recipes combined than I probably do in a single post here. *makes innocent eyes* The second thing that I discovered is that Swanson has what I (and Nadeen) would deem a very unhealthy obsession with quinoa. I mean, quinoa's okay and all, but seriously? it's not the yummiest (healthy) grain out there. I considered for a moment trying to take quinoa and make the most unhealthy, cream- butter- and sugar- (and bacon-) laden dessert I could think of with it, but Nadeen and I decided we might get expelled from the book signing for bastardizing quinoa in such a manner.
Finally, I stumbled upon this recipe: salt-kissed buttermilk cake. (Even the name is pretty!) This is where Swanson and I finally agree on something: that salt has the ability to make dessert even tastier. Swanson makes her version on the site with raspberries, and the version in her book is with plums, but I dug out my treasured olallieberries (that I hid away last summer) from the depths of my freezer as a special treat. The olallieberries were perfect against this cake, which is moist and wheaty but not too sweet, with a crunchy sugar and lightly salty crust top. Swanson even seems to throw me a bone in this recipe--serve with a "floppy dollop of sweet, freshly whipped cream on the side," she says-- so of course, you don't have to tell me twice to use cream. And it's delicious. The cake and cream together, I mean!
The book signing was crowded but interesting, very different from the more literary book signings/readings/talks that I, as a former English major and on-going academic, am used to. Swanson's book is an absolutely beautiful piece of work, with artfully done close-ups of many of her recipes but also gorgeously-toned landscape shots from around the Bay Area, which I really liked seeing. I didn't actually get to meet Swanson--there were just too many people--but it was definitely a new and fun experience. I even came across another cookbook at Omnivore that was entirely about quinoa--who knew!
Read on for recipe....
Salt-kissed Buttermilk Olallieberry Cake
adapated from 101 cookbooks
makes one 9" round cake
1/4 cup (4 Tbspn) butter
2 1/2 cups (375 gr) whole wheat pastry flour
1 Tbspn baking powder
1/2 cup (95 gr) lightly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 tspn salt
1 cup buttermilk
freshly grated zest of 2 lemons
1 cup olallieberries
1 1/2 Tbspn turbinado sugar
1/2 tspn coarse, large grain salt
freshly whipped, lightly sweetened cream
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9" round cake pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper.
2. In a small saucepan, brown the butter. Strain out the solids and let cool briefly.
3. In a large bowl, whisk to combine the whole wheat pastry flour, baking powder, brown sugar, and salt.
4. In a separate bowl, combine the buttermilk and eggs. Whisk in the brown butter and lemon zest.
5. Pour the liquid over the flour mixture, mixing just until the ingredients are combined. Do not overmix.
6. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, using the back of a spoon to spread the batter to the edges (this is made easier if the spoon is dampened with water).
7. Sprinkle the olallieberries over the cake, followed by the turbinado sugar, and then the coarse salt.
8. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until a toothpick stuck in the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove from oven and let cool.
9. Enjoy with a generous dollop of freshly whipped cream.
Note: Heidi from 101 cookbooks bakes this in an 11" fluted tart/quiche pan for a flatter cake. I wanted a taller one, so I used a 9" round instead. If baking in a 11" tart/quiche pan, reduce the baking time to 20-25 minutes total. Also, double the amount of raw sugar and coarse salt used on top of the cake.