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Guest Blogger: Krissy’s Honey Chai-Spice Cake with Caramelized Autumn Fruits

The lovely Krissy is a globe-trotting India-phile, who has spent several summers in the Tamil-speaking region of the country. She wants to share with you some tricks she’s picked up on her adventures there.

honey spice cake


Everything I cook (or eat) lately is somehow inspired by my food experiences in Tamil Nadu, South India, where I lived the past two summers. Whenever I grab a Starbucks latte while rushing to class, I fondly think back to lazing around in the afternoon heat drinking ten-cent “kapi,” which achieves a similar frothy-top effect sans espresso machine by pouring steaming hot milk coffee back and forth—the higher the better (here’s proof!)—between a stainless-steel tumbler and bowl. And whenever I sit down with a plate and fork, I think of the small “mess” restaurants where I’d be served unlimited piles of rice and vegetables on a banana leaf and eat it with my hands. What to do when it’s 40 degrees, blustery, and the grocery stores are filled with pumpkins and squash?

As I was deciding what to bake tonight, I surveyed my meager stock of baking ingredients, which happens to be rather disproportionately represented by Indian options. My eyes fell upon three things in particular: a jar of raw honey that has been absolutely begging to be used up, chai spice (from Milwaukee’s The Spice House, which is certainly worth a visit if you’re ever in that part of the Midwest), and a bunch of cardamom pods (move over, nutmeg!!). I’d never heard of honey cake before, but this recipe I found seemed promising and extremely versatile, so I decided to heat it up with my two Indian ingredients: chai spice and cardamom. The subtle kick of cardamom added a perfect balance to a topping of caramelized autumn fruit, and the chai spice added much-needed diversity to the lonely cinnamon that was carrying the weight of this cake. The cake itself ends up having a pleasant chewy almost caramel-like surface and a moist interior. Since Thanksgiving has just passed, I went for a topping of the autumn classics: caramelized apples, pears, and some cranberries, and I’d highly recommend “cooling it off” with vanilla ice cream! (And maybe pairing it with apple cider?) But I’d imagine you could put any spin on it that you wanted, depending on the season or your mood. Bunches of oats, perhaps?

caramelized fruit

Honey Chai-Spice Cake
adapted from Martha Stewart’s Honey Cake with Caramelized Pears

Unsalted butter, softened, for pan
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
a pinch coarse salt
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp. chai spice
2 large eggs
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/4 c. packed light-brown sugar
1/2 c. plus 2 tablespoons best-quality honey
1/2 c. milk
1/2 c. vegetable oil
Carmelized Autumn Fruits (recipe to follow)
Freshly whipped cream, or ice cream for serving (optional)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8×8 inch baking pan. Dust with flour; tap out excess. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt, cinnamon, and chai spice in a bowl; set aside. Mix eggs and sugars until pale and thick, about 3 minutes.

Whisk together honey, milk, and oil. (For this, I needed to melt down my raw honey.) With mixer on low, add honey mixture to egg mixture; mix until combined, about 1 minute. Add half the flour mixture; mix until smooth. Mix in remaining flour mixture. Pour batter into pan. (The batter may be thinner than you are used to—never fear! It should bake up just right.)

Bake until dark golden brown and a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Let cool in pan 15 minutes. Run a thin knife around edge of cake; carefully remove sides of pan. Transfer cake to a platter. Top with fruit. Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.

Caramelized Autumn Fruits

1 tbsp. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar (white or brown)
1 3/4 lbs. red Anjou pears/Apples cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (or 1/4-inch-thick wedges if firm)
Handful cranberries (for color)
1/4 c. best-quality honey
2 green cardamom pods
a few dashes chai spice

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add sugar, cardamom pods, and chai spice; cook, stirring, until almost dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. (A note about cardamom pods: often in Indian cooking, you let flavors “seep” into a liquid and you let that liquid flavor the dish. This, as far as I can tell, is what “tempering” means, e.g. adding tempering oil to chutneys. And similarly with Indian sweets, cardamom pods are often thrown whole into the milk to infuse it with a light flavor—this is the method I used here. If you would like a more intense cardamom flavor, you can break the pods open and add the seeds or buy powdered cardamom and add a few pinches.) Add fruit; cook, stirring occasionally, until soft and just golden, 12 to 20 minutes. Pour in honey; cook, stirring, until fruit is coated and very soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Remove the cardamom pods before serving.

(Guest Blogger) Swedish Pancakes with the Swedish Chef

Yesterday, Joel schooled me in the joys of Swedish dessertery. Turns out, Swedes can flip a mean pancake!

My flipping skills could use a little work, but these pancakes are super easy and delicious.

Dispatch from the Swedish Chef:

This weekend I got an extra day by virtue of some failed brakes, and the trains to Indiana being down for construction. The thunderstorms had already come and gone, and although I think Chicago weather reported those storms to be coming from the east, in my limited experience the lighting I left behind in South Bend was only anomalously related to that of Chicago. I’m Swedish, and when I was a kid and caught inside all day, Swedish pancakes (pannkakor) made by my mom were worth waiting for even more than the storm’s pass.

Joel teaching his brother how it's done

swedish chef in training

Swedish Chef in training

In fact, the pancakes Kate and I made on Sunday just may have brought the sun with them. Since it’s still in the forties though, the old Swedish tradition of pea soup and pancakes (which, since the Middle Ages, have been eaten on Thursdays before the Friday fast- and are still served on that day in Swedish cafés, sans Catholicism) is perfect for taking the edge off whatever spring transition might have caught you unawares.

Our cooking was aided by the virtuoso pop dramatist Jens Lekman:

Swedish Pancakes
2 ägg (2 eggs)
6 dl mjölk (2 2/3 c. milk)
3 dl mjöl (1 1/3 c. flour)
1 msk smör (1 tbsp. butter)

3 dl = 1 1/3 cup

In a large mixing bowl crack 2 eggs, and add 1 1/3 cups milk. Whisk and then add 1 1/3 cups flour- whisk that in, and then add another 1 1/3 cups milk- whisk again. This can be made before the soup and put in the fridge. When you turn the frying pan on begin by melting one tablespoon of butter- add that to the batter.

The pan should be quite hot. Add enough batter so that when you twirl the pan it reaches to the edges. Swedish pancakes are slightly thicker than French crepes, but are by no means American pancakes. We did notice bubbles though, or little translucent areas in the middle. That’s good. After a couple minutes loosen the edges of the pancake with a spatula, until you find your way under it and flip! The loosening is the most difficult part, and expect it to take practice. The underside of the pancake should have brown rings or spots. Don’t use the spatula to even out the flipped pancake unless necessary, rather lift the pan up and shake the pancake flat. It shouldn’t take more than a minute on its second side. Then flip it onto a plate to stack. You can fold into quarter size in the pan first if you like. Or just feed it directly to whoever’s waiting. (My younger brother and I would shingle our pancake consumption as Mamma served us from the pan.)

Pannkakor can be sweetened with lemon juice and sugar, or your favorite jam, watered down a bit in a small bowl. (We used blackberry, and strawberry is classic.) Spread the topping down the middle of your pancake in a line and fold over there and then roll the same way you folded. It was a great pleasure as a child to just feed this tube into my mouth with bare hands, but now I get a comparable kick from the ruse of sophistication provided by knives and forks.

Lemon Pound Cake with Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries

pound cake balsamic strawberries

Traditionally, pound cake is made with a pound of butter, a pound of sugar, a pound of eggs, and a pound of flour. Essentially that’s four pounds of crazy. Who can eat all that? This version is much more manageable: loaf size. It’s not a cake of the super moist variety, but has a consistency more like a breakfast bread. As such, it holds up beautifully to the marinated strawberries. The balance of zingy and sweet here is delightful. Balsamic and strawberries are a genius combination that I was introduced to by Kat Santore many moons ago. Thanks, Kat!


Lemon Pound Cake with Balsamic-Marinated Strawberries

1 lb. strawberries, rinsed, hulled, and sliced
juice of 1 lemon
1/2 c. balsamic vinegar
1/4 c. sugar.

Combine all ingredients well and let sit in the fridge while you make the pound cake. The longer, the better. With a slotted spoon, spoon the strawberries on top of each slice of cake to serve.

lemon pound cake

Lemon Pound Cake
1/2 c. light brown sugar
1/2 c. white granulated sugar
2 sticks butter
4 eggs
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 tbsp. lemon zest
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking powder
2/4 tsp. salt

Preheat oven to 350.

Grease and flour a loaf pan.

In a large bowl, beat sugar and butter until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time. Add lemon extract and zest.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking, powder, and salt. Gradually add to the sugar mixture.

Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake for an hour, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

lemon pound cake

Bourbon-Pecan Oatmeal Cookies

Sometimes I feel like an audience member for Emeril Live: when a recipe calls for liquor or gahlic, I can’t help but cheer wildly.

Which is why I chose this recipe: bourbon. Gorgeous, warm, coat-your-bones bourbon. Firey intestines. Front porch, rocking chair. Sunny afternoons. I feel the same way about sunshine as I do about bourbon; that is, I approve of them both mightily. And today was a doozy of a sunny day. Naomi and I took an after-lunch walk to Washington Park, found a pond, and tried to identify the delicate-blue pelt covering the new green grass (bluebells). The sun is still a bit crisp, but generous.

Combined with the roasted pecans and the bourbon vanilla I used, these cookies have a lovely front-porch, sunny-day flair.

Bourbon Pecan Oatmeal Cookies
from Bakewise by Shirley O. Corriher

2 c. pecans
1/2 c. plus 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, divided
1 tsp. salt
2 c. old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats
1/4 c. shortening
1 c. light brown sugar, packed
1 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 tbsp. bourbon (the best part)
2 tbsp. heavy cream
1 large egg
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
nonstick cooking spray
parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread the pecans on a baking sheet and roast for 10 minutes. While they are hot, transfer to a bowl and stir in 2 tbsp. of butter and sprinkle with 1/4 tsp. of salt. When cool, coarsely chop and set aside.

Process the oats in a food processor with the steel blade for about 10 seconds.

With a mixer, beat the remaining 1/2 c. butter, shortening, and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla, bourbon, and cream. Add the egg and beat just to blend.

In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, 3/4 tsp. salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg. On the lowest speed, add flour mixture into butter mixture in several portions. Stir in the oats and pecans by hand.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Drop by heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet. Bake one sheet at a time for about 10 minutes, until puffy and lightly browned on the edges. Move to a cooling rack.

Mocha Custard

Hello chocolate. Hello creamy shot of seratonin to my brain. Custards, mousses (meese?), puddings–anything creamy and rich sends me into hog heaven. This recipe is no exception. Jen passed it along to me after raving about it, and she adapted from the good ol’ Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook.

I made it to go with my chipotle tacos. It was a lovely accompaniment, as well as a nod to the long history of cacao in Mexico (documented as far back as 1100 BC, with the word deriving from Nahuatl).

It made a whole lot of custard–or perhaps my ramekins are especially small for this recipe. Either way, equip yourself for a hearty dose of luscious milky mocha.

Mocha Custard

Adapted from Better Homes and Gardens Cookbook, via Jen (the Soupista)
Makes 6

2 1/4 c. milk
1/3 c. sugar
3 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tbsp. instant coffee
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 eggs, whisked
1 1/2 tsp. vanilla

Topping: Bailey’s + Heavy whipping cream, whole coffee beans

Preheat oven to 325.

Heat milk, sugar, cocoa, coffee and cinnamon, stirring until just dissolved. Pour into mixing bowl with eggs and vanilla (preferably bowl with pour spout). Beat for a few minutes.

Put 6 custard cups (or ramekins or coffee cups) into a deep baking dish. Divide mixture among cups. Pour boiling water around cups to depth of 1 inch. Bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Cool on wire rack. Cover and chill at least 2 hours before serving (will keep for about 24 hours). Garnish with cream whipped with baileys and whole coffee beans.

Kung Pao Feast and Fortune Cookies

Siggy and Sara and I used to go to Big Bowl in Gold Coast a lot when Siggy lived there, and Siggy would order Kung Pao Chicken EVERY SINGLE TIME. So, when I found the recipe in a cookbook called Spices of Life, I knew I’d have to make it for her. And what better time than her birthday? A few weeks ago, we got together at Sara’s and had a feast. Angela made fortune cookies and Sizchuan green beans and Sara made a tofu version of the kung pao (using the same ingredients as those called for in the chicken marinade, and soaking the tofu overnight). What a spread!

tofu version

Wikipedia tells me that it was politically incorrect until the 1980s to refer to this dish as Kung Pao in China, as it’s named after Ding Baozhen, a Qing Dynasty official (“kung pao” is derived from his title as palace guardian), who fell out of favor during the Cultural Revolution. In China, they call this dish fast-fried-chicken-cubes (hong bao ji ding). So, please enjoy these delicious fast fried chicken cubes, which are much easier to make than I’d thought. Or, as Angela put it: A delightful East meets West concoction, devoid of hatred and full of home-cooked energies.

Kung Pao Chicken (or Tofu)
from Nina Simonds’s Spices of LIfe

1 1/2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken meat (I used thighs)
(or extra firm tofu)

2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tsp. cornstarch
4 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

2 tbsp. minced scallions
1 1/2 tbsp. minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. hot chile paste or dried chile flakes, to taste
1 1/2 c. thinly sliced water chestnuts, about 8 oz.

1/2 c. chicken broth or water
2 1/2 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
1 tbsp. Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce
1 1/4 tsp. cornstarch

1 c. diced scallion greens
1 1/2 c. unsalted dry-roasted peanuts

Trim the chicken of any fat or gristle and cut into 1/2-inch cubes. Place in a bowl. Add the marinade and toss lightly to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 20 minutes.

Heat a wok or a skillet, add 2 1/2 tbsp. of oil, heat until very hot, and add the chicken. Cook over high heat until the chicken becomes opaque and is cooked, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove with a strainer and drain. Wipe out the pan.

Add the remaining oil and heat until hot. Add the seasonings and stir-fry briefly, about 15 seconds, then add the water chestnuts and stir-fry over high heat for about 1 1/2 minutes to heat through. Add the sauce and cook, stirring continuously to prevent lumps, until thickened. Return the cooked chicken to the pan and add the scallion greens and the peanuts. Toss lightly to coat and heat through. Serve with steamed rice.

Spicy Sichuan-Style Green Beans
from Nina Simmonds’s Spices of Life

2 1/2 lb. green beans, rinsed and drained
2 1/2 tbsp. olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp. minced scallions, white part only
2 tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. hot chile paste or dried chile flakes

3/4 c. chicken broth
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 1/2 tbsp. rice wine or sake
1 1/2 tbsp. sugar
1 tsp. toasted sesame oil
2 tsp. Chinese black vinegar or Worcestershire sauce
1 1/4 tsp. cornstarch

1/2 c. toasted sliced almonds for garnish

Trim the ends of the beans and cut the beans into 3-inch lenths.

Bring water to a boil in a medium pot. Add the green beans adn bring to a boil again. Reduce the heat to medium and cook uncovered for about 8 minutes, or until almost cooked but still crisp. Drain in a colander and refresh in cold water. Drain again.

Heat a wok or a deep skillet, add the oil and heat until hot. Add the seasonings. Stir-fry briefly, about 15 seconds, then add the sauce. Bring to a boil, stirring continuously to prevent lumps, until thickened. Return the cooked green beans to the pan, toss lightly to coat, and scoop onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds.

Fortune Cookies…from Angela:

In keeping with the Chinese food-themed celebration of our dear Sigela, I offered to make fortune cookies. While I have many strengths (yelling imaginative profanities; delivering swift justice; dancing poorly), baking is not one of them and I was afraid I had bitten off more than I could chew (another one of my strengths). Nevertheless, I found this recipe very easy to put together, and after my first trial batch, I’d like to think I could medal in The North American Fortune Cookie Folding Finals. But practice makes perfect!  I highly recommend making a trial batch before you go for the gold.

Fortune Cookies
From Martha Stewart (

5 tbsp. unsalted butter
4 large egg whites
1 c. superfine sugar
1 c. all-purpose flour, sifted
Pinch of salt
3 tbsp. heavy cream
1 tsp. almond extract
Nonstick cooking spray

Heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray a cookie sheet liberally with cooking spray (Note: For my first batch I made sure to spray the cookie sheet, but found that it was more wasteful than anything. There’s enough butter in here that your cookies shouldn’t stick if you’re using a non-stick sheet).  Melt butter in a small saucepan over low heat; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer (Note: I blended everything by hand and it came out just fine.) combine egg whites and sugar, and beat on medium speed, about 30 seconds. Add flour and salt, and beat until combined. Add butter, heavy cream, and almond extract, and beat until combined, about 30 seconds.

Using a regular teaspoon, spoon a glob of batter onto one half of the baking sheet, and spread with the back of the spoon into a thin 5-inch circle; repeat on the other half of the sheet.  (The tricky part is ensuring that the batter is spread evenly enough.) Bake until the edges of the cookies turn golden brown.  Martha suggests 8 minutes, but I found that 6 minutes was plenty of time in the oven.

Transfer baking sheet to a heat-resistant surface. Working as quickly as possible, slide a spatula under the cookies and place on a clean kitchen towel. Using your fingers, fold the cookie in half, pinching the top together to form a loose semicircle. Hold the cookie with your index fingers inserted at each open end, and slide your thumbs together along the bottom line. Press into the center of the cookie while bending the two open ends together and down to form the shape of a fortune cookie. This whole process should take about 10 seconds. Once the cookie hardens, which begins to happen almost immediately, you cannot fold it. Place the fortune cookie on the kitchen towel to cool, and shape the second cookie. Repeat until all the batter is used up. To speed up the process, bake four cookies at a time, staggering two cookie sheets by 4 minutes to give you time to shape. To avoid wasting batter, practice folding with a circle of paper first.

Write your message on a long strip of sturdy art paper. If you’re hardcore, you can place a strip of paper in the center of the cookie after you’ve baked it but before you fold it, but really I just rolled up a strip of paper and tucked it inside one of it’s cone-y halves.

Stay tuned! I intend to create a vegan version very soon…

Juliette’s Best Cocoa Brownies

My lovely friend Juliette has been living in Panama for the past three years, first as a Peace Corps volunteer, and now as a new mom to a gorgeous Panamanian-Californian baby named Adrian. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to go visit her in her idyllic, green village–a remote community that requires an hour and a half hike to reach (no road).

She’s now living in town, so hiking boots and a horse are no longer required to visit her.

When I was there, she made me hot chocolate directly from a cacao pod, with a bit of milk and sugar. It was the most concentrated chocolateness I’d ever experienced–bitter, rich, coating my tongue. Needless to say, Juliette does not take chocolate lightly. Her trick for amazing brownies is all in the cocoa. Her notes below:

I would recommend leaving out up to a 1/2 cup of sugar for those bakers who prefer brownies with more emphasis on the chocolate than on the sugar. I followed the recipe exactly and they almost tasted like fudge because they were so sweet, though the texture was absolutely perfect. The chocolate I used was 100% cacao from a farmer in Bocas del Toro. Cacao producers working with Peace Corps volunteers can always make a bit of money selling chocolate to all of the PC folks throughout the country. Needless to say, it’s in high demand! This last batch of cacao I bought has notes of cinnamon, so the brownies came out with the same flavor– pretty delish! The recipe is below. I got it off of, but I believe the original recipe is from Bon Appetit.

Best Cocoa Brownies

10 tbsp. (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. sugar
3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-process)
1/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cold large eggs
1/2 c. all-purpose flour
2/3 c. walnut or pecan pieces (optional)
Special equipment: An 8-inch square baking pan

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.

Line the bottom and sides of the baking pan with parchment paper or foil, leaving an overhang on two opposite sides.

Combine the butter, sugar, cocoa, and salt in a medium heatproof bowl and set the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Stir from time to time until the butter is melted and the mixture is smooth and hot enough that you want to remove your finger fairly quickly after dipping it in to test.

Remove the bowl from the skillet and set aside briefly until the mixture is only warm, not hot. Stir in the vanilla with a wooden spoon. Add the eggs one at a time, stirring vigorously after each one. When the batter looks thick, shiny, and well blended, add the flour and stir until you cannot see it any longer, then beat vigorously for 40 strokes with the wooden spoon or a rubber spatula. Stir in the nuts, if using.

Spread evenly in the lined pan. Bake until a toothpick plunged into the center emerges slightly moist with batter, 20 to 25 minutes. Let cool completely on a rack. Lift up the ends of the parchment or foil liner, and transfer the brownies to a cutting board. Cut into 16 or 25 squares.

Chocolate note: Any unsweetened natural or Dutch-process cocoa powder works well here. Natural cocoa produces brownies with more flavor complexity and lots of tart, fruity notes. I think it’s more exciting. Dutch-process cocoa results in a darker brownie with a mellower, old-fashioned chocolate pudding flavor, pleasantly reminiscent of childhood.