It was Saturday - the beginning of the weekend, but the end of vacation. The streets were lined with discarded, naked Christmas trees, serving as an unwelcome reminder of holidays past. We walked towards home, numb fingers and rosy cheeks, trying to focus less on what was fast approaching, and more on the present moment. Dreaming of something to lift our spirits, my mind settled on cake - cake with bright, citrus flavors to oppose such gray feelings. I made a promise to myself to move slowly, and to relish in the joy of doing something that I love. Yet, I found it hard to shake the gloom that had rooted itself within me.
And so I found myself in a pattern that I often do in the beginning of a new year. The cheer of celebration and anticipation of untapped opportunities that define the final days of December and first days of January, fade into a less ambitious reality. Goals and dreams that seemed so palpable, suddenly seem distant and unattainable. Confidence and drive slam against a wall of self doubt and fear.
I pour my carefully prepared batter into a springform pan, open the oven, and lift. The spring on my pan releases, and in a cliched metaphor for my slipping ambition, I watch in shock as the batter flows, without restraint, from my hands. Batter covers the stove, spreading almost greedily to the floor - as to say, yup, you failed. The promise of a cake, gone - an opportunity, missed; a goal, unmet - and with it my confidence. The symbolism was staring me in the face.
With a nod of recognition, I picked myself up and started again. I made that cake. I made two cakes, actually. And, with those two triumphs born from one failure, I taught myself a timely lesson amidst a cloud of self doubt. Failure hurts - it's merciless and cold. But, I'm stronger - we're all stronger. And, if we stare that failure in the face and push on, we'll have a greater success to show for it.
Here's to a year of letting my hurt confidence drive my determination. I hope you'll join me.
Olive Oil Citrus Cake
This cake recipe comes from Maialino Restaurant in New York City. I made a few slight changes, and added a glaze and candied citrus slices, which I found even further brightened the herbaceous flavors of the olive oil in the cake. If you've never tried olive oil cake before, I highly recommend that you give it a try. Its laden with moisture - almost similar in texture to a bread pudding - and deep flavor.
for the glaze:
1 cup confectioner's sugar
1/4 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 vanilla bean [split lengthwise and scrape out the seeds]
Whisk all ingredients together until smooth. The glaze should be runny, but thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. You can adjust the thickness by adding additional orange juice or confectioner's sugar, if needed.
for the candied citrus:
recipe from Food & Wine
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
1 orange [or lemon, or grapefruit], sliced crosswise very thinly [about 1/8-inch]
In a medium sauté pan, combine cup sugar and cup water and bring to a boil. Add the orange slices, in a single layer [the edges of the slices can be slightly overlapping, but you want them mostly in a single layer - if your pan is too small, just split into batches, adding 1 1/2 cup water and 1/2 cup sugar for each batch]. Simmer over medium heat, flipping slices occasionally, until mixture starts to appear syrupy and slices are translucent [about 20 minutes]. Lower heat to medium-low and simmer until the mixture reaches a thick syrup [about 10 additional minutes]. Carefully remove slices from pan [they should still hold together, but will be very delicate], and transfer to a wire rack to cool. I found that my syrup was too reduced at this point to save, but if yours isn't, I'm sure it would be lovely in a cocktail. [note: I made one batch of candied orange and one of lemon, and had plenty slices left over after garnishing two cakes].
for the cake:
recipe slightly adapted from Maialino Restaurant
2 cups cake flour or all-purpose flour [cake flour will result in a slightly more delicate cake, which I like with the moisture-rich texture of olive oil cake]
1 3/4 cups sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/3 cups extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 large eggs
1 1/2 tablespoons grated orange zest
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1/4 cup Grand Marnier
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch cake pan that is at least 2 inches deep, and dust with flour. [If your cake pan is less the 2 inches deep, divide the batter between 2 pans - I ended up dividing between an 8-inch and a 5-inch pan].
In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and baking powder. In a large bowl, whisk the olive oil, milk, eggs, orange zest, orange juice, and Grand Marnier until fully combined. Add the dry ingredients and whisk until just combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan[s] and bake until the cake is golden and a cake tester or toothpick comes out clean - this should take about 1 hour for one 9-inch cake. I found my 5-inch cake was finished around 40-45 minutes, and my 8-inch cake closer to 50 minutes.
Run a knife around the edge of the pan, invert the cake onto a rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
Once cake is cooled, drizzle with glaze and top with candied citrus slices, if desired. Enjoy!