Archives for category: cakes
Original painting shows cherry plums, plum cake, plum caramel.

Plum Cake. 9″ x 12″ Gouache and Watercolor Pencil on Paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes circumstances conspire to create an end. Today is my sister-in-law’s birthday and she is coming over to go out to lunch with my mother in Walnut Creek. Barbara likes plum cake. I had half a colander of fresh cherry plums on the counter and a jar of wild plum jam that I needed to use. I had just read David Lebovitz’s blogs on butterscotch sauce (which I am dying to make) and peach cobbler, plus a post on plum cake made with cornmeal from Two Peas and Their Pod. Barbara loves whipped cream. So what would I do? I would make the cornmeal-plum cake, adapting it a little to give it a more butterscotch-y flavor by substituting some evaporated cane juice for half a cup of the white sugar and I would use the jam to make some plum caramel to serve with the cake.

For the plum caramel, I followed a recipe from Chez Panisse Desserts, except, instead of cooking fresh plums, I just added plum jam (aka cooked plums) to the caramel base, cooked it for a few minutes and strained the results. You can make simple caramel by putting 1/2 cup of sugar in a saucepan with 2 Tbsp water and melting it over high heat, shaking the pan every now and then (do not stir). When it takes on a pale golden color, remove it from the heat and carefully add 1/4 cup water, not getting too close to the pan. You can stir now. If you are adding fruit puree to the caramel, add it now (this works with any berry or stone fruit), add it now and cook for a few minutes over medium heat. Strain out any solids or seeds that have slipped through, put your caramel in a clean jar in the fridge and you are good to go for later. Fruit caramel is less acidic and more complex than simple purees and is perhaps my favorite recipe I learned from this cookbook.

Now the cake. You can see the original here. Since cakes are not my favorite things I followed the recipe closely with just two substitutions (okay, three). First, I had medium eggs rather than large — they were organic and brown — so I threw in an extra one. Then, I had lots of cherry plums rather than the four or five large plums cited in the recipe. I already told you I put in 1/2 cup of evaporated cane juice for 1/2 cup of white sugar. Oops. Um. Four substitutions. I substituted a quarter cup of sour half and half for some of the buttermilk because, you know, we had it, and it is similar, but richer.

So, this is what you get when you put together all of those substitutions with the original recipe:

Barbara’s Birthday Plum Cake

Pit the cherry plums you are using (Or pit and chop larger plums into bite-sized pieces). Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350.

Measure 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached flour. After measuring sift it into a small mixing bowl.

Whisk into flour 1 tsp baking powder,

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/8 tsp kosher salt

1/2 cup corn meal

Then soften 1 and 1/2 sticks of unsalted butter (12 Tbsp)

Cream butter with 1/2 cup granulated sugar and 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice until light and fluffy.

Add — one at a time — 4 medium eggs (or use three large), incorporating egg fully before next addition.

Measure 1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/4 cup sour cream or sour half and half, plus 1/4 cup buttermilk, which is what I used).

Alternate flour mixture and buttermilk, in increments, starting and ending with flour.

Butter and flour a cake pan. I used a bundt pan because it looks festive.

Scrape half of the batter into the pan. Scatter plums over batter. Top with remaining batter.

Bake for fifty minutes. Test to see if it is done. In a bundt pan, my cake took one hour and five minutes to show some browning on the top and to pass the toothpick test.

Cool by hanging bundt pan on a glass bottle. This is fun. Trust me.

Serve with barely sweetened whipped cream and a pool or drizzle of plum caramel. If you are my sister-in-law, add more whipped cream. Enjoy.

Food Notes: Keeping to the art of substitution, you can use any sour thing for the buttermilk — yogurt, sour cream, creme fraiche, even sour milk. You can make the cake as originally suggested with all white sugar, or use all evaporated cane juice. You can probably use some other fruit for the plums, although the plums (with skins) provide a beautiful color and a nice tartness that plays well against the cake. The whipped cream provides yet another contrast (and besides, we like whipped cream when we are celebrating).

Watermelon pickle: I had a problem with the watermelon pickle — it wasn’t the recipe — it was me. so I’ll be trying it again with this week’s watermelon and report back on that later.

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This is a hard time to leave the Bay Area: I took my first swim of 2012 in the Berkeley Marina two days ago. Cherries and apricots are here, with peaches coming soon. I’m going on vacation at the end of the week, traveling to France for a writing retreat with Natalie Goldberg and a few days in Paris. 
Meanwhile, it’s time for another guest post on The Kale Chronicles. Lisa Knighton, who taught us how to make Shrimp and Grits back in April, is back with one of her favorite cakes for you. Enjoy.
Original watercolor painting shows vanilla cake with caramel icing.

Caramel Cake. 8″ x 8″ Gouache on paper. Sharyn Dimmick.

Cake making stirs my earliest memories. My mother and my grandmother often allowed me to help, sat me up on the counter-top, wedged the large mixing bowl tight between my skinned knees, then said in a soft voice: “Here, hold the mixer steady.”

They instructed me to keep a close eye, watch as the beaters turned the softened butter and white sugar to a creamy, fluffy mixture.
“Listen, now,” Granny said. “This is the secret to a good cake: cream the butter and the sugar for a long time.”
“How long?” I would later ask, once I was living on my own and trying to make the perfect birthday cake.
“Oh, I don’t know how long,” Granny said. “When it looks light and fluffy, give it a taste. It’s ready for the next step when the sugar crystals aren’t crunchy anymore.”
I worry that cake baking is a dead art. I ask around to see if this is true.
Cindy, a cousin who teaches elementary school in Georgia, writes me to say: “Lisa, cake baking here is not a dead art.”  Her family’s favorite is a Cream Cheese Pound Cake. She tells me that she likes to try new recipes.

Glenda, another cousin, tells me that her favorite cake is: “A toss up between old fashioned Lemon Cheese Cake and Caramel Cake with really thin layers.”

Glenda’s mother, Aunt Anna often made freshly grated coconut cake for her daughter’s birthday. “I loved watching her crack that coconut and shred it,” Glenda says.
Pat, a friend from Birmingham, Alabama, bakes Toll House cakes, “Like the cookie, but a cake!” And Rita, who lives and works in Germany, tells me about a raspberry cake her son and husband enjoy.

Isaac, my twenty-one year old nephew, asks: “Will you to teach me to make a cake?”
I have him set up the stand mixer, take out all the ingredients. When we reach the first step, I lean in and say: “The secret to a good cake is in this step.” Isaac turns to me, and smiles. He’s heard this before. I’m glad to be passing along this cake making tradition.
When I bake a cake, I begin with white layers, sometimes called vanilla layers. For this recipe, I turn to Bevelyn Blair’s Everyday Cakes. My favorite is Layer Cake No. 1. As a matter of fact, when I open the cookbook, the pages automatically fall open to this recipe on page 97.
Hill Street Press, of Athens, Georgia, reissued this baker’s-necessity-of-a-book back in 1999. I do have many favorites from Blair’s book, including the German Chocolate Cake and the Brown Sugar Pound Cake. Forget the box mixes and get to work on a masterpiece from this book. You will not be disappointed. And hey, let me know how your cake turns out.
Layer Cake No. 1
2 sticks butter
2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 1/2 cups sifted cake flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup milk (2% or whole)
Bring all refrigerated ingredients to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 6 to 8 or more minutes (remember, this is the secret to a good cake: creaming the butter and sugar until the crystals of sugar are nearly dissolved). Add eggs one at a time and beat well after each egg. Mix together your sifted flour and other dry ingredients. Alternate adding small amounts of the flour mixture and the milk to make your batter. Add the vanilla. Mix well.
Pour batter into three or four greased and lightly floured cake pans. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until tests done. Cool, then assemble layers, covering each with caramel icing.
Betty Kea’s Caramel Icing
1 1/2 sticks butter
1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
6 tablespoons half & half (or one small can of milk)
2 cups sifted powdered sugar (4x)
Bring butter and brown sugar to boil. Boil four minutes, stirring constantly. Add 6 tablespoons half & half, stirring; boil for two more minutes, stirring. Remove from heat and allow to cool for ten minutes. Add the powdered sugar and beat until smooth.
Blog Notes: Watch for another cake post on June 27th, “Let Them Eat Cake, Part II.” Thanks to the magic of WordPress I can post something while I am gone, without lifting a finger or breaking silence. I haven’t lost my seasonal focus, but I will not be cooking for the next couple of weeks. I will be eating and I will tell you all about that when I return in early July. I’ll just remind you that I own no mobile devices and will not be able to respond to comments while I am away, but I love reading your comments and I will answer you when I get home. Lisa may chime in on the cake comments, too.

Dear Readers,

Today they are voting for the best cake over at Movita Beaucoup. My Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake is in Group Three. You might not think it is the best cake there, but if you are a cake fan you might enjoy looking at the displays of cakeness. Here’s what Movita had to say:

“A vote for Sharyn is a vote for art. And a vote against using red food colouring to create a trend that is way stupid.”

Don’t you like the way she talks?

painting depicts Mexican chocolate beet cake and ingredients.

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake. 8" x 8" Gouache and Watercolor Pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

There are four groups of cakes at Movita’s, with links to blogs, photos, stories, so if you just need to look at cake right now get on over there.

I’ll be back with some kind of non-cake seasonal food and a new painting on Wednesday before midnight.

Thanks, as always, for reading The Kale Chronicles.

— Sharyn

P.S. The voting is closed now. The prize went to a sweet little cake made by one of Movita’s ballet students, flanked by heart-shaped notes from the others. Thank you for every vote for art and for beet chocolate cake. Movita has decided to make this an annual event, so you can get your cake on next year if you want.

painting shows a Mexican chocolate beet bundt cake with birthday banner.

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake. 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick.

Sometimes I think I am wacko. Having gotten up to roll and fill Nazook, an Armenian pastry, before breakfast, I lingered in the kitchen to make a cake for someone who isn’t here and isn’t going to be here — isn’t a definition of whacked doing things at the behest of people who aren’t there?

Let me explain. There is this blogger who goes by the name of Movita Beaucoup. She challenged all comers to bake her a birthday cake and send her a photo by midnight. She promised us prizes. If you are reading this before 10 PM on Friday you still have time to get in on the action: just bake a cake and submit a photo of it to Miss Movita by midnight in your time zone.

Anyway, cakes are not my thing. How many times in the life of this blog have I said I prefer pie to cake? Many. I like to bake. I like to bake bread and pie and pastry as long as it is not too fiddly. But I couldn’t resist baking a cake for Miss B. because she makes me laugh and because she has said that someday she would like to own a Kale Chronicles painting. Besides, she writes about running from bears and worrying that the bathtub will fall through the floor.

When I met Movita (Well, I haven’t actually met her) here in the blogosphere she was carrying on about her need for an iPhone, I believe — some fool bit of modern technology to help her through culinary school. I joined in the chorus of readers offering her congratulations on signing up for a culinary program and informing her husband, charmingly called “2.0,” that she needed an iPhone. I don’t even have a cell phone of my own.

In my childhood, Mom baked us birthday cakes or cupcakes, any flavor we requested. I used to look at all of the cake pictures in our trusty Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook to think about what I wanted. That was before I figured out that I could request a birthday pie instead, and before my brothers figured out that they could have a fancy whipped cream cake from Virginia Bakery or an ice cream cake from Baskin-Robbins. I remember relatively few cakes from those days, chiefly the igloo cake Mom made for Kevin’s birthday, an excuse to cut cake layers in half, frost the cake with white icing and upholster it with the cocktail sugar cubes my Dad kept in a secret location. This cake was the stuff of kid dreams, an entire cake covered with cubes of sugar meant to look like blocks of ice.

I have more sophisticated cake dreams now: I have eaten cakes from Tassajara bakery full of mocha buttercream. I have made genoise soaked in rum (twice). But I am still not a cake baker: I don’t own a piping bag and I don’t think fooling with frosting is fun. Plus, I write a blog featuring seasonal cooking and I’m not about to declare it Cake Season.

One of my pet peeves in baking fads is the popular red velvet (or blue velvet or green velvet) cake, which requires one to use vast amounts of red food coloring to produce a chocolate cake that was more appealing when it was left to look like chocolate instead of a vampire’s breakfast. What can I say? I have gray hair and I don’t think ingesting food dye is good for you. Many people, including my late brother, are allergic to food dye, or go berserk when they get it (No, I have not been sipping from the Schilling bottle). Now watch me find out that Movita’s favorite cakes are velvet cakes….

Fortunately, it is beet season, and I have learned to make a cake featuring a dark red batter, owing to the presence of pureed beets. Before you get upset, please remember that beets are often grown to make sugar and sugar is a valid ingredient in cake. This cake is chock-full of things people call superfoods, including beets, chocolate, cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil, as well as the usual suspects of eggs and flour. I considered making it with ground almonds to make it gluten-free, but I am not having the kind of a week that bodes success with those sorts of experiments.

I first made this cake from a recipe at recipezaar, reprinted in my farm newsletter by the folks at Riverdog Farm, but I have messed with it — you knew I was going to, didn’t you? I incorporated part of an egg yolk I had left from this morning’s egg wash and I wanted to use Mexican chocolate for its distinct flavor. Then I needed to add cocoa because Mexican chocolate is sweeter than the chocolate the recipe called for and I scanted the sugar. I added some cinnamon as well.

To make this cake, you will need at least a cup of pureed beets. I recommend preparing them ahead of time: you can boil or steam or roast them. Let them cool, remove their skins, and whirl them in your blender or food processor. I will not go into the five times I had to clean the stove or the seventeen times I washed my hands while preparing this recipe — if you need to have your all-white kitchen white at all times, do not make this cake.

For the brave, fun-loving and vegetable-minded, read on:

Mexican Chocolate Beet Cake

Preheat oven to 35o.

Rub a bundt pan with olive oil and dust it with a mixture of cocoa powder and ground cinnamon in lieu of flour

Cook, peel and puree 1 cup of beets (I used five small red ones) until completely smooth.

Melt one tablet of Mexican chocolate (3.15  oz) in your microwave and combine with beet puree.

Measure 1 cup olive oil, 1 and 1/4 cup sugar, 1 tsp vanilla and 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon into a large mixing bowl and blend until light-colored.

While you wait, sift 1 and 3/4 cup flour and 1/4 cup cocoa into a small bowl with 1/2 tsp kosher salt and 1 and 1/2 tsp baking soda. Whisk to blend.

Add to oil mixture 1 egg yolk, then 3 eggs, one at a time, beating smooth between each addition.

When eggs are fully incorporated, add the chocolate-beet mixture. Then add flour-cocoa mixture in two or three additions.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Place on middle oven rack and bake until a toothpick comes out clean. This is a moist cake: mine took forty minutes to bake through.

Now the hard part: for best results, let the cake sit covered overnight. This helps the flavors blend. Olive oil cakes tend to get better as they age, so age it for twenty-four hours before digging in. I’ll be taking mine to a potluck tomorrow afternoon.

To Movita Beaucoup: I made this healthy for you, within reason. But I am not there to stop you if you want to eat it with a little cacao nib whipped cream or a puddle of caramel sauce. Just saying. Happy Birthday!

Food notes: I used plain old red beets in this cake, but you can fiddle with the color by using mixtures of red and yellow beets. The batter is a dark, vibrant purple-red, but the cake bakes up red-brown. If you don’t have the extra egg yolk, leave it out — no one will miss it. Cinnamon is fat-soluble — that’s why I put it in with the oil — if you want to incorporate it more smoothly, you could mix it with the sugar before adding the sugar to the oil.

Okay, so you know that Riverdog Farm keeps me well-supplied with winter and spring citrus: if you read The Kale Chronicles frequently, you will notice that lemons, tangerines and oranges show up in a lot of my recipes from November on. I’ve given you Swedish rye bread with orange and anise, orange-sesame vinaigrette, tahini-citrus salad dressing, orange-fennel salad, orange-cumin bread, tangerine curd, orange muffins, lemon sponge pie and Shaker lemon pie, lemon bars with a coconut brown sugar crust, a recipe for home-candied citrus peel. And then there is all of the stuff I don’t blog about: the orange zest and juice stirred into French toast, the lemon squeezed onto roast vegetables and greens and stuffed into chicken cavities. And still the tangerines roll on.

original watercolor painting of clementine bundt cake

Clementine Cake. 12″ x 12″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn Dimmick

A pound of Murcott tangerines rolled in last week and coincidentally I ran across a recipe for a clementine cake on Smitten Kitchen. Now, Deb can cook, and she got the recipe from Nigella Lawson, who makes her living as a cook. Separately, they insisted that I could boil my pound of tangerines for a couple of hours and then incorporate them into a gluten-free cake. Deb voiced the doubts anyone would surely have about this recipe. Would it be bitter? Would it rise? Would anybody eat it?

I needed to try this because it would use a whole pound of tangerines at one fell swoop and because I was going to a singing party at the home of a gluten-free friend yesterday and because it was such an odd method of making a cake, particularly the part about boiling a pound of whole tangerines. Deb had suggested that this cake got better as it sat and Mom suggested that I make it on Friday afternoon for the Saturday afternoon party.

I put my pound of tangerines into a saucepan, covered them with water and brought them to a boil and then let them cook for two hours. No, I did not peel them or seed them. I didn’t even wash them since they were organically grown and I would be using the nicely acidulated cooking water for some lucky outdoor plants.

While the tangerines cooked, I had plenty of time to prepare the other ingredients. I started with whole, skin-on almonds because I needed 2 and 1/3 cups of ground almonds. I tried running them through the meat grinder, but they only gummed up the works and ground unevenly as well. Then I realized I had a large Vietnamese mortar and pestle and started pounding away — after all I had two hours to wait for the tangerines (You modern types could use your food processors or buy ground almonds at the store: I enjoy knowing I can get ground almonds and some exercise at the same time). I scooped the first batch up with a 1/3 cup measure and put them in a small mixing bowl and started another batch. When I got tired of pounding, I took a break to take six large eggs out to sit at room temperature. While the eggs warmed, I went back to my mortar and pestle. When I had measured out enough pounded almonds, I set them aside in the small mixing bowl and turned my attention to the eggs.

I made a genoise once: it took me two tries to get it right. What I learned from making genoise is that you can get eggs or egg yolks to incorporate a lot of air and triple in volume like egg whites — you just have to beat them for a long time. I turned on my electric mixer at cake-mixing speed and eventually cranked it up higher and watched the volume of the eggs increase and the color get paler. When the eggs were three-quarters of the way up the bowl I started adding sugar, about a tablespoon at a time, until I had incorporated 1 cup and 2 tablespoons of sugar. I did not even think about scanting the sugar because this cake was going to contain tangerine skin and pith — all of it.

About now, the tangerines in the pot hit the two-hour mark so I used a cooking fork to remove them from the water and set them on my cutting board. While they cooled, I added my ground almonds slowly to the egg sugar mixture with the 1 heaping teaspoon of baking powder. I then preheated the oven to 375 with a rack in the central position and took out my precious bottle of Mosaic blood orange oil to grease a bundt pan. Hedging my bets, I sprinkled a generous tablespoon full of sugar over the oiled pan.

Then, as instructed, I sliced my tangerines in half and extracted all of the seeds. You must do this because citrus seeds are excessively bitter. I then used a chef’s knife to chop all of the tangerines as finely as I could, catching the juice in a bowl (the one the almonds had been in earlier), When they were chopped pretty evenly with just a few larger pieces of peel here and there I put them into the mixer with the other ingredients and let it run for two or three minutes.

The resulting batter was a beautiful thing — foamy, pale orange, flecked with bits of bright orange and brown. I tasted it cautiously. It had a slight bitter edge, but would be edible. The recipe made enough for me to make a small test cake in a rice bowl in addition to the big bundt so I was able to sample the finished cake without disturbing the party edition.

I baked my small cake for thirty minutes, at which point a toothpick came out dry. I left the big one in for ten more minutes and it, too, passed the toothpick test. We ate the rice bowl cake warm, only noting that it had a tendency to fall apart.

Saturday I took the other cake to the party. I ran a knife around the edges (which had pulled away from the pan) and upended it on a plate: it came out cleanly. The hostess, who eats gluten-free, liked it. One man asked for the recipe. The woman who has a baking contract with me asked if I would make her one next time she was in town. They sent me home with perhaps one small serving.

What did I think? I thought it was good. Perhaps not great. You have to excuse me for not being a big cake fan in any case. Other people like cake. People who liked cake liked this. One man asked for the recipe. One woman mentioned liking the bitter marmalade-like tang, although she wondered if she would like it with a tangerine juice and powdered sugar glaze. I did find it a bit hard to slice — it was rather soft and moist. I offer it to my gluten-free friends as a possible cake, not too hard to make, not too many ingredients and another use for the rolling river of tangerines.

Food notes: if this cake interests you, be sure to check out the comments on Nigella Lawson’s site: people have done some creative things with spices, made it into a Christmas cake, etc.

painting shows apple cake and ingredients

Apple Cake with Fennel 8″ x 8″ gouache and watercolor pencil. Sharyn DImmick

I am not a big cake person — I would rather eat pie or yeast-risen breads like cinnamon rolls — but when I saw “Grandmothers of Sils’ Apple-Yogurt Cake” on Smitten Kitchen I knew I had to try a variation on it. Deb’s picture enticed me and I like fennel/anise/licorice flavors. I have been cruising apple cake recipes for awhile (some of my friends like cake) and this one called to me.

I was patient: I waited a month. I kept hoping to get fennel in my vegetable box. No such luck. Yesterday I went out and bought some at the Farmers’ Market.

Smitten Kitchen’s recipe doesn’t have any fennel — what was I doing? I don’t have any anisette liqueur: I was plotting to use what I had with some gentle assistance from roasted fennel to bump  up the anise flavor.

First step, prepare the fennel. While it roasted I peeled and chopped the apples — I used some of my beloved Gravensteins and a couple of miscellaneous apples from a bulk buy I made at the market. It took me four apples to get the required three cups of diced apples.

Next I made “lemon yogurt” by mincing homemade candied lemon peel  into plain yogurt and adding half a capful of lemon extract (All of the lemons on the tree are greenish this week)

I turned the well-roasted fennel into a puree by adding the dregs of a bottle of dark rum — maybe an eighth of a cup — and a little olive oil and putting it in the blender. It took quite awhile to get a puree, even after I added a capful of anise flavoring to it, but I ended up with the quarter cup of liquid that I needed. I bumped up the flavor with a little star anise ground in a mortar.

These preparations done I almost followed the recipe as written, Almost. I swapped in unbleached flour and whisked the baking powder into it rather than sifting them together — I avoid sifting things together whenever possible because the flour sifter is not fun to clean and dry. Oh, yeah, and I made the cake in a bundt pan because I don’t have a spring form pan and it seemed like a bundt pan would work just fine. The batter smelled amazing, deeply perfumed with rum and citrus.

The cake came out a little less brown than I would have liked and I baked it for some extra minutes. It was showing good color near the bottom edges, but when I unmolded it, most of it was pale. After letting it cool for awhile I gunked up my sifter with powdered sugar. The cake looks nice with the sugar sifting: although this is the kind of step I often skip, I’m glad I bothered.

We ate our first slices slightly warm with tea, which we drink British style with milk. We brew our tea from tea leaves in a pre-warmed pot with water at a rolling boil, but don’t let me get started on that rant here. Mom said she could really taste the apples. I tasted predominately citrus. We are waiting to see if the flavor changes over the next few days.*

In short, it is a pretty cake. It is an autumn cake. It might even be a quick and easy cake to make if one wasn’t caramelizing fennel and grinding star anise. Some other person might have just gone out and bought a bottle of anisette liqueur, but that is not my style.

Apple Cake with Caramelized Fennel and Dark Rum

Prepare a bundt pan by rubbing it with butter.

For the fennel:

Preheat oven to 350. The cake bakes at 350, too, so this is convenient.

Wash and trim 1 fennel bulb

Remove core and slice thinly. Place in Pyrex pan with a little butter and olive oil to keep it from sticking. Roast until done, showing some brown color and soft. Let cool. While it is roasting and cooling, you can prepare your apples:

Peel 4 cooking apples, core and dice them. Set aside

Puree fennel in blender with 1/8 cup dark rum (or other liquor to taste. Add a little olive oil if fennel resists the blender. Taste and add 1-2 tsp anise extract if desired. If you want more anise flavor still, crush some star anise in a mortar and add to fennel puree.

For lemon yogurt:

Do it the easy way and just buy 8 oz of good quality lemon yogurt, or add lemon zest, candied lemon peel or lemon juice to plain yogurt.

Once you have your apples, fennel puree and lemon yogurt ready, make your cake batter:

Whisk together in a small bowl:

1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder

2 and 1/4 cups unbleached flour

Combine in large mixing bowl and beat until pale yellow:

4 large eggs

1 and 1/4 cups white sugar

Beat in 1 cup lemon yogurt and fennel-rum puree.

Add flour mixture and 1/2 cup+ olive oil,  alternating between flour and oil and beating briefly to incorporate each addition. When combined, fold in reserved apples.

Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake on middle oven rack in your 350 0ven for 60 minutes, checking to see that a toothpick comes out clean.

Cool cake on a bottle — I use a vinegar bottle — until just warm. Upend bundt pan over dinner plate. Mine came out easily — no sticking. Dust with powered sugar.

Food notes: I had some blood orange olive oil, so that’s what I used, figuring it would boost the citrus notes in the recipe. It did. But you can use any mild-flavored olive oil — or if you have lemon olive oil that would be good, too. My first powdered sugar coating sunk in. Oh well. I’ll just add more because it looks pretty. * The second day the flavors are more complex and mellow: you can’t tell exactly what you are eating, but you know that it is good. The cake is still quite moist and might be good toasted. You could easily make this cake with pears as well.

Now, could it be that I made a cake because I am celebrating? It could be. Betsy over at bitsandbreadcrumbs kindly nominated me for a Liebster Blog Award.

The Liebster Award is given to blogs with fewer than 200 subscribers by a blogger who feels they deserve more recognition.

Rules are:

  1. Thank the giver and link back to the blogger who gave it to you.
  2. Reveal your top 5 bloggers and let them know by leaving a comment on their blog.
  3. Copy and paste the award on your blog.

I am honored to receive the nomination and would nominate Betsy right back if I could: Bits and Breadcrumbs is one of my favorites.

Now it is my priviIege to nominate five more deserving blogs. I have been searching for small blogs for four days, looking for those that haven’t yet received Liebster Awards. Finding them is harder than I thought: everyday my list of wonderful blogs grows, but usually only big blogs post their stats. So, I’ll post three now and I’ll take suggestions from my readers about other small, deserving blogs they love in the Comments section. Please, only list blogs with fewer than 200 subscribers — I want to play by the rules. Here, without further ado are three of my Liebster Award nominees:

1) Jane at ArtEpicurean. A woman after my own heart Jane combines recipes with paintings inspired by food and tips to keep your creativity flowing.

2) Kat at Sensible Lessons always has something intriguing going, whether it is her new take on huevos rancheros, ancho sweet potato fries with Sriracha ketchup  or brownies with both espresso and mint.

3 ) Stephanie at Recipe Renovator helps people on restricted diets reconfigure their recipes.  Not exciting at first description? Her photographs are beautiful and her range of recipes wide. And someone with dietary restrictions may thank you. I’m excited to introduce this site to my gluten-free friends.

Now, a list of some other blogs I would have nominated but they already got the prize. You should read them anyway — they can’t help it if they are popular.

Daisy’s World: Daisy is always cooking something good to eat. Beautiful photos, too.

Krista and Jess: These women always have something surprising (“Mushroom conk,” anyone?). They make me laugh and they were the conduit for my favorite new recipe, the David Lebovitz-inspired tomato tart.

Frugal Feeding: Good food, good photos, frugality. What’s not to like? He recently posted a Thai Carrot Soup with Lemongrass — I’ll be revamping my Thai Carrot Soup soon.

Cook Eat Live Vegetarian: Seasonal, mostly vegetarian food from Andalucia, Spain.

Around the World in Eighty Bakes: How can you not love a woman who is trying to bake her way around the world with refreshing honesty?

Chutney and Spice: I love the hand-drawn header. And I can’t wait to make the Green Tomato Chutney

The Cilantropist: The name is brilliant. The photos are enticing. The recipes are things you want to cook.

Savoring Every Bite She loves pumpkin. She probably loves other stuff, too, but it’s October.

Enjoy all of it. And thanks for reading, — Sharyn