Other People’s Recipes: Laurie Colwin’s Spice Cake

There are two famous, somewhat similar cakes on the internet: David Liebowitz’s gingerbread cake, which I have made in Japan and can only rave about (it requires molasses, which is tough to obtain in Japan and therefore renders it inappropriate to the reach of this blog), and Laurie Colwin’s spice cake, which is delicious and sticky and which contains ingredients that are easy to find. So today, let’s make the latter.

Ms. Colwin was a food writer who died before her time, but her warm and sisterly recipe books live on. The story behind this cake is cute in itself, and some people have taken it for an updated version of an older Syrian nutmeg cake. I’m not sure if this can be corroborated, but I like the idea. Incidentally, I switched out the yogurt for cheaper tofu and it was still quite delicious.

Photo credit: thecookiescoop.blogspot.com

Here’s the recipe as I modified it:

Spicier Spice Cake

Ingredients:

  • 1 stick cold butter
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1.75 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp allspice
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 block (200g) silken (the softest you can find) tofu
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • about 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Directions:

  1. Line a round 10in/25cm or square 8x8in/20x20cm cake pan with parchment paper. This step is important; even if you oil the bottom well, the crust could possibly stick and become a crumbly mess. I suggest oiling the sides of the pan as well.
  2. Cut the butter up into tiny pieces and mix it with the sugar and the flour. Using a spoon or, preferably, your hands, mix together until you have a fine crumbly mixture.
  3. Take 2 1/2 cups of this mixture (there will still be some left over) and press it firmly into a layer in the bottom of the lined, oiled pan to make the shortbread “crust.”
  4. Add the spices to the remaining crumbly mixture and mix well. In a small separate bowl, mix the tofu and the egg together  until they are smooth, then add to the dry ingredients. Mix well.
  5. Sprinkle the baking soda on top and mix this in, too.
  6. Pour the mixture on top of the crust layer. Sprinkle the nuts liberally over the top. Bake for 55 minutes in at 350˚F/175˚C.

—I had a picture but I’m updating my computer and it might be lost to the annals. But if I make it again . . .

Kinako, black sesame spread, and fruit = ambrosia

Kinako is a toasted soybean powder that tastes pleasantly nutty. You’ve probably had it dusted over mochi, which is all I’d ever really had it on as well. But then one of my adult conversation class students – who is probably about 85 years old and still “shreddin’ it,” as the kids say – told me she eats kinako in her yogurt every morning. So, in my quest to live forever genki, I tried it.

Just one spoonful is all you nee-ee-eed.

Whoa. Delicious.

The whole experience got me thinking; what else could I put kinako in or on?

So I put it in pancake batter. Amazing.
Sprinkled kinako, cinnamon, and sugar on my toast. Earth-shattering.
Dusted it over a plate of apple slices. Seriously, someone please stop me, I’m out of control.

Here’s a picture of the apple before I devoured it too quickly:

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The black dots are sesame seeds. When I made this snack again, I made a paste of black sesame (kurogoma 黒ごま) and honey – 1 part black sesame to spread to 2 parts honey. If you don’t like apple, it goes especially well with pineapple and orange. When making this paste, a little goes a long way, as black sesame has a stronger taste than its white counterpart. Or, you can just pick up the pre-made kurogoma spread at your local Kosumosu; this is the lazy beggars’ guide, after all.

But if you forgo the sesame, at least try a bit of kinako on your next bowl of fruit. That’s going to be my mantra from here on out, like the Portlandia “Put a Bird On It” thing: Put Some Kinako On It!

Other People’s Recipes: Vegan Lemon Bars

Bakin’ with tofu, no longer just for trustafarians!

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While I’m not a big baker – save for one cookie I make every year around Christmas – I’m a fan of the blog Chocolate and Zucchini, run by a lovely French woman named Clotilde (one of those names that sounds exotically beautiful, but that I could never pull it off with my own spawn). Browsing through her archives the other day, I spotted a recipe for vegan lemon bars made with silken tofu and lemon juice. I’m always on the lookout for delicious, butter-free dishes, since butter is prohibitively expensive in Japan (unless you’re in Hokkaido, I suppose). I have a theory this is why macaroons have become so popular in Japan – it’s the one cookie without butter!

There were a few noteworthy modifications made. I’d recently been gifted the Worst Citrus Ever, so I grated some of its fresh peel right into the filling mix until it took on a pleasant smell and a yellow tinge. I also added some powdered yuzu, because why not, we’re in Japan! I hate measuring, so the zest was added “to taste.” I also added a pinch of nutmeg to the filling and reduced the sugar by about 25%, and it still came out sweet as hell. Finally, for about half the bars, I pressed a single raisin into the center of where each bar would be before baking. Dane (mah life partner) said the raisin bars were better than the plain ones.

Instead of coconut oil, I used regular canola oil for the crust. It’s a crumb crust, and Clotilde recommends that the crumbs be “pressed loosely” into the pan. I pressed them a bit more firmly. Even then, the crust was a bit thicker than I would have liked, though the texture was wonderful. In the future, I’ll probably reduce the sugar from the crust, too, and maybe add a bit of flax meal if I’m feeling saucy.

All in all, these bars were outstanding, easy, cheap, and vegan. One caveat: despite the presence of tofu, they abound with sugar and carbs . . . so cut those pieces small and make your coworkers happy with a lemon bar giveaway.

While mixing up the batch last night, I remarked to my neighbor, Kay, that I bake more in Japan than I ever did in the States, which is hilarious because I don’t have an oven.