Friday, June 28, 2019

Oatmeal Blueberry Cake

It’s pretty amazing how a change of environment can completely alter one’s routine. I’m now spending the summer at my parents’ house, and somehow I can’t find the time to blog much. Maybe because my laptop is set up at a tiny, uncomfortable desk in my bedroom, as opposed to a spacious desk in a home office? Back home, I had also started working out during the Fox’s nap, yet I can’t find the time (or place!) to do that now. But you’re used to fewer posts in the summer, right? It’s a lighter schedule for everyone.

I tend to gravitate more towards chocolate-based desserts than fruit-based ones (not that the two have to be mutually exclusive), but sometimes a simple pear cake is just what hits the spot. Meanwhile, these no-bake chocolate oatmeal bars were too sweet and unwieldy. I did try something new recently, though, a blueberry cake. (It’s vegan as well as gluten-free and refined-sugar-free, for those who have restrictions.) I’m not sure “cake” is the proper term, though, because it’s very wholesome and just barely sweet. It has a crust, but it’s not a pie or tart. It’s mostly fruit and whole grains, and frankly, just the type of thing you can have for breakfast without any guilt. I loved it, and so did the Fox and my mother-in-law; the Engineer and the Little Prince did not like it, but I think that if they hadn’t been expecting a *cake* cake it would have gone over better. Let me know if you think of a proper term!

To make this, I used an 8” springform pan lined with parchment paper and had to double the quantities for the crust – the amounts below are mine. I used frozen, thawed blueberries to make this, but fresh would be great too.

For the bottom layer (which I call a crust)
1 ½ cups oat flour
¼ cup water
2 Tbsp. melted coconut oil
2 Tbsp. maple syrup

For the top layer
1 ¾ cup puréed blueberries (from about 3 cups of blueberries)
1 ½ cups oat flour
½ cup unsweetened applesauce
1/3 cup melted coconut oil
¼ cup maple syrup

For the bottom layer
Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper (you can do this by putting a sheet of paper on the bottom part of the mold and closing the top part over it, cutting the excess paper outside the pan).

In a medium bowl, mix oat flour with water, coconut oil, and maple syrup. Spread evenly in the pan, patting it down. Set aside.

For the top layer
Mix blueberries with oat flour, applesauce, coconut oil, and maple syrup. Spread on the bottom layer nicely. Bake for 20 minutes (this was 30 minutes for me, because it still looked a bit too wet after 20 minutes).

Thursday, June 27, 2019

Spring knits 2019

While I was looking at my stash again after the holidays, I realized I had 3 skeins of Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino Yarn in Mallard, I believe (otherwise it was Sapphire, I can’t quite remember). This was *just* enough to make a sweater for the Fox before he outgrew it, so I had to get to work! I knit a stripy number by Sirdar, using leftover blue yarn from two previous projects for the stripes on the sleeves. I only have a few yards of the teal blue left, everything else was used up to the very end. I used 3 buttons from my stash for the shoulder closure, and I really love the finished sweater!

Then I set about knitting the famous Gramps Cardigan for friends who have just adopted their third child – a boy, this time. I’d been meaning to knit this for a while, too! I unfortunately didn’t have enough yarn on hand to make it, so I had to buy some. I chose Rowan Alpaca Soft DK Yarn in Clover, and lovely buttons on Etsy. I knit the 4T size and used up 4 skeins; I still have 2 skeins left, though. The window to return them has closed, so I’m thinking the only thing to do with them is a sweater vest for the Fox – there isn’t enough yarn for something bigger, but there’s definitely too much for a hat. I actually got the Fox to model this sweater, even though it’s too big for him, but I love it! That being said, if I ever make it again, I’ll follow this advice and switch the directions of the cables on half the sweater, so that the left front and sleeve mirror the right front and sleeve (instead of all the cables going in the same direction as the pattern calls for). I washed it and blocked it for the last photo before sending it off in the mail. The boy’s oldest sister is wearing it now, and she’s 5 years old, so the size is pretty forgiving!

At this point, I was keen to use up some of the yarn I had bought in Alaska, at Aurora Yarns. I started with a skein of bulky yarn by The Alaskan Yarn Company in a colorway called Parpika, I think. I knew I had about enough for a hat, so I decided to make the Brioche Hood Hat. And I was almost done with it when I ran out of yarn! You see, brioche stitch takes up more yarn than stockinette, so I would have needed more yardage, even though I had already made the ties shorter. There was no way to get another skein of the same dye lot, obviously, and I decided that this variegated color looked batter in stockinette anyway. I didn’t want to buy a new pattern, so I tried making a Beehive Hat. The first one I made was too big, and the second was the right size but something wasn’t quite right about it. So I searched the internets and decided to make the Cocoon Hat. This time, finally, I liked the result, and had just enough yarn. (That’s one of the cool things about knitting – if you don’t like the finished product, you can often salvage the yarn and just start over, unlike, say, sewing). I think this one suits me better than the last one I knit in this style.

So after knitting the equivalent of 4 hats, I decided that I really did like the Brioche Hood Hat and wanted one after all, so I bought a skein of Malabrigo Rios Yarn in Teal Feather. It has just enough yardage for this hat – I ended up with something like 6 inches left over. The construction is not intuitive; there are a lot of short rows, making up wedges, and the short side will be the top of the hat. There’s a seam for the side at the end. I think I only got 12 wedges out of my yarn, yet it was big enough for my above-average-sized head. I had some trouble styling it, though, but after seeing this and this, I think I’ll use up those last 6 inches to sew up the rest of the side seam, eliminating the keyhole opening, and knot the ties on the opposite side.

I’m now back to knitting a sweater-vest, and God willing, I’ll be able to post about that at the end of the summer!

Monday, June 03, 2019

The great chocolate cake bake-off

At some point last fall, I made Trish de Seine’s famous chocolate cake and found it quite lackluster. This got me thinking about how often I make a chocolate cake hoping for something really good, better than my go-to recipe, only to be disappointed. So I decided to test a bunch of recipes that had billed themselves as “the best” and see which one I would keep, once and for all. I don’t want to waste time (and calorie allotments) on mediocre cakes, after all. I wanted the best chocolate layer cake (NOT a bundt cake or a loaf cake or chocolate-avocado or gluten-free or whatever, just the best layer cake). So I looked at all the recipes I had bookmarked, online and in cookbooks and magazines, and tried to find points in common (example: two recipes called for yogurt, so I compared those two among themselves, in the first bracket if you will, before comparing the best of those to the rest). For each cake, I served it to my family once, froze a clearly labeled piece for later comparison, and the rest of the cake was either doled out over a few days OR was sent to work with the Engineer, who came back with an empty carrier each time. And here’s what happened. (If you just want the result, scroll to the bottom of the post.)

I made them all with the same ingredients (same white whole wheat flour in every one, same chocolate, same cocoa, same instant coffee, same vegan margarine, same coconut milk instead of cream, etc.). I didn’t use baking strips or heating cores in any of them, because I forgot for the first one and really wanted to compare everything as fairly as possible.

I had meant to make the winning cake one more time and take good pictures (as the photos I took otherwise were more for documenting and my personal reference), but you know what? Even though this project stretched out over several months, I just don’t have it in me to bake another chocolate cake right now. So these few low-quality photos will have to do.

Also, I intended to make the famous Beatty’s Chocolate Cake by Ina Garten, but realized it was almost identical to Ricardo’s best chocolate cake, so those two are equivalent in my mind (I simply tried Ina Garten’s frosting on another cake that didn’t come with a frosting recipe to evaluate that part).

The contenders:
- Happy Wife, Happy Life chocolate cake from Small Victories, by Julia Turshen
- ”Ze” gâteau au chocolat from Famille futée 2
- Gâteau au chocolat infaillible de Patrice Demers (published in my baby book La Bête)
- Ricardo’s Best-Best Chocolate Cake
- Black Magic Cake with Ina Garten frosting
- Chocolate cake with bittersweet sour cream frosting from Not Without Salt
- Chocolate midnight cake from Samin Nosrat’s Salt Fat Acid Heat, with the fudge frosting from the Vitamix cookbook that came with my blender
- My previous go-to chocolate cake from Minimalist Baker

The notes:

Small Victories cake: there was only enough frosting for the top, and ideally it should not be refrigerated. I found the crumb quite good, but overall I already knew it wasn’t the best. The Engineer did not care for the raspberry jam between the layers or for the frosting, but the Little Prince loved the frosting.

Famille futée cake: I made a half-recipe, because 2 layers were plenty for my purposes. I was curious about their recommended “healthy” frosting made with tofu, though it’s still got as much sugar as regular frosting (I guess it’s just low in fat? which doesn’t automatically make it healthy?), but that was a total failure – it was hard to work with, runny, and the cornstarch gives it an unpleasant mouthfeel. That being said, the cake itself was excellent, and better than the Small Victories cake that also called for yogurt! This one had mineral water as well.

Patrice Demers’s cake: The Engineer called it a “very satisfying cake”, but I knew it was not The One. The crumb is not the best, and it contains chopped chocolate that I think I find a bit off-putting in a layer cake.

Ricardo’s cake: This was definitely better than Patrice Demers’s for me – we had a contender! I didn’t have two 8’ springform pans, so I used 8”-round pans lined with paper, greased, and dusted with cocoa. It was essentially the same as Ina Garten’s cake (which I didn’t bother baking), and had less cocoa than the Black Magic Cake. The ganache was just okay, though.

Black Magic Cake: This recipe really should have specified to line the pans with paper in addition to greasing them! The cake was flat, flimsy, and fell apart. Ricardo’s cake beats it hands down.
Ina Garten’s frosting: I used it to top the Black Magic Cake. I found that the yield was too small, the frosting hardens immediately, it had a bit too much coffee in it, and it was weird. Somehow, though, it ended up being the Little Prince’s favorite cake/frosting combo up to that point.

Not Without Salt cake: I used 1 cup of white sugar and 1 cup of brown sugar. I would have loved to be told the weight of the batter I should have put into each of the 3 pans… As it was, upon unmolding, 1 layer fell apart, so it was a 2-layer cake instead of a 3-layer cake. I would use 2 pans, myself. I liked it better than the previous cake, but the Engineer and the Little Prince both liked it less. (As for the Fox, he wasn’t giving me any quotes to use, but he seemed to be happy with all the cakes in the running.)

Salt Fat Acid Heat cake: We have a contender! This cake has a great crumb – which can withstand some handling – and is delicious. (I had made it once before, for Valentine’s Day, and loved it. It’s worked well in both 8”-square and 8”-round pans.) The instructions say to line the pans with paper, grease them, AND dust them with cocoa. Honestly, that’s probably overkill and you could pick two of those three instructions, but I figured “better safe than sorry”.
Vitamix fudge frosting: I was curious about this because I’d never made a frosting in a blender and because it called for evaporated milk, which Carnation now makes lactose-free. In the end, though, it was just okay.

Minimalist Baker cake: I baked it a bit longer than called for because this time, I made it in 8”-round pans instead of 9”-round. This cake seemed to come out ahead of the pack! It definitely has the best frosting of the bunch, and the crumb is wonderfully moist. The Little Prince revised his favorite to this one upon tasting it. And I felt a bit like Dorothy when she found out that she’d had the power to go home all along – when I posted that recipe almost 4 years ago, I had called it “the definitive chocolate cake”, and I should have just listened to Past-Me.

After testing the frozen samples: My favorite is still the Minimalist Baker cake, but I think I will make the Salt Fat Acid Heat cake again too. Ricardo’s cake would be a close third. For the Engineer, Patrice Demers’s cake is the best of the bunch, so I guess I’ll make the recipe available to him for when he wants to make it. The Little Prince likes the Minimalist Baker cake best, but the Black Magic with Ina Garten frosting is a close second. The Fox likes chocolate.