Sick of carrot cake but want a springtime dessert? Then this cake is for you!



Somehow, someway, no matter how prepared I am before I go to the store, I always end up making multiple trips. In the case of this cake, I am fairly certain I made at least three separate trips to the same store, and it may be paranoia but I'm pretty sure I could hear snickers under the masks of the checkout clerks. But I digress.

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As I write this, Easter is tomorrow, Passover ends tomorrow, Holi was about a week ago and Ramadan starts soon. No matter which religion you do or do not celebrate, spring is in the air and the joy and excitement of a new season is palpable! Well, unless you live in Minnesota. In that case you may be digging out of a mountain of snow. And for that I am deeply sorry.

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And if you are like me or are simply tired of making carrot cake (which to be fair to carrot cake is pretty unlikely) then this lemon-elderberry cake is for you! A light and fluffy white-cake base works wonderfully with the light acidity and floral notes of the lemon and elderberry, and paired with a cream cheese and labneh frosting (you heard that right!) this cake is surely to please even the most dessert-aversive folks.

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This recipe is based off of Mark Bittman's recipe for white cake from How to Bake Everything; though it cuts down on some of the butter that is originally called for, swaps whole milk for half and half, and uses a blend of baking soda and baking powder in addition to the elderberry syrup and the lemon zest/juice. I highly recommend purchasing the cookbook if you are new to baking or are looking to dive right in, as the instructions are clear and the recipes/techniques are full proof.

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A couple of notes on elderberry syrup: The one I used in this recipe was actually from my local farmers market, but most health food stores or your local Whole Foods should carry it. A lot of versions of elderberry syrup tend to be a blend of the actual elderberries themselves as well as honey, so should you not be able to find any you can sub the syrup for any kind of honey or syrup (such as maple syrup, golden syrup, etc.).

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Another note on the frosting: In this recipe I utilized strained full-fat greek yogurt that I made myself by placing about a cup of the yogurt in a sieve set over a bowl that I then wrapped in saran wrap and let sit in the fridge overnight. An alternative to this option would be to use pre-made labneh, which is sold at stores such as Whole Foods. Should you wish to omit the strained yogurt all together, the frosting should still work, though the texture might be slightly firmer- just something to keep in mind when icing your cakes.

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Ok, with all of these pointers kept in mind, let's get into the recipe!


Lemon Elderberry Cake with Cream Cheese frosting

(makes two 8 1/2-inch round cakes)


Ingredients:

-2 cups cake flour, sifted

-1 cup granulated sugar

-6 egg whites

-1 stick unsalted butter, softened

-2/3 cup half-and-half

-zest of two lemons

-1 tbsp elderberry syrup

-2 tsp baking powder

-1 tsp lemon juice

-1/2 tsp baking soda

-1/8 tsp salt


Frosting-

-2 packages of softened cream cheese

-1 ¼ cup powdered sugar

-1 tbsp elderberry syrup

-1/2 cup labneh or strained Greek yogurt (5% fat content)

-zest of one lemon


Method:


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 8 1/2 inch cake pans and set aside. In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and whisk together. In a separate bowl, add the softened butter and beat with a hand mixer on medium/high speed until pale in color and smooth, about 2 minutes. Add half of the granulated sugar and beat on medium/high speed for one minute. Add the remaining sugar and beat on medium/high speed for about 3 minutes, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides of the bowl.


Add half of the egg whites to the butter/sugar, mixing slowly at first then increasing the speed to medium/high until the mixture is smooth. Add the remaining egg whites and beat with the hand mixer until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and mix just to combine. Add half of the half and half and again mix until just combined. Repeat with the remaining dry and wet ingredients. Pour the batter into the cake pans and spread into an even layer with a spatula. Put the cake pans into the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 20 -25 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.


Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan before flipping onto a plate or wire rack to continue cooling. If making the cakes the day before assembling, wrap the cooled cakes into saran wrap and store in the fridge. To make the frosting, add the cream cheese and labneh to a large bowl and mix with a hand mixer on medium speed for about 3 minutes until smooth. Add the powdered sugar, the lemon zest, and elderberry syrup and again mix on medium speed for about 1-2 minutes until smooth. To assemble you cakes, add a small dollop of the frosting to the center of a large plate or cake stand and place one of the cakes on top as your base. Add about ¼ to 1/3 of the frosting on the top of your cake and spread and smooth with a spatula. Stack the remaining cake on top and frost the tops and the sides with the remaining frosting. Slice as desired, serve and enjoy!

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A delicious and flavor-packed star dish



It seems that every time I sit down to share a recipe I am struck with writers block. Which is only mildly embarrassing because I would not exactly characterize blogs (or this blog, for that matter) as the pinnacle of narrative flourish.

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Often times that writers block sneaks into other parts of my life, and by that I mean cooking. A year long extended crisis does little for mental freshness, huh ? Needless to say getting creative in the kitchen, or honestly making something besides an egg on toast, has been harder and harder as of late. But when inspiration strikes, whether I'm on a walk or taking a break from work, I try to take advantage of that brief moment of clarity and write it down for my [tired] future self. This, I believe, is true self care (kidding, sort of).

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Chicken is always one of my dinner go-to's (though I'm working towards cutting down my animal protein consumption overall) but I cannot bear the thought of yet another plain grilled chicken breast. Thus this spiced chicken and romesco dish was born!

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I love making a whole chicken, but to cut down on cooking time I usually like to spatchcock it by cutting out the spine and flattening the bird. It sounds kind of intense, but it is really quite easy once you get the hang of it! I recommend watching some tutorials if you are new to this technique as well as a pair of disposable gloves, kitchen shears or a sharp knife, and a sturdy cutting board.

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The blend of warming spices, layered both under and on top of the skin, ensures a flavorful and well seasoned bird. If you really want the flavors to marinate, you can prepare the chicken a few hours before cooking and store in the fridge on a sheet tray wrapped in foil. With the addition of a bright and slightly tangy romesco sauce this chicken dish really shines. Add a side of some roasted broccoli or asparagus and you've got yourself one tasty dinner!

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This recipe would work wonderful for a spring or summer get together, and can even be cooked on an outdoor grill if desired (though cooking times would vary-- depending on the grill it would take about 20 minutes per side).


Okay, onto the recipe!



Spiced Chicken with Romesco Sauce


Ingredients:

-1 whole chicken (between 3-3.5 lbs), spatchcocked

-1/3 cup olive oil + 1 tbsp

-1 tbsp + 1 tsp coarse kosher salt

-1/2 tsp cumin

-1/2 tsp white pepper

-1/2 tsp dried chili pepper (ground)

-1/2 tsp Chinese five spice


Romesco-

-1 red bell pepper

-1 cup grape tomatoes

-1/3 cup of almonds, roasted

-1/2 cup olive oil + 1 tbsp

-1 tbsp red wine vinegar

-1/8 tsp red pepper flakes

-salt to taste


Method:


Preheat the oven to 450°F. Slice the red pepper in half length-wise and place face down on a sheet tray. Add the grape tomatoes to the sheet tray and coat with the 1 tbsp of olive oil. Place in the middle rack of your oven and let roast for about 20 minutes or until the peppers are soft to the touch. Remove from the oven and let cool about 5-10 minutes. Carefully scoop out the stem and the seeds of the bell pepper and add the remaining pepper to a blender with the roasted cherry tomatoes, olive oil, almonds, red wine vinegar, red pepper flakes and salt as desired. Blend until smooth and set aside. In a small bowl combine the 1/3 cup olive oil, cumin, salt, white pepper, dried chili pepper and Chinese five spice and whisk to combine. Remove the chicken from the fridge and place on a cutting board, patting the skin dry with a paper towel. Coat the bird bird with the spice mixture by rubbing on and below the skin on both the front and the back of the bird. Place a large (oven safe) sauté pan on your burner and warm over medium high heat for about one minute. Add 1 tbsp of the olive oil to the pan and swirl to coat the bottom evenly. Let warm for an additional minute before adding the chicken to the skillet breast side down. Let sear over medium high heat for about 6 to 7 minutes before carefully flipping the bird and repeating the process on the other side. Lower the oven temperature to 375°F. Place the sauté pan with the chicken into the middle rack of the oven to continue cooking for an addition 35-40 minutes or until the internal temperature reads 165°F in at least 3 places. Once the chicken is finished, remove it from the oven and let rest for about 5-10 minutes before slicing. Serve with the romesco sauce and enjoy!



inspired by my southern grandma's family recipe

As I write this, it's late February, and spring is in the air. However, we are very much in that transitional period between winter and spring produce, and citrus is still abundant pretty much everywhere I look. I've been seeing a lot of citrus marmalades pop up lately, which reminded me of my grandmother.

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My grandmother, the spy.

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Well- she wasn’t really a spy. But she always wanted to be one. Creating grand stories and elaborate identities was the norm as we huddled over bowls of warm tomato soup during various lunch dates. She’d been to Saudi Arabia, lived there in fact- while my grandfather worked as a visiting physician. She was fearless- an expat, a girl from Little Rock Arkansas. Out of her element maybe, though her sly smile often suggested otherwise.

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She hosted dinners with Black pastors and marched in the civil rights movement of the 60s. Scared, no doubt. Not sure how the white suburbanites of Atlanta would react. What do you wear to a civil rights march? She wondered. She’s a lover of crows and wallabies— often taking excitable interest in the spider that has taken up residence in window sill. Always trying to siphon off different books from her overflowing collection to the chagrin of her grandkids. But damn, she was (and is) a badass.

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Orange marmalade loaf always makes me think of her— wrapped in tin foil and cling film with her swirly cursive note wishing us a merry Christmas. She’d bring over her famous dinner rolls later for dinner, wrapped gently in cloth napkins to be finished methodically in the oven. She taught me how to make them once.

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This loaf is for her.

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As much as I love her recipe, I thought I'd take a shot at it, and use my very own marmalade recipe in the process. The loaf comes together quickly, two bowls max, no special equipment required other than a trusty spatula and a 9-5 inch loaf pan. The cake is light and tender, with a slight chew from the semolina flour. It's studded with little pockets of candied orange peel, which is pretty heavenly. What more could you want from a recipe?



Orange Marmalade Loaf~


Ingredients:

-1 ½ cups white whole wheat flour

-1/2 cup semolina flour

-1 cup orange marmalade* (see note)

-1 cup half and half

-2 eggs

-1/4 cup unsweetened Greek yogurt

-1/4 cup safflower or vegetable oil

-2 tsp baking powder

-1 tsp ground ginger

-1/4 tsp salt


Glaze-

-2 cups powdered sugar

-juice of one medium orange


Method:


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter and flour a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan and set aside. In a large bowl combine the flours, salt, baking powder and ginger and whisk until combined. In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, Greek yogurt, vegetable oil and half and half and again whisk until smooth and combined. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix with a spatula until few lumps remain. Add the orange marmalade and fold into the batter until dispersed. Pour the batter into a loaf pan and place into the middle rack of the oven. Bake for about 30 minutes and then rotate the pan in the oven. Let the loaf bake for a remaining 10-15 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool for about 10 minutes in the pan before flipping onto a plate or wire rack. Let cool for a remaining 20-30 minutes. In a medium bowl, combine the powdered sugar and the orange juice and mix with a spatula to combine. Once the glaze is roughly combined, stir with a whisk to eliminate any lumps. Pour the glaze over the cake, slice, and enjoy!







*Orange Marmalade (make the day before):


Ingredients:

-1 8 oz package of kumquats, rinsed

-2 Cara Cara navel oranges, rinsed and scrubbed clean

-4 cups of sugar

-1 cup of water


Method:


Place a sieve over a medium bowl. Slice the kumquats in half and squeeze out the juice over the sieve. Once all the seeds are removed from the kumquat, place the skins in the bowl with the juice. Slice the oranges thinly and add to the bowl with the kumquats. Place the oranges/kumquats, sugar, and water into a large pot and stir to disperse the sugar. Cover the pot and bring to a boil over medium high heat. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low, partially covered, and let cook for a remaining 45 minutes to 1 hour until the mixture has reduced down significantly and the orange peel is completely cooked through. Place marmalade into sterilized mason jars and store in the fridge.

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