Rhubarb Cinnamon Cornmeal Cake in the Kitchen, #NigelSlater

I’ve finally succumbed to Twitter.  There.  I said it.  Phew. #thatfeltgood. I’m pretty sure the constant stimulation isn’t spectacular for my anxiety.  But I’m now one twitchy, instantly updated food enthusiast.

I’m not entirely sure how successful my Twitter career will be given my struggle to sacrifice correct grammar and substitute x’s where ‘anks’s and ‘icken’s truly belong.  I’m a bit stodgy with this sort of thing. Give me freedom to execute an oxford comma or give me death.  So this is a work in progress.

Where twitter-speak truly sings is the hashtag.  I’ve become quite taken with its ability to convey wit or sarcasm in lieu of punctuation.  For instance, being both a New Yorker at heart and rhubarb aficionado, I instantly took to #rhubarbstateofmind, as noted in Charlotte Druckman's feed. (Thanks, Charlotte!) (Thx @cettedrucks)

Hashtags aside, I’m a book sentimentalist through and through.  And I've recently became intimately acquainted with a certain Nigel Slater; I bought both Tender and Ripe a few weeks ago.  I’m reading them like bedtime stories, tucking myself in a few chapters at a time.  I am currently up to Nigel’s eggplant seduction, though I cheated with Ripe and went straight to rhubarb.  And I’ve eaten close to five pounds of it over the course of a week. (I don’t have to say it: you know what kind of state I’ve been in.)

I’ve been roasting rhubarb with Pinot Gris and spliced vanilla beans.  I’ve been blanching rhubarb, letting it get acquainted with radishes and scallions in a spring salsa fashion.  And I’ve been making cake. Rhubarb cake. With cornmeal.  In Ripe it’s titled "Rhubarb Cinnamon Polenta Cake"—which is a lovely sounding name and an even better dessert—but I was a bit hesitant to carry on with the polenta namesake.  Technically it’s cake, not cornmeal porridge.  Though I do see where Nigel is going with this one. 

Once baked, the cake’s texture retains creaminess amid crunchy bits, courtesy of the cornmeal, and is reminiscent of the famed polenta squares from Northern Italy.  Either way, the coarse cornmeal is a wonderful partner for the slight raciness of rhubarb.  I added a bit more cinnamon than originally called for because it plays so nicely with tart fruit.  No disappointment there.

In fact, the leftover cake continues to have me under its spell.  So much so that I keep forgetting to drizzle the sauce, which the recipe makes as rhubarb byproduct, over top.  I have a feeling it will probably make its cocktail début with some bourbon later on this season.  Or perhaps as a spritzer.  For now, I have plenty of cake to keep me occupied.  And I’ve got rhubarb for days.

So I might be wise to loosen up on my tweets, after all.  I have quite a few rhubarb recipes that would probably take kindly to brevity. Houston, #wehavearhubarbsitch.

Rhubarb Cinnamon Cornmeal Cake
Adapted from Ripe: A Cook in the Orchard by Nigel Slater


About 1 pound of rhubarb
About 1 cup turbinado sugar (see note), divided
4 tbsp fresh orange juice
Pinch of salt
¾ cup polenta (course ground)
1½ all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp cinnamon
Zest of an orange
10 tbsp cold butter, cut into ½-1 inch pieces
1 egg
2-4 tbsp half and half


Butter the sides and bottom of an 8-inch springform pan.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and put a baking sheet in the oven to get it hot.  Cut the rhubarb into pieces, roughly 1-2 inch in size, and place them in a baking dish.  Grind a very heaping cup of turbinado sugar in the food processor until powdered in consistency.  (You may want to grind a little more than this so you have extra, if needed.)  Scatter about ¼ cup of the ground tubinado sugar over the rhubarb and then toss with the orange juice and a pinch of salt.  Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the rhubarb is soft but still maintains its shape.  Place the rhubarb through a sieve to separate out the rhubarb from its juice.  Set the juice aside.

Place the polenta, along with sifted flour, baking powder, and cinnamon; ¾ cup ground turbinado sugar; and another pinch of salt in the food processor.  Add the zest and butter and process a few times until the mixture is still clumpy but has started to come together in rough crumbles.  Mix the egg with 2 tbsp of half and half in a small bowl and then blend it into the dough, being careful not to overmix it; the dough should still look shaggy and will be a bit sticky (add a little more half and half, as needed).

Place about two-thirds of the mixture into the buttered pan so that it comes about ¾ of an inch up the sides.  (Look out for any breaks in the dough and push the dough around to cover them up, as necessary.) Scatter the rhubarb pieces on top, leaving some space along the edges of the pan.  Crumble the remaining dough on top; there will be holes.  Scatter with about 1 tbsp of the ground turbinado sugar on top and place on the hot baking sheet in the oven.  Cook for 45-55 minutes or until it is golden brown.  Let cool before removing the cake from the pan. 

At this stage, you can serve the reserved syrup alongside the cake.  I reduced the syrup a bit, adding a pinch of sugar, a split vanilla bean, and a splash of orange blossom water: but it’s in my freezer for now, as I keep forgetting to use it.

Makes 1 cake.

-Nigel calls for golden baker’s sugar, which I couldn’t find.  You can take turbinado sugar though and grind it down in a food processor to achieve a similar effect. I measured out closer to 1½ cups of turbinado to grind.

-You’ll want to avoid finely ground cornmeal for this recipe; the course cornmeal texture is a nice contrast in the cake.


Girl Eats Pistachio Cake

I’ve had a very hard time trying to put this cake into words.  So I’m just going to introduce it to you bare bones. Dick and Jane-style.  Ready. Set. Go.

Girl sees pistachio cake. Girl orders carrot soup.  Girl takes a bite of boy’s cake he has ordered.  Girl does this sort of thing from time to time. Girl recognizes this behavior is probably annoying. Never mind. Girl tastes pistachio cake.  Girl will never be the same.

I first had this cake in 2010 at Rose Bakery in Montmartre. Though I was pretty involved in my bowl of soup at the time, I cannot live on soup alone.  At least not well. And certainly not well when in Paris. 

Admittedly, I had a simple meal at Rose Bakery. But it was a meal to remember. Particularly the cake.  It didn’t matter that I only had a taste of it off my patient travel companion’s plate. It was enough.  

And recently one bite was all it took to bring me back to the stark white walls of Rose Bakery. To see their square-shaped tarts.  And remember the wine at lunch which painted the rest of the day in a verre de vin rouge-colored tint. 

Flash forward to 2012. I was in my pajamas in my apartment in Beacon Hill, reading food52, when I came across a recommended cookbook.  Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery.  I thought about buying it for all of 6 seconds. 

You probably aren’t shocked by this: as my first order of business, I made pistachio cake.  And it’s a charmer. Don’t be alarmed if the batter initially portrays itself as a bit of a waif, despite its heavy reliance on nuts, eggs, and butter.  And after the ingredients get creamed and folded, it presents with an almost soufflé disposition, which is a tad worrisome for a loaf cake with such unapologetically rich building blocks. 

In fact, there is potentially a lot to question here.  It uses only a 1/3 cup of flour.  It requires an aggressive amount of rosewater.  The pistachio nut glaze is called in to cover the cake after the cake has cooled.  No matter.  The slightly sticky syrup, laced with lemon, seeps down into the cake’s middle and helps keep it moist and glistening.  And it manages to do all of this without coming off as heavy or overdone (despite all that rose).  Which is all so very French.

Once cooked, it morphs into the cake you might expect.  Or the cake that you might remember, if you’ve been to Rose Bakery.  The memory of it traveled quite easily, across the Atlantic, and a little down the coast.  And it tasted just as it had in Paris.  

So in the end this is a very happy story, kids.  Girl eats cake.  Girl bakes cake.  Girl eats cake, again.  Girl plans to bake cake again, immediately.  So girl can be transported back to Paris whenever she damn well pleases. Girl is going to get a folk.

Pistachio Cake
Adapted from Breakfast, Lunch, Tea: The Many Little Meals of Rose Bakery


For the cake

1 cup butter, softened
1 generous cup caster sugar (see note)
Zest of 1 lemon
1 tbsp of rosewater
Splash of vanilla extract
4 eggs, at room temperature
1 cup ground almonds
1 cup ground pistachios
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
Pinch of salt

For the pistachio topping

½ cup pistachios, whole
¼ cup caster sugar
1 lemon, juice and zest
Pinch of salt


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter the sides and bottom of a loaf pan and then line it with parchment paper so the paper fits snuggly in the pan without crinkling too much (it will need to be a little shorter in length than your cake pan to do this).

Beat the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy (a few minutes) and then mix in the lemon zest, rosewater, and vanilla extract.  Slowly add in the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each egg.

Fold in the ground almonds, ground pistachios, flour, baking powder, and salt and pour into your prepared pan.  Bake until a knife comes out clean after being inserted into the center of the cake.  (The recipe states this should take about 40 minutes, but it took me a good 90 minutes, so you may want to keep that in mind.  I was getting a bit nervous, until I remembered Molly posted a similar recipe ... and she recommended a similar bake time.)  When the cake is done, remove it from the oven, and let it cool on a wire rack.

After the cake has cooled, heat the ingredients for the topping together in a saucepan, stirring occasionally, until the sugar is just melted; pour over the cake.

Makes 1 loaf.

-Instead of using caster sugar, I ground up granulated sugar in the food processor until it was powder consistency. (You’ll likely be using a food processor anyways for the nuts, so you can avoid this speciality item if you don’t have it.)

-The recipe called for 2 (!) tablespoons of rosewater.  I love rosewater, but I was a bit nervous about all that perfume.  1 tbsp worked out fine, though you could always experiment with less.  I wouldn’t necessarily recommend more.

-I ground the almonds and pistachios in a food processor, being careful to watch that they didn’t start to turn into nut butter.  You want them as finely processed as you can get them.

-This cake kept quite well in a ziplock bag for a number of days (at least 3).

-This girl just so happens to be going to Paris in less than a month!  This girl is very excited.


Simply Chocolate Avocado Butter.

I’ve thought quite a bit about what I might call this.  Avocella (like Nutella, but with avocado). Cocoa avocado crema (Alice Waters style). Or perhaps avocat et chocolat (poorly translated French).  

All of this in an attempt to convince you that I have not lost it.  

I am normally not one for messing with dessert. Particularly when there is chocolate involved.  But I am also a firm believer that everyone has the right to cake.  And sometimes people have food allergies.

In fact, I work with a population of patients that have very, very severe allergies.  Are you ready for this?  No soy.  No wheat.  No dairy.  No eggs.  No nuts.  No corn.  No fish.  No shellfish.  No kidding. Try making a gluten-free vegan dessert without the use of nuts or corn, friends.  Welcome to the world of Eosinophilic Esophagitis (EoE).

So I set out to make a chocolate cake that would essentially be (1) allergen-free and (2) edible.  And, well, it wasn’t terrible.  But it wasn’t something I’d ever like to make again, either.  I brought it to work and a coworker kindly referred to it as brownie slop.  The recipe in its entirety is not worth mentioning here.  Though it could have doubled quite nicely as a chocolate body scrub.

The “frosting,” however, was something that held real promise.  Coworkers were knifing it, scrapping it off the leftover cake and onto their plates.  Which I took as a good sign.  Bad table manners can be a good indicator of great food.

And if you choose to eat this by the spoonful, say, standing in the middle of your kitchen in your bathrobe, you might detect a faint, almost mossy note that could possibly be linked back to avocado.  If you were really looking for it.  That said, I’m the one who made the spread.  I knew precisely what was in it.  I had no problem eating it all by itself.  And getting it on both my chin and my pajamas.  But consider the source.

It worked wonderfully—and much more daintily –on a piece of French bread with a sprinkling of coarse sea salt. And it was equally as enjoyable playing peanut butter’s counterpart, sandwiched between bread slices.

So I settled on chocolate avocado butter for its name because it works very well as both a nut accompaniment and as a substitute for one.  Sure, it can still be used as frosting.  But I believe the role it was born to play is as a silky chocolate spread with the guts to offer up more rewards than risks. In fact, I’ve never felt so good eating chocolate. 

It’s chocolate meant for all.  And all for chocolate.  It tastes good.  And it’s just that simple.

Chocolate Avocado Butter


1 ripe avocado
~¼-½ unsweetened cocoa powder
~ 2/3-1c powered sugar
Pinch of salt
Splash of vanilla extract
1-2 tbsp leftover coffee (cold)


Puree the flesh of an avocado very well until it lightens in texture in a food processor (this will take a minute or two).  (A blender may also work, just make sure you don't have any avocado chunks left.)  Sift ¼ cup of cocoa powder and 2/3 cup of powdered sugar together in a bowl. Add to the avocado and blend until well combined.  Taste and add more sifted cocoa and powdered sugar to your taste.  (I added quite a bit more.) Add the salt, vanilla, and coffee; blend and retaste.  Adjust as needed.

Makes about 1 cup.

-If you have EoE you may want to make sure you find a vanilla extract without a corn-based alcohol, depending on your allergy severity.  (Or you could try making your own with some vanilla beans and a potato vodka, but it would take time before you could put it to use.)  I do think the vanilla helps to meld the avocado, though when I first made the frosting I left it off to make sure it would be edible without the flavoring.  And it certainly was, though I recommend the vanilla if you have the ability to use it.

-This firms up nicely in the fridge but it also remains more spreadable than a frosting would since there isn’t much saturated fat to solidify here.

-The ranges for the cocoa and powdered sugar are key.  I ended up adding in more cocoa powder to deepen the chocolate flavor.  As I added more cocoa I also upped the powdered sugar to around 1 cup, perhaps even a tad more.  Taste as you go.

-Many brands of powdered sugar have a little cornstarch mixed in.  Wholesome sweeteners makes a version without it.  Be sure to check the package's ingredients if you have a corn allergy.

-I almost forgot ... I'm now on twitter!


Baked Herb and Pistachio Falafel, Willingly

I am not currently wearing raw linen.  Or hemp underwear.  I have not started making my own soap. Nor do I have plans to unite a ragtag gang of loners to start a banjo band.  This much I can assure you.  

But things have definitely gone a bit "granola in my apartment. I’ve been hooked on homemade pita.  I have no fewer than five jars of assorted nut and seed butters in the side compartment of my fridge. I've all but made friends with Pancho and Lefty after one too many nights with Willie Nelson.

I’m not entirely sure when or how this transformation happened.  Actually, that’s a bit of a fib.  A steay supply of bulk grains and dried beans has crept quietly in along with Dr. Bronner’s magic soap and some early crow’s feet.  

And I can tell you precisely when my preoccupation with the falafel started.  It was after an early evening trip to the Falafel Palace in Central Square.  Specifically, after special #6, which consisted of a simple plate of falafel on a bed of shredded lettuce and tomatoes and a soufflé cup filled with hummus well laced with tahini.

I’ve had falafel on the brain ever since.  And when I found this recipe, I figured it was time to pack up and move straight to the chickpea commune.  It’s the kind of recipe that doesn’t require a lot of skills.  It just requires some pistachios and fresh herb, along with the obligatory beans and basic kitchen equipment.  And it gently suggests you be laid back when you make them.  And that’s about it.  Which is what you might expect from a baked falafel.

Since these guys aren’t fried they have a tendency to crumble once you bite into them.  But I wouldn’t consider this a weakness.  Especially if you have them properly sandwiched in a pita and sauced.  They’re baked, after all, man.   They're also downright delicious.  I'll spare you the adjectives.  Just know that these guys are easy to love.  And easy to hold.  Unlike cowboys.  And perhaps people that live on communes.

Baked Herb and Pistachio Falafel with Tahini Dressing
Adapted from Green Kitchen Stories


For the falafel

8 sprigs fresh mint
8 sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley
½ cup pistachio
2 cups cooked chickpeas
1 clove garlic 
1-2 tbsp minced onion 
~2 tbsp olive or pistachio oil 
5 cardamom seeds, ground (and shells discarded)
1 tbsp flour 
pinch cumin 
pinch red pepper flakes 
dash orange blossom water 
1 tsp baking powder

For the tahini dressing 

~2 tbsp tahini 
~1 tbsp cashew butter 
juice of  ½ lemon 
1-2 tbsp olive oil 
pinch of red pepper flakes 
pinch of cumin 
pinch of coriander 
salt to taste


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the herbs from their stems and blend them in a food processor (or blender); add the pistachio and pulse until well combined. Add the chickpeas and remaining ingredients and process until combined, keeping the texture of the mixture a little choppy with individual bits visible. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. (Do be careful with the salt as there is sodium in the baking soda.)

Scoop out about 1 heaping tbsp of the mixture and gently roll it into a ball, cupping it and packing it with your hands to firm it up a bit.  Place each ball on a baking sheet greased with a little olive oil.  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until they start to turn brown.  (You may wish to turn them occasionally to allow them to get color on all sides.)

While the falafel are baking, combine all the tahini dressing ingredients together in a food processor (or blender); thin the dressing with a little water and adjust the seasoning as needed.  Serve the falafel and dressing in a pita ... perhaps with lettuce, tomato, onion and thick Greek yogurt.

Yields about 15 falafel and about ½ cup dressing

-I used dried chickpeas that I cook and keep on hand in my freezer until they are called into falafel duty.  If you are using canned chickpeas, you may want to rinse them first. 

-Dear falafel, it wasn't intentional that I pushed you off for cake and frozen yogurt. If I made you feel second best, I'm sorry I was blind.  But you were always on my mind.  You were always on my mind.