It wouldn't be true, of course. That was weeks ago, on the way back from Mohican. And although it left us a little flummoxed at the time [Quick, do you: a) adjust your m.p.h. to buggy speed; or b) pass on the left; or c) lob a few apples onto the shoulder, and hope the horses take the bait?], we managed to free ourselves before sundown. (The correct answer? d) wait until two roads diverge in that yellow wood, then travel the one this dapper trio doesn't.)
Really, though, it's this busy week that was going to have me bowing out. For one thing, there was the business of this purple potato bug that turned up in our compost pile. I thought it was Henry showing a new talent for practical jokes, or maybe the glam side-effect of a luminescent diet, like those glow-in-the-dark shrimp. But alas, when we shut ourselves in our windowless powder room, no glow. So we googled it instead. Iridovirus, it seems: lovely to look at, but fatal, poor thing.
Also, it was pretty imperative that we squeak in a few final rounds of Mr. Runny Runny and the Leaf Monster out under the oak tree, before all that fluffy leafy goodness gets wet.
And packing! Yes, packing. We've got this little trip coming up, to a land where the long-term forecast shows tiny gray clouds for ten of the next ten days (be still, my soggy heart!). We'll make the most of three of them, to soak up a few Seattle showers and get a friends-and-family fix. And to remind my youngest there truly are horizons cropped close by evergreens and jagged with mountains. Which is why there are post-its are everywhere with very important words like "wallet" and "lollipops!" not yet crossed out. And why I was going to be elsewhere.
I'd sort of given up on the cake, frankly. It's not that my standards are high, I think, so much as my taste buds are quirky. Chocolate and vanilla are nice, lovely even, for others' birthdays, and I have some mighty fine specimens on tap for both. But what I love, what I've been longing for, is a cake with attitude. Something so moody and lush you pinch pieces on the sly, even when the cake is stark naked. Something with enough backbone to wear a spunky smart flourish in between and on top. That's it. That's all. Modest, I thought. Naive, I decided, after a long string of let-downs, cakes that were fussy to make or boring on the fork or so dull and dry, it was a stretch even keeping them on as a frosting delivery system.this intriguing bundt number. And I suspected it was The One, or could be, seriously spiced and tarted up with a dreamy Basque icing I'd devoured years back. And I didn't do a thing, not right away, anyway. Because the best part of birthdays, for my money anyway, is the all together bit, the popovers and Popeye and rock-hopping in the Olentangy before Ohio gets all stiff-lipped and serious about winter. And, I don't know, I just had this funny feeling Nutella crepes would be more fun for everyone than Cardamom Kabocha Cake with Goat Cheese frosting.
Monday, however. Monday's another matter. Back to work, back to school, back to "to each his own", come dessert hour. And so, in the space of one toddler nap, Henry and I mixed and baked and frosted up a dream. It's not especially elegant, as these things go. That damp, velvet crumb that exhales cardamom and whispers nutmeg and is saturated with the deep nutty sweet of roasted squash? It's prone to pock marks, and so tender it sags in spots. And that frosting, that plush, creamy slump, chèvre-tart and polka-dotted with vanilla? It's strictly horizontal stuff, too gentle to spread up the sides, let alone pipe roses. It's really more old cozy cardigan than tailored silk taffeta, this cake. But then again, so am I.
Having finally found it, this cake, I wanted to jot it down. So I can bake it again not on my birthday next year, and likely, as muffins and cupcakes and quick breads, long before that. But right now, it's tomorrow's flight that's top of mind. Whether I'll make it through my post-its and packing remains to be seen, but I'll be there either way, with crumbs in my carry-on.
Kabocha Cardamom Cake with Chèvre Frosting
Adapted from here and here and here. With special thanks to Jess Thomson, for mentioning the words "kabocha" and "cardamom" in the same post -- try it, you'll like it!
A few ingredient notes: Buy cardamom in bulk: fresher, better, cheaper. You can pick up a generous bag of seeds plus an inexpensive ($10) coffee grinder to dedicate to the spice grinding cause for less than one brand-name bottle. No vanilla bean? Just sub in 2 tsp. vanilla extract. Then head over to Costco, which has plump, gorgeous 10-packs of vanilla beans for a song. And while you're there, pick up an 11-oz. log of their chevre, which is just fine here.
Roast the kabocha hours or days in advance. Slice it in two, scoop out seeds, place it cut side down on a foil-lined tray, and roast at 400°approximately one hour, or until knife-tender. Scoop flesh from shell and mash well (or, if dry and lumpy in parts, blitz with a stick blender briefly to smooth). This will yield extra squash. I hoovered up the extras cold, from the fridge; it's decadent stuff. Consider, also, a soup or gorgeous side.And despite all those words that follow, this was a quick, easy cake. There are no eggs to separate in the batter, and the frosting requires only a bowl, a wooden spoon, and five minutes of your time.
Kabocha Cardamom Cake
2 sticks (1 cup) salted butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (I used a mix of wheat/corn/oat I keep in the freezer)
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
1 Tbl. cardamom, pref. freshly ground
2 tsp. nutmeg, pref. freshly ground
1/4 tsp. salt
1 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup Greek Yogurt (2% is fine; non-fat is not)
1/4 cup real maple syrup (B-grade is best)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/2 packed cups roasted, mashed kabocha squash
Whisk flours, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, cardamom and salt together in a bowl, and set aside.
Cream butter and sugar in bowl of stand mixer until light, 3-4 minutes. Scrape down sides, then add eggs one at a time, scraping before and after each. Combine Greek Yogurt, roasted squash, vanilla and maple syrup in bowl. With mixer on low, add half of yogurt mixture, then half of flour, then repeat, mixing just to combine.
Give batter a final stir with a spatula, then pour into the two prepared baking pans, smoothing tops with spatula. Bake until knife comes out covered in damp crumbs, 17-20 minutes.
Let cake cool 10 minutes in the pan, then carefully invert onto cooling rack (it's very tender; hold top with one hand while slowly turning tin over with other) to cool completely, 2 hours.
11 oz. log of soft, fresh goat cheese
Seeds of 1 vanilla bean
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 - 1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream
Beat goat cheese, vanilla bean seeds and sugar together on low in a stand mixer (or by hand, with a wooden spoon), until evenly soft throughout. Add 1 cup heavy cream in slow, steady stream until ingredients are thoroughly combined, about 1 minute. Slowly drizzle in more cream as needed, up to 1/2 cup, to achieve a plush texture, thin enough to spread but thick enough to hold it's shape, like the texture of Greek Yogurt.
1 cup walnuts, lightly chopped
1 Tbl. maple syrup
1 Tbl. salted butter
1 1/4 tsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 375°. Line baking sheet with parchment or foil.
Combine sugar and salt in small bowl. Combine syrup and butter in skillet, and bring to a boil. Take off heat, then stir in walnuts, to coat. Toss coated walnuts with sugar/salt mixture, to coat.
Pour walnuts onto prepared baking sheet, spread into an even layer, then cook 7-8 minutes in preheated oven, until coating is bubbling and walnuts are lightly browned. Remove, and let cool completely, approx. 1 hour.
Level top of one cake layer, if needed, with a long, serrated knife. Eat scraps. Now, place one cake layer (the knife-leveled one, if it was needed) on serving plate. Heap 1/3 of frosting on top, and spread to edges. Top with second cake layer. Blob remaining frosting around second layer, and spread evenly to edges. Make festive with whatever candied walnuts you haven't eaten straight off the tray.