Cake as Currency

Friday, January 22, 2021

In the same way that a simple baked good can express sentiments of exceeding complexity — “hello, Mr. Dentist, I am not pleased to be here, but perhaps if you partake of these homemade brownie bites, you will understand my deep appreciation for your work and also be extra gentle on my molars because I know these routine cleanings are supposed to be painless but my good sir they are not” — they can also be used as an excellent bartering chip.

I live in a charming apartment building with a considerable personality.

The temperamental locks, quirky radiators, and thin walls have inspired a greater appreciation for warm gloves, cozy blankets, and a good white noise machine. The faint groans of the plumbing merely remind me how lovely it is to have plumbing, especially after reading about chef David Lebovitz’s ordeals with his apartment renovation in France — c’est très Charmant! In an apartment of eccentricities, our little oven is a constant relief and delight to me, as fixed and reliable as the stars and just as beautiful with its off-white finish and misshapen plastic knobs.

Yet the two things in our building that really test my patience are the communal washer and dryer, which are as inconstant as “the moon, th’inconstant moon,” and just as variable month-to-month.

So, I have a deal with my tolerant and loving parents, who live less than an hour’s drive away.

Cake for laundry.

It’s the perfect system. They don’t particularly like cooking, and I don’t particularly like dedicating seven hours and twenty-three quarters (that’s $5.75, ladies and gents) to a single load of laundry. It also gives me an excuse to make some recipes that I’ve been drooling over, but which might not be wildly practical for a single woman to make for herself, like Ina Garten’s baked rigatoni with lamb ragu. It’s delicious, but for a mostly-vegetarian, a 9x13 of rich lamb pasta baked with a truly decadent amount of cheese would make for a lot of leftovers.

So, about once a month on my day off, I’ll toss my laundry hamper in the trunk, stop by the grocery store for ingredients, and make dinner and dessert in exchange for the use of a washer and dryer that didn’t witness the death of the dinosaurs.

This most recent laundry day, we went Italian for dinner, saving Yossy Arefi for dessert: a skillet of Eggs in Purgatory with a nice green salad and fresh ciabatta, followed by Lemony Currant and Rosemary Cake.

Now, before I espouse the wonders of this tender, scone-inspired cake, I have a confession to make.

Until the day I baked this glorious wonder of wonders, I did not know what a current was.

They’d cropped up on baking shows with enough frequency to ensuring my knowing they were a food item — possibly fruity, likely small — but that’s where my knowledge stopped!

It turns out currants are a lot like small raisins, with a slightly more acidic, berry-like flavor than their larger cousins. Frankly, both are delicious, but I do think it was worth adding to my already embarrassingly large hoard of dried fruits to use actual currants here.

The beautiful interplay between the fragrant rosemary, bright lemon, and sweet currants flavors this plush cake wonderfully. It’s not too sharp, not too rich, and a wonderful texture — especially if you top the cake with a light dusting a granulated sugar, resulting in a perfect, slightly crispy lid, like that of a ciambellone (Italian tea cake). It’s also not too sweet for breakfast, and the next morning I was more than happy to partake of a slice with my coffee.

But then again, when am I not happy to eat cake for breakfast?

Lemony Currant and Rosemary Cake (adapted, just barely, from Yossy Arefi’s Snacking Cakes)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup (150 g) + 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup (110 g) sour cream
  • 1/2 cup (113 g) unsalted butter, melted
  • 4 teaspoons very finely chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste (or vanilla extract)
  • 3/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or a slightly generous 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, if, like me, you use a saltier salt, like Morton)
  • 1 + 1/2 cups (190 g) all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup (110 g) dried currants (I was able to find some at a local Whole Foods)
  • 1 + 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • Flaky salt, to finish (optional)

Protocol:

  1. Position a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 350 F.
  2. Lightly butter a 9-inch round pan, then line the bottom with a round of parchment and lightly butter that. Inspired by the ciambellone, I then coated my pan with granulated sugar instead of the usual flour, knocking out any excess sugar from the pan. As well as keeping the cake from sticking to the pan, the sugar forms a delicious sort of delicate crust on the outside of your cake that is absolutely delightful.
  3. Add your sugar to a large bowl.
  4. Zest the lemon directly into the sugar. Using your fingertips, rub the zest into the sugar until the mixture resembles wet sand; this releases the essential oils from the zest, so you really capture all that zingy, lemony flavor.
  5. Add 3/4 cup (150 g) of sugar and the eggs and whisk until pale and foamy, about 1 minute.
  6. Add the sour cream, butter, rosemary, vanilla, and kosher salt. Whisk until smooth. With the rosemary, it sort of looked like I was making an omlette at this point. I promise you aren’t.
  7. Add the flour, currants, baking powder, and baking soda to the bowl and stir with a rubber spatula until well-combined and smooth.
  8. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, tap the pan gently on the counter to release any air bubbles, and smooth the top of the batter with your spatula, if needed. Sprinkle the remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar and a dash of flaky salt over the top. The flaky salt here is optional; I didn’t feel the need to add it this time around, but if you like that sweet-and-salty thing, go for it, just don’t go wild — a little pinch scattered evenly across the top of the cake is sufficient.
  9. Bake the cake until puffed and golden, and a tester (toothpick!) inserted into the center comes out clean, 30–40 minutes.
  10. Set the pan on a rack to cool. After about 15 minutes, run a butter knife along the edge of your cake to make sure it releases cleanly from the pan, and gently turn the cake out of the pan. Peel off the parchment round from the bottom of the cake, and flip it back right-side-up onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
  11. Once cool, you can store the cake, well-wrapped or in Tupperware, at room temperature for up to three days. It’s possibly delicious even longer, but we’ve never gone past the three-day mark in my house. Oops.

Happy snacking!

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