Wednesday, July 02, 2008

through the light projected

It was cool this morning, finally. It takes the night to cool down the apartment enough, such that I go to sleep feeling like I am going to melt, and wake up in the morning clutching the covers. This, it should be noted, is not a complaint. I love cool mornings. I like cool nights too, but my apartment does not seem to want to accept them into its company until well past the time I have closed my eyes.

So it is that usually the apartment is simply too warm in the evenings to turn the oven on without feeling like an idiot. But in the morning, if efficient enough, the oven can be turned on justifiably, or at least tolerably. Even though baking in the summer is borderline insane where I live, I cannot seem to resist the temptation. Last night, I had been thinking of Spain for some reason- I think perhaps because we were talking about what I now call my temperature training trial in Granada prior to moving here- and I suddenly remembered the way Spaniards put their own touch on baking. Sure, there were the regular pleasantries of pastries and the like, the butter-filled wonders. But, and perhaps this is true of most of Europe, but at a lot of restaurants, Spanish desserts turned to what they had on hand locally. No imported butters, no reserve wines from France. The wine may not have been wonderful, but it was local, and that's all you had to choose from, and there is a certain comfort in that simplicity.

The desserts, on the other hand, were wonderful. In Barcelona, especially, I was more adventurous than I sometimes tend to be. I turned down straightforward chocolate (do not be alarmed, it was a temporary thing!) for a fascinating cake made of ground almonds and a kind of cheese somewhat akin to ricotta, but in its own special Spanish class. And I allowed something else that I normally think just plain wrong: olive oil in dessert.

My distaste for olive oil in dessert started, hilariously enough, with Anna. At a blogger-birthday-fest in her honor, in a restaurant in DC, somehow we wound up with olive oil ice cream at our table. I think it was Anna herself that first tasted it, turned up her nose in disgust and then urged me to taste. I had the same reaction, this reaction of GROSS, followed by try it!

After that, I had concluded that olive oil and sweetness are simply not a good match. Olive oil and garlic? Yes, please, any time. Olive oil and chocolate? WTTTTTT...?!? But after 3 weeks of taking train rides through expanses of olive trees, and breakfasts of bread, olive oil, and tomato, the olives just got the best of me. And so, in Barcelona, on a beautiful and warm summer evening, placed before me were two little mounds of chocolate mousse drizzled scantly with olive oil and topped with a sprinkling of sea salt. And I am here to tell you that it was delicious, and olive oil once again suggested sweetness.

To further encourage this romance with olive oil, one of our instructors spent an entire lecture last year extolling the virtues of olive oil, and how one ought to replace butter with olive oil wherever possible. So this morning, I settled on giving it a shot for myself, the madness that is combining olive oil and sugar:

summer, summer, summertime

Half of this cake came to school with me this morning, where it was promptly consumed by my classmates at lunch time. I warned one of my classmates that it might taste 'oily', and he looked at me strangely after eating it, and said, "Umm, I think it tastes... yummy. In fact, can I have more?" I know, it's not exactly clearing a high bar to get a male classmate to compliment you on providing him with free food. Still, I tasted it myself, and I found it to be okay. The key here is that lemon and olive oil go well together- without the lemon, the olive oil flavor might have overwhelmed the cake and we might have had another olive oil ice cream incident.

This was very much a spur-of-the-moment concoction, based on what I had languishing in my refrigerator, but yaz very sweetly asked for directions based on the photograph. It's bastardized from another recipe here, but below is my version, with a wink to yasmine:

    Morning Sunshine Cake

    First things first- Preheat the oven to 350; grease and lightly flour a loaf pan.

    Now whisk together the following dry ingredients in a bowl:
    1 & 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
    2 tsps baking powder
    1/2 tsp finely ground sea salt

    In a larger bowl, combine:
    1 cup lemon yogurt (I used Trader Joe's nonfat, an entire 8 oz container)
    1/2 cup olive oil (Don't overdo it- in fact, consider going a little easy on this.)
    3 large eggs (I didn't say this was a healthy recipe.)
    1 cup of sugar (See?!?)
    1 teaspoon vanilla
    1/2 teaspoon organic lemon extract (optional)

    Stir together the bowl with wet ingredients until smooth. Now add in the dry ingredients and combine until well incorporated and no major lumps apparent. Pour into the loaf pan. Bake in the oven for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick placed in the center comes out clean (or until you start freaking out that you are going to miss class if you don't get the cake out of the oven). Let cool on a rack for ~15 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan. Let cool completely.

    Extremely precise and scientific icing recipe: In a small cup/bowl, place several tablespoons of powdered sugar. Add a few drops of lemon juice, a few drops of milk, and 1-2 drops of lemon extract. Mix together with a butter knife. Add more milk and/or lemon juice until a spreadable consistency is reached. Drizzle or spread over the cake.

Sorry to bore you to tears with such repetitive tales of baking and Spain. I am nothing if not predictable. I'll try to throw some music into the mix during the long weekend so that I can at least add another worn out aspect to my repertoire.

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