cardamom + vanilla birthday cake

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I’ve noticed the last few months have brought little breakthroughs in my baking experiments, perhaps because I have not been practicing. I finally made a truly good gluten-free soda bread on my first attempt of the season. I wowed friends with this chocolate hazelnut cake. I made animal crackers that tasted better than any we’ve had before on the first try. Holiday pie crust and sourdough pizza, and likely more that I’m forgetting.

And without too much thought, after years of attempting and tossing out countless recipes and versions of gluten-free, dairy-free vanilla cake, I opted back to my very own chocolate recipe, transitioned it to vanilla and somehow topped it off with a truly amazing caramel-esque non-dairy “cream cheese” frosting to boot.

I’m not bragging by mentioning this so much as reflecting on this last year, my 30th, and reflecting on what it is I put my effort, intention, and attachment into. For sure it has not been baking, or recipe creation in general.

But I wonder sometimes what I have to show for that which I have put my focus towards? To hint, it’s been a lot of nutrition grad school, delving deeply into mindfulness and the often invisible soulwork, and running, always running. I wrote down three big goals for the year in early January and I’ve stuck them in a place where I see them regularly. Each time I’m reminded of the process, how it’s slowly unfolding, how I fail routinely and try again. My goals are process goals, not dependent on the outcome I’d like. But I’m coming to value the day in and day out of quietly working in the trenches, unknowing whether there’ll be a big payout.

In meditation lately, I’ve been envisioning myself sitting, floating on nothing, nothing above or below, nothing to grasp on to. This experience of complete lack, control over nothing, is absolutely uncomfortable even in a visualization exercise. And as I seamlessly transitioned into 31 the other day without much fanfare and devoid of celebrations minus a lovely cake in the flavors I craved that finally and unexpectedly worked out, I think I’ve come to understand a little more: the intentions I set, the high intentions, stories in my head and visions of “glory,” the culmination of work and work and work, on whatever it is I’m working on, very rarely pan out the way I envisioned. And that’s okay.

Because the real magic, I think, is in learning to become more comfortable in the floating, in the space between, in the process, in the unknowing.

Welcome to another rebirth-year. For sure, there’s at least really good cake.

Cardamom and Vanilla Birthday Cake, makes a 6-inch two-layer cake
Cardamom is a strong spice, one I love as an adult but was turned off by when younger. Add the amount you desire, starting with less, tasting, and adding more as needed. The frosting amount is intended to just slightly enhance the cake. Double or triple the amount for a fully frosted version.

120 grams / 3/4 cup brown rice flour
30 grams / 1/4 cup almond meal
14 grams / 2 tablespoons arrowroot powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 – 1 teaspoon. ground cardamom
130 grams / 2/3 cup sugar (I used the slightly less processed organic cane sugar)
56 grams / 1/4 cup coconut oil, soft, but not melted
2 tablespoons ground flax with 6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
110 ml / 1/2 cup unsweetened non-dairy milk

  • Preheat the oven to 350° F and line the bottoms of each cake pan with parchment paper.  Then rub a little coconut oil up the sides of the pans and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, stir together the ground flax and warm water to form a slurry.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the flours and spices and then set aside.  In another large bowl, combine the sugar and coconut oil and whisk until it’s light and fluffy. Add the flax slurry and then the vanilla and milk; mix again until it is combined. Next, a bit at a time, stir in the dry ingredients and combine.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Check after out 20 minutes so as not to over bake.
  • Transfer the layers to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes; then remove layers and rest them until completely cool.

Cream Cheese Frosting
115 g / 4 oz. / 1/2 cup of non-dairy cream cheese (I used a 1/2 batch of this recipe)
3 Tbs. coconut oil, melted
3 Tbs. brown rice syrup
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract

  • While the cake is baking, make the frosting. If you want to make your own cashew cream cheese, you’ll want to start ahead to allow time to “culture.”
  • Combine all ingredients in a food processor and blend until creamy smooth.
  • Transfer to a bowl and place in the fridge for at least an hour to allow it to set up before frosting the cake.

White Tea + Rhubarb Cake

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Last week, I celebrated a birthday. It was a very ordinary sort of day with no particular fanfare, leftovers for dinner, and Will at a school event for the evening.  So I enjoyed the evening after work in the garden, planting seeds. And then I made cake.

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On your birthday, you are supposed to feel special, or at least that’s what our society tells us–and though the day was particularly ordinary, I felt truly blessed and happy from its beginning to end.

Normally, in past years when my birthday didn’t include a big gathering over dinner and cake, I’d feel just a teensy bit like I was missing out on an annual rite. This year something changed, and I felt simply grateful for so very many friends who care and who show it in small ways, regularly. From the kind encouragements, to the brief check-ins and the funny moments where we laugh uncontrollably. Those things, those people, I am grateful for having in my life.

Though the hornblowers, smoke, and light show were left for perhaps another year and turning 27 isn’t exactly an exciting number, I am so joy-filled, so blessed to have gotten to celebrate another one.

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Now for cake. I’ve been bent on a rhubarb obsession this past several months, and since it’s spring and rhubarb is at the peak of its season, I’m going to eat it up while it is available! This is White Tea & Rhubarb Cake.  I made a simple rhubarb sauce, then strained it through a sieve and infused just the juice into a loose-leaf white tea. The tea and rhubarb mixture serve as the liquid for this cake. The flavor is very light, very subtle, and quite good. If you’re big on frosting, go ahead and make it–the beautiful pastel pink comes from the rhubarb, not food dye! If you would prefer the white tea and lovely rhubarb flavors to shine through and aren’t big on super sweet, go ahead and foreg0 the frosting. It’s quite nice to eat it simply–and the Rhubarb-Infused White Tea is a treat all on its own!

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White Tea + Rhubarb Cake, makes one 6-inch cake
1 3/4 cups Sarah’s gluten free flour blend
1 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup rhubarb-infused white tea 
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup canola oil
1 Tbs. pure vanilla extract
  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line two 6-inch cake pans with parchment paper. Mix together flour blend, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  • In a large mixing bowl, pour in the rhubarb + tea mixture. Add the sugar, honey, oil, and vanilla extract. Slowly whisk in the flour mixture. Beat for one minute or until the batter becomes smooth and starts to thicken.
  • Pour the batter evenly into the prepared pans.
  • Bake for 25-30 minutes, rotating half way through. Insert a toothpick into the center if you are uncertain if its done. The toothpick will come out clean.
  • Place on cooling rack, and remove from pans after about 10 minutes. Cool completely before frosting or serving.
Rhubarb-Infused White Tea
3-4 rhubarb stalks, chopped
water
1 Tbs. Loose-leaf white tea, such as Silver Rain
  • Make a rhubarb sauce by simmering rhubarb stalks and a small amount of water (less than 1/4 inch to the bottom of a small saucepan) until the rhubarb has turned into a puree.  With a fine mesh sieve or cheesecloth, strain the rhubarb sauce, reserving the bulk of the mixture for another use.
  • Meanwhile, bring water almonst to boiling, and with the tea in an infuser, steep a good 3/4 cup of white tea for a lengthy period of time, until it is strong. Keep in mind that white tea will not get too strong like black tea. The flavor is subtle. Add the rhubarb sauce liquid to the steeped tea until you have 1 1/4 cups.  Measure out 1 cup for the cake, and reserve 1/4 cup for the frosting.
 Tea + Rhubarb Vegan Frosting
1/2 cup vegan butter, such as Earth Balance
4 cups powdered sugar
1/4 cup rhubarb-infused white tea 
  • To make frosting, whip together all of the ingredients, adding a touch more rhubarb liquid for color and moisture, as needed.

Blackberry Buttermilk Cake—A Birthday

It was my birthday, so I made myself a cake.  Always an adventurer, I finessed a blackberry buttermilk concoction.  We had friends over, my close friends, and despite the joy that it brought me to see them all together with me, I couldn’t help to feel a touch of bittersweet afterwards, as I know this will probably be the last birthday, for now, with us all together.

Nevertheless, the combination of wine and pleasantly intellectual conversations, laughter, and painted watermelons, made for a lovely evening.  Never-mind the cake.  Oh yes, it was so good I had two slices.

 
Blackberry Buttermilk Cake, adapted from Super Natural Every Day, by Heidi Swanson
6 Tbs. unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 3/4 cups cake flour
1 1/2 Tbs. baking powder
3/4 cups baker’s sugar
3/4 tsp. salt
3 large eggs
2 1/4 cup buttermilk
Zest of 2 large lemons
1 1/2 cups blackberries
 
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Butter and flour two 9-inch cake pans.
2. Whisk flour, baking powder, sugar, and salt in a large bowl.  In a separate container, whisk milk, eggs, and butter.  Whisk in the lemon.  Add the wet mixture to the flour and stir until combined.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.  Arrange the berries on top of the batter and gently press in.  
4. Bake for 35 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.
5. Cool and frost as desired.