Friday, November 12, 2010

Election Cake and Nonpartisan Pie

Last Tuesday, I voted, I ate pie, and I ate cake.  Just doing my part to make a less contentious society.  What a citizen!

apple blackberry pie
 Banana Cream and Apple-Blackberry Pie at Random Order

Since I live in Oregon, I had already cast my ballot (it’s all done by mail here).  I had a nice bike ride up to Random Order with my daughter, where we shared two pieces of pie.  The banana cream, which is ethereal and always makes me feel better (and is second only to their coconut cream), and the apple-blackberry with streusel on top.  Crust, fruit, and crumbly sweet streusel?  Died and gone to heaven.

Back at home I decided to skip the yellow layer cake I'd planned on baking.  Much as I like an honest piece of chocolate iced yellow cake with a tall glass of milk, Election Cake seemed more appropriate.
election cake 2
Hartford Election Cake

I followed Kim O’Donnell’s recipe for Hartford Election Cake from a 2006 Washington Post article.  Almost exactly.  It did seem like a good idea to fiddle a bit with the confectioners’ sugar glaze.  Instead of milk and vanilla I used bourbon and vanilla.  I had a feeling the election wasn’t going to be pretty.

election cake 1

But the cake was.  It’s a yeast risen cake, full of raisins and pecans, spiced with cinnamon, mace (a favorite of mine), nutmeg, and cloves.  It’s not really sweet (except for that bourbon laced icing), and if you squint you can almost pretend you're eating a piece of bread.  You can eat it all day long without feeling too guilty. 

election cake slice 2

Which is exactly what I did.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Myrtle Torrone

myrtle torrone 2
Myrtle Torrone

I love a coincidence, don’t you?  Just last week Hank Shaw put a piece up on his excellent blog, Hunter Angler Gardener Cook.  ‘Making Mirto, A Sardinian Liqueur'  intrigued me.  I’m always interested to hear about Sardinian food (especially since we had a Sardinian exchange student live with us for a year), and of course, drink. 

But First, A Digression

Shaw points out that the myrtle used to make Mirto is Myrtus Communis (true myrtle), not Lagerstroemia (Crape Myrtle).  It’s also not Umbellularia californica, the plant Oregonians call Oregon MyrtleMaybe you, too, have driven down the Oregon Coast a few times, and noted the myrtlewood gift shops, with piles of burls in their parking lots?   Once you cross the border into California,  Oregon Myrtle is known as California Bay Laurel. 

So let’s get this straight. Oregon Myrtle, AKA California Bay Laurel, is neither a true myrtle nor a true Bay Laurel (Laurus nobilis).  In other words, don’t try to use its fruit to make Mirto.  Before I stop side tracking, let me just add that this evergreen tree is in the same family as the avocado.  Which also wouldn’t make a true Mirto.

myrtle torrone 1

The Coincidence

Okay, I’m back.  The coincidence?  Just a week after reading Shaw’s post, I went to dinner at our friends’ house.  They had just returned from Slow Food’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre in Torino.  My consolation prize for not going (one day, one day) was a rosy block of Torrone al Mirto (myrtle torrone) from Torrone Pili Tonara in Sardinia. 

myrtle torrone label 1

Torrone, a nougat candy, is made from honey, sometimes sugar, nuts, and egg whites.  My myrtle torrone is sweetened purely with honey (no sugar).  The block of candy is generously filled with almonds; two lines of whole almonds march across the top.  Myrtle colors the candy pink and adds a subtle herbal note without detracting from the flavor of the honey and almonds.  Which is, after all, why I love torrone.

myrtle torrone 4

A quick googling told me they also make chestnut torrone, which I already love, without ever tasting.  And, intriguingly, Torrone al CorbezzoloIf you translate the page, it will tell you it’s strawberry nougat.  But if you do your own research, you’ll learn corbezzolo is actually Arbutus Unedo, AKA the Strawberry Tree.  There certainly seems to be a lot of confusion about plants and their names.

myrtle torrone 5

Some torrones are brittle.  Delicious, but scary to eat.  With each bite I wonder if it could be the last for some of my teeth.  Others (and my myrtle torrone is one) are soft.  With these I bite down without fear.  It’s the chewing that scares me—I worry that fillings could be pulled out.  But I’m willing to take the risk. 

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Pie vs. Cake

apricot cherry pie

On Election Day, I’m troubled by the direction of our country.  So much partisanship!  People seem unable to come together to work towards a common goal.  They accuse one another of being elitist or ignorant. 

Nowhere does this seem more prevalent than in the culture wars.  And who started this, anyway.  Pie vs. Cake indeed.  Did these people only have one kid?  How can you love one more than the other?  So I ask you: Can’t we all get along?

persian dreams cake 2

In the spirit of reconciliation, I’m not going to suggest pie or cake is elitist.  The fact that we say ‘it’s a piece of cake’ and ‘easy as pie’ suggests to me that neither is elitist.  And far be it from me to suggest either is ignorant. 

Random Order Pumpkin
Pumpkin Pie at Random Order

I’ve always thought one of the great things about being an American, besides getting to vote today, is not having to make these kinds of decisions.  We can have our cake, and our pie, and eat them too. 

birthday cake 2010
My birthday cake this year, Lane Cake

I’m afraid I’ve been a little guilty, in the past year, of seeming to favor cake.  But it’s not true.  I’ve been even-handed when faced with the choice.  I eat blackberry pie, I eat Devil’s Food Cake.  I could never give up either. 

I hope I haven’t bad-mouthed pie.  Personally, I plan on eating plenty of pie later this month, and cake as well.  I have my 10 cakes in 2010 to finish baking, as well as a daughter’s birthday.  Next year her birthday will fall on Thanksgiving once again—we’ll celebrate by having both pie and cake that day. 

Woodlawn Apple
Apple Pie at Woodlawn Coffee and Pastry

How about you?  What can you do to help make the world more pleasant?  I’ve already voted (it’s all by mail here in Oregon), so I think I’ll go out for a piece of pie later this morning.  And have a piece of cake tonight.  I think Election Day calls for a simple yellow cake with chocolate frosting.  You can never go wrong with that.

I know it’s a bit of a sacrifice, eating pie and cake on the same day.  But let’s all give it a try.  Just to show we can all get along, if we try.  One slice at a time.

birthday cake pavel 045
 Flo Braker's Signature Yellow Cake, birthday cake for Pavel last year

I’m listing some of the places I’ve been eating pie in Portland.  I know the Oregonian recently did a pie roundup, and I have to say I think they did Random Order—and pies—a disservice.  I like apples to break down a bit in my pie, and Random Order’s is perfect in my book.  But then, in a later piece, they also suggested you have pie at Shari’s.  The attraction there, apparently, is that it’s open 24 hours a day.  If I were you, I’d go ahead and get a little extra sleep, and head over to one of these places the next morning instead:

Sour Cherry Apricot Pie
 That sour cherry and apricot pie, getting ready to bake

Random Order, 1800 NE Alberta, (503) 331-1420
My favorites are the sour cherry (not at all gloppy), coconut cream, and any of the apple pies.  They have a huge selection.

Fleur de Lis, 3930 NE Hancock, (503) 459-4887
So far I’ve only had their apple, but I’ve heard pumpkin shows up as well.  They only seem to make one or two a day, so you might want to call before heading over.

Woodlawn Bakery, 808 NE Dekum, (503) 954-2412
They’ve recently opened, so I’ve had their apple pie only a couple of times.  Sometimes it’s a bit sweeter than I like, but I appreciate that they are make them with different types of apples at different times.  Kind of makes you feel as if you ought to visit again, just to check.

As for cake, well, I’ll take a chance here and say I think there’s a real shortage of layer cakes available by the slice here in town.  I wish someone would look into that.  In the meantime, I usually eat cake at home.  I’ll be doing that tonight.

Here’s some additional reading on the pie vs. cake wars.  It does seem as if the pie camp is a bit more outspoken:
Huffington Post Pie vs. Cake 10-30-07
Utne Reader: Pie vs. Cake: The Debate Rages On 12-23-08
Salon: Pie (in the name of love) 12-20-08
March Madness: The Cake vs. Pie Tournament Ok, that is kind of fun, but people, please. ‘Boston Cream Pie’ is a cake.  ‘Birthday’ and ‘Wedding’ are not actual types of cake.  And ‘Funfetti’ is just an abomination.
Hyperbole and a Half: Cake Versus Pie: A Scientific Approach  An amusing piece, complete with graphs and pie charts.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween Doughnuts


If a young parent were to come to me for advice about raising their children, this is what I’d offer.

  • Enjoy your children, they really do grow up shockingly fast.
  • Let them have a private life.
  • Sit down to dinner with them every night—that means skipping extracurricular activities that meet at dinnertime.
  • And for God’s sake, be careful about doing anything that they might decide is a tradition that must never be skipped.

When my kids were little, I thought it would be fun to make doughnuts on Halloween.  Ok, I thought I’d like a doughnut on Halloween—I’d noticed that one of the drawbacks to being a grown-up is the lack of candy.

Over the years, I dutifully fried doughnuts every Halloween.  And now, even though my three kids are basically grown (or maybe because—they’re missing the candy too!), they insist I make doughnuts.

It’s really not that much work.  I follow a basic recipe from Marion Cunningham’s excellent The Breakfast Book.  They make raised doughnuts that are yeasty, but not at all ballooned.  The dough gets made in the afternoon, punched down and rolled out after an early supper (this year it was the Red Kuri Soup from Dorie Greenspan’s Around My French Table, a book I’m really enjoying cooking through). 


While the doughnuts rise, we sit around, watching the baseball game (now that the season goes into November) and handing out candy to Trick-or-Treaters (who seem bigger and less costumed every year). 

Finally it’s time to heat the oil.  I always struggle with this one.  It takes so much oil, which isn't cheap.  This year I used safflower.  Peanut’s a good choice too.  While the oil heats, I also heat a pot of apple cider.  The kids throw in some cinnamon sticks, a few cloves, and maybe a star anise. 


Once the oil is in the 365° to 375° range, it’s time to start frying the doughnuts.  It goes pretty quickly.  After their bottoms become golden, I turn them, and let the other side cook.  Then they get blotted on some paper towels, and tossed in cinnamon sugar.  That’s all.  I try to hurry with the frying so the kids don’t eat all of them before I finish.  I like to eat at least one doughnut, and 3 or 4 holes. 

Maybe you’re familiar with this saying: ‘The Gods do not deduct from man's allotted span those hours spent in sailing.”  I like to think there’s a companion saying: “The Gods do not add to man’s allotted waist span those calories eaten in doughnut holes.”  Seems fair, since, when you think about it, a hole is nothing.

I’ve always wanted to try the method Laura Ingalls Wilder describes Almanzo’s mother using in Farmer Boy.  She didn’t have time to waste turning doughnuts (which the new-fangled round ones, with a hole in the middle, required), so she made twists.  They, apparently, turn themselves, “…their pale golden backs going into the fat and their plump brown bellies rising out of it.”

I'm afraid that might deviate too much from tradition.  Next time, maybe. 

Oh.  And that cider?  Don’t forget to add some bourbon to your cup. 

doughnuts and bourbon
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