Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake + 5 Must Read 2020 Baking Books

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Starlings in Winter by Mary Oliver

Chunky and noisy,
but with stars in their black feathers,
they spring from the telephone wire
and instantly

they are acrobats
in the freezing wind.
And now, in the theater of air,
they swing over buildings,

dipping and rising;
they float like one stippled star
that opens,
becomes for a moment fragmented,

then closes again;
and you watch
and you try
but you simply can’t imagine

how they do it
with no articulated instruction, no pause,
only the silent confirmation
that they are this notable thing,

this wheel of many parts, that can rise and spin
over and over again,
full of gorgeous life.

Ah, world, what lessons you prepare for us,
even in the leafless winter,
even in the ashy city.
I am thinking now
of grief, and of getting past it;

I feel my boots
trying to leave the ground,
I feel my heart
pumping hard. I want

to think again of dangerous and noble things.
I want to be light and frolicsome.
I want to be improbable beautiful and afraid of nothing,
as though I had wings.

 

Anne looked for Tess in the everyday.  At first, it was the strong breeze at Tess’ funeral on an otherwise calm day.  How beautiful the cherry blossoms rained on them.  The grievers, the grief-stricken, the heart-broken, the lost.  Cherry blossoms floating, flying through the air, landing on their jackets, settling in their hair.

Are you the tenacious breeze Tess?  You made yourself known again.  It was a beautiful display of your all-encompassing presence. Bursts of lightning and hail at Red Rocks while Grace and Anne watched the Avett Brothers sing holding out hope the storm would pass.  And then it did pass.  You pushed out the weather and revealed the stars.  We sang and danced.

Months later an enormous dragonfly landed on Anne’s mailbox, her tiny head facing the house as if ignoring the world. She refused to leave.  Anne poked at it. Nothing but a slight movement in the wing.

What’s wrong with it, Mama? 

I’m not sure.  How do you explain a living thing desiring to stay when it knows it would be best to leave?  You don’t.  Some things are unexplainable.

Fall came and so did the dead bird.  The bird lay on the stone steps outside of Anne’s house, wings to the ground, its underbelly exposed to the sky, bright white, her tail feathers ombre shades of pale blue.  A single leaf-covered her head as if she were part of a crime scene.  Anne stared at it for a few seconds before the kids came out of the house, backpacks in hand ready to go to school.

Mama, what happened?

Gross!

Can we have a funeral for it? 

Not now.  Get in the car. We are late.  

Later that day they did have a funeral for the bird.  Not really.  The kids lost interest and just wanted Anne to get rid of it.  Except for her older son.  He handed Anne the shovel after a failed attempt at digging a hole into the semi-frozen ground.  Anne forced the shovel through the frosted ground, raising the handle above her head and coming down as hard as she could breaking through the ground.  Over and over again.  Anne’s heart pumped hard.  She could feel it.  Tears welled but never spilled over.  Anne gently placed the bird in the ground and covered her with the earth.

I’m glad we planted her there, Mama.  He walked into the house and closed the door.  If only we could plant the things we love and loose and eventually they come back in the spring blooming once again.

The last visitor was a ladybug.  She landed on Anne’s hand at some point without Anne noticing.  It wasn’t until Anne lifted the toilet brush out of the now clean toilet that Anne spotted her.  How strange.  Anne walked down the creaky old stairs.  The ladybug was still sitting on her hand.  She opened the front door and blew as if blowing out birthday candles.  She flew away.

Did you make a wish?

I forgot.

Anne didn’t forget.  She wished for peace.  Not world peace.  That won’t happen.  But peace in her crippled heart.  Peace in the heart she felt beating, once again, after a long silence, when she buried the bird.

 

Chocolate Orange Olive Oil Cake

Serves 8

Recipe adapted from Simple Cakes by Odette Williams

Ingredients:

1 + ½ cups of unbleached all-purpose flour

½ cup unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder

1 tablespoon of baking powder

½ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon espresso powder

3 eggs, at room temperature

1 + 1/3 cups of sugar

¾ cup of mild extra virgin olive oil

½ cup of whole milk

½ cup of buttermilk

¼ cup of freshly squeezed orange juice

1 tablespoon of orange zest

Ingredients for glaze:

2 cups confectioners’ sugar,

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons of boiling water,

½ teaspoon of vanilla

Pinch of kosher salt

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Butter, flour, and line with parchment paper 1 8×3 inch cake pan.  Set aside.

Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt into a large bowl.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the eggs and sugar on medium speed until very pale, about 3-5 minutes.  Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.  Next, add the oil, buttermilk, milk, orange juice, zest.  Beat on low speed until frothy, about 1 minute.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and whisk until well combined.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan.  Bake until the cake springs back when touched or a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 to 50 minutes.  Remove from the oven and cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes.  Remove cake from pan and allow to cool completely.  While the cake is cooling, make the vanilla glaze.

 

Directions for the glaze:

Sift the confectioners’ sugar into a medium-size bowl.  Add the softened butter.  Pour boiling water over butter.  Whisk until the butter melts and the sugar and water come together to make a glaze.  Add vanilla and a pinch of salt.

Assembly:

Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, spreading gently with an offset spatula if necessary.  Decorate with sanding sugar or sprinkles if desired.  The cake can be stored at room temperature in an air-tight container until ready to serve.  Enjoy!

5 Baking Books to Check Out in 2020

Midwest Made by Shauna Sever is on all the lists right now.  Her recipes come straight from the heart of America.  You can get your copy here.

Weeknight Baking by Michelle Lopez, the author of the blog Hummingbird High, is a must-read for any home baker with easy and delicious recipes, as well as, suggestions for riffs to make it your own.

Looking to try something new this year or up your pastry skills?  Check out Pastry School by Le Cordon Bleu.  This baking book is a step by step baking guide for beginners, as well as, professionals.  Check it out!

Joanne Chang is by far one of my favorite bakers.  Her latest book Pastry Love is on my must-purchase list.

New to baking?  Buy a copy of Beginner’s Baking Bible by Heather Perine you will become an expert in no time…or at least more capable in the world of butter, flour, and sugar.

Jerry’s Halfway Cookies + 5 Holiday or Anyday Cookie Links

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Anne stared at her mother’s battered and torn recipes and wished she wasn’t dead because she didn’t feel like making halfway cookies, they were Tess’s specialty.  She missed Tess.  Death is inconvenient especially around the holidays, thought Anne.  She felt much more than inconvenience since Tess’s miserable, drawn-out death.  In fact, most days she wasn’t entirely sure how she functioned.  Her children saved her, kept her occupied with their schedules and needs.  Their never-ending stories, sentences that began with “and” starting at one pick up, continuing to the next drop off allowed Anne to feel engaged but mostly sad and hollow all at the same god damn time.  Anne could forget, though, when the day mercifully allowed it.

Sort of.  When her mind didn’t ache from all she pushed through over the last two years. Ya, she could forget if she willed herself.  She forgot about holding Tess’s hand as she struggled to breathe and feeding her spoonfuls of water.  Watching her son and her husband feed, Tess teaspoons of water was especially awful.  Changing her diaper wasn’t as bad as Anne expected because there was nothing left to expel.  Everything was shutting down, something they mention in the helpful reading material hospice had left on their way out the door while Anne held Tess’s hand and watched her slowly transition from this world to the next.

Telling the nurse not to offer Tess any more food as she may choke was especially heartbreaking for Anne.  It was just so final.  Decisions were made without fully understanding that, yes, Tess would soon be gone.  Administering morphine and lorazepam to Tess as she begged for help, tiny squirts from a plastic syringe dribbling down her tongue, into her throat, smaller than a pea and so painful for Tess to swallow made Anne want to vomit.  A grimace on her mother’s face after each swallow, followed by relief until Tess saw Anne wasn’t done, not yet.  More morphine.

“Please help me, please help me,” Tess whispered.  Anne felt small.  “I don’t know what to do,” Anne cried.  “Yes. you do,” Tess said.  Hadn’t it always been this way? Anne a mess and Tess calm and knowing.  She hated and loved her for it.

Anne watched the hospice nurse change her mother’s bandages. Every time they asked Anne if she wanted to leave the room.  Anne never left.  Cancer on her mother’s breast now like a crater on the surface of the moon, devouring Tess, reaching for her collarbone.  Additional tumors were growing, making their presence known in the form of little mushroom heads and excruciating pain.  The smell was gone now. 

So many indignities for such a beautiful, refined woman.

The hospice nurse called Anne at two in the morning to let her know her mother had passed but Anne knew when she left her mother to pick up the kids from school just hours prior, she would not see Tess alive again.  She hugged and kissed her; told her it was ok to let go now.  The words flowed easily from Anne’s mouth to Tess’s ear as if someone else was speaking for her.  

How could you tell her to let go, Anne?

Anne hours before, holding her mother’s cold hand, watching her chest rise, her mouth ajar, teeth exposed as if drawn by a caricature artist, lips dry, crusted, and colorless.  The breathing pattern had changed as mentioned in the handy death pamphlet.  Anne studied that pamphlet like she was getting a graduate degree in end of life care as if it would somehow predict when Tess would leave this world and maybe, if Anne were lucky, she could escape the tsunami of grief that was headed her way if she was prepared and organized. 

The joke’s on you, Anne. 

She harassed her sister via text with the latest bodily changes Tess was undergoing during the transition, every time asking herself if it was necessary to share so much dying with her angry and already grieving sister who lived two thousand miles away.  Maybe the next text would go to her brother who had removed himself from the situation just enough that he could put off the grief until one day when Tess was gone and the grief brought him to his knees. 

And then the call. 

Tears struggled to come.  Anne steadied herself, threw her messy hair into a ponytail, and put on her glasses. She felt her husband’s hand on her back like an anchor reminding her of all the life that was still waiting for her.  The hand felt heavy as if it was asking too much of her to keep going, to keep pushing through when she was bone tired and heart-broken.  Anne kissed him goodbye, relieved the weight was gone if only briefly.

Anne drove in silence to her mother’s house.  The land looks different at two in the morning.  Twisting and turning in unexpected formations, shadows throwing off perspective.  So much unexpected life!  Random cars on the highway.  Where are you headed? Did you just lose the love of your life too?  The serpentine road that took Anne to Tess’s house was full of nocturnal animals, shocked by the car’s headlights, watching Anne pass, pausing to acknowledge her existence in their world, seeming to pay homage to Tess, as if they knew a good soul had passed.

Anne pulled into the driveway.  Tess’s house looked so alive with nearly every light on as if letting anyone who passed know something was amiss.  She steadied herself, walked in, said hello to the old cat purring by his water bowl, and the night nurse sitting in the rocking chair.  Anne’s father stood before her in a t-shirt and pajama pants looking older than he had a week prior.  They hugged briefly before Anne went into Tess’s room.  Tess looked beautiful with the covers up around her shoulders and the pink rosary beads Anne had just given her lying across her chest.  The giant seventies lamp cast a warm glow on the entire room making Tess look as if she was just resting, certainly not dead.  Anne collapsed on her mother’s bed and held Tess, crying like a wounded animal.  Tess’s forehead was still warm but her cheek was cool, almost waxy.  Anne gently rubbed Tess’s hair and cheek just as Tess had done so many times when Anne was a child.  She put her head on her mother’s chest.  The weight of Anne’s head pushed the remaining air out of Tess’s lungs making a ghoulish, cinematic sound and yet Anne felt nothing but comfort resting against her mother.  The last of Tess’s breath exiting and Anne breathing in all she could, taking some of Tess with her.  Internalizing her.  She closed her eyes and may have slept. 

Anne remembers the hospice nurse arriving, removing her stethoscope, and checking for a heartbeat that no longer existed.  I’m sorry for your loss.  God those words feel empty tonight. 

Anne remembers falling asleep next to Tess listening to the sounds of her father weeping upstairs.

Let’s wait until morning to call the funeral home. 

Try to sleep. 

Ok, Dad. 

Anne woke a couple hours later to find Tess very cold and pale.  Mouth firmly open, one eye half parted.  She was gone.  There is a difference Anne now understood in acknowledging the love of your life will soon be gone and living with their absence. 

After months of no tears, the tears came and Anne worried they may never stop.

Anne watched the funeral home director and his assistant place Tess’s body into a black, sterile body bag.  The sound of the zipper so decisive.  A folksy blanket placed over the bag, over Tess, so it didn’t look quite so unnerving.  Tess was wheeled out to hearse and that was it. 

It was over now. 

Something Anne had wished for repeatedly.  Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.  Anne drove home, stopping at Dunkin’ Donuts for a coffee and thinking how funny it was to do something so ordinary when something so life-altering and extraordinary had just occurred.  

The months that followed Tess’s death were foggy.  Anne could barely remember the details of those initial days.  She slept and cried.  Ate when she felt like it and drank too much.  Spring turned into summer and then into fall.  The kids went back to school.  Her husband checked in daily, tending, as best he could, to her grief.  The days passed and Tess was still gone.  The saying life goes on is so horribly true and gut-wrenching when you lose someone you love more than yourself.  The reality of so much life continuing without Tess, some days, just too much to shoulder.

Today Anne’s house was quiet except for their old dog snoring and farting in the hallway.  Christmas had passed and Anne somehow managed to push through it all.  Expectations remained intact.  Expectations are worthless, Anne believed, something she learned shortly after her mother died.  Keep your expectations of other people low and you won’t be disappointed.  Anne’s new mantra, if you want to call it that, brought a sense of peace to her.  She could let go of the raw hurt she felt from those who had disappointed her.  Those who didn’t show up.  How great it felt to be free of everything unnecessary.  Is this what Tess felt now? It was a relief for Anne to rid herself of that weight because there was just too much to carry.  The grief had changed her but into what she was unsure.

Anne made the halfway cookies.  An Avett Brothers song repeated in her head like a tripped record.  Like a prayer.  “No hard feelings, Lord knows they haven’t done much good for anyone.”

 

Chocolate Half Way Cookies

Makes 24 bars

Recipe slightly adapted from Evelyn Hamilton, my grandmother

Ingredients:

1 cup or 2 sticks of unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup of sugar

½ cup of brown sugar

2 egg yolks, slightly beaten with 2 tablespoons of water

1 teaspoon of vanilla

2 cups of all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon of kosher salt

½ teaspoon of baking soda

1 teaspoon of baking powder

1 package of chocolate chips

Ingredients for meringue topping:

3 egg whites, beaten stiff

¾ cup brown sugar

Directions:

Preheat your oven to 350F.  Lightly grease a 14×10 jelly roll pan and set aside.

Add the flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder to a medium bowl.  Blend together using a whisk.  Set aside.

Using a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, scraping down the sides and the bottom once or twice.  Add the egg yolks (with the water), one at a time, until well blended.  Next, add the vanilla.  Beat for a few minutes until everything is blended.  Reduce the speed of your mixer and add the dry ingredients.  Mix on low speed until everything is well combined.  Add the dough to the prepared pan.  Spread it evenly across the pan using your fingertips until the dough covers the entire pan.  Spread the chocolate chips evenly over the dough.  Press the chips into the dough gently.  Set aside.

Beat the egg whites on medium speed until stiff peaks form.  Add the brown sugar.  Beat for an additional 2 minutes.  Spread the meringue across the prepared dough.  Bake until the meringue and cookie dough are golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack completely before cutting.  Once cool, cut into squares and serve.  Halfway cookies are best the day they are made but taste damn good the next day as well.  Enjoy!  Store any leftover cookies in an airtight container at room temperature.

5 Cookie Links

Indulge a bit this holiday season and make The Vanilla Bean Blog’s holiday cheesecake cookies.  Yum!

Fudgy brownie crinkle cookies- yes they exist and they look divine!  Head to Mike Bakes NYC for the recipe.

Oatmeal lace cookies are a holiday classic and a sure winner.  Head to Julie Banner for the recipe.

If you love red velvet cake, why not make red velvet cookies?  Food 52 has the recipe for you.

Six years ago, I made these Italian lemon ricotta cookies and they were a huge hit.  Check them out!