Monthly Archives

November 2017

book review, recipe

The Red Tent + Honeyed Cake

Anita Diamant’s The Red Tent has been on my radar since I read The Boston Girl earlier this year. Several people recommended it to me, so I bought it at my library’s used book sale in the spring. I finally got around to reading it, and though I was expecting a bit of a grueling read – it’s set in biblical times – I was pleasantly surprised.

In this piece of historical fiction, Diamant explores the life of Dinah, who is briefly mentioned in the Bible as the only daughter of Jacob (father of a dozen sons). The Red Tent starts with the story of Dinah’s mothers, the four wives of Jacob – Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah – and continues into her life as she grows up and leaves the land of her father.

For the most part, the lives of women are glossed over in the Bible, and this novel takes an interesting look at what life might’ve been like for a woman of that time. It gives several strong female characters a voice when the book in which Dinah first appears did not and thoughtfully portrays the unique relationships that women have with one another. It also offers a different, and dare-I-say feminist, perspective on a Christian narrative in which things may not have been exactly as depicted.

In Jacob’s camp – which is how I thought of it, as it was rambling and full of tents and animals – the family usually ate quite well. In an interview Diamant said, “There’s a lot of food in The Red Tent…To not write about food…is to not talk about women’s experience.” They depend on the land for food, and the selection seemed quite abundant. There is mention of olives, lamb, figs, pomegranates, barley, mint, and of course, honeyed cake.

Honeyed cake, in fact, was mentioned a few times, and though it was given little description, I was intrigued. I wanted to make it try it myself. After a Google search, I finally settled on a recipe from Genius Kitchen for a recipe that seemingly dripped with honey. (And drip with honey, it did!)

To start, I combined the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and some orange zest. The orange zest smelled absolutely amazing while I prepared the rest of the ingredients.

In a different bowl, I creamed the butter with the sugar and then added in the four eggs, one at a time. To these ingredients, I added the dry mix, mixing just until incorporated. Then, I added the chopped walnuts.

I poured the batter into a prepared square pan and set it to bake for 40 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Meanwhile, I began making the honey sauce. This recipe uses quite a bit of honey, which can be expensive, but otherwise the ingredients are pretty run-of-the-mill baking ingredients. Still, we used almost half of this little honey bear.

In a saucepan, I combined 1 cup of honey, 1 cup of white sugar and ¾ cup of water. I let it simmer for about 5 minutes before adding the lemon juice and bringing it to a boil. Please use a medium-sized saucepan. When it gets boiling, it can boil over easily and quickly – it’s not as easy to tame as boiling water. And it’s possible you’ll get a sticky mess all over your stove, like I happened to do. Anyway, once it was finished cooking for 2 minutes, I removed it from the heat, where it say until the cake was ready.

After the cake finished baking, I removed it from the oven and allowed it to cool for 15 minutes.

I then cut it into triangles. The original recipe recommends diamonds, but I’ll admit I wasn’t sure how to accomplish that. I’m not sure shape matters that much, though the more cuts, the more honey will soak through the cake. Regardless, after cutting the cake, I covered it with honey sauce. I used about a third at a time and did my best to allow it to soak in before covering it with the next third. (This requires some patience.)

I found the cake to taste a bit like Fruit Loops (probably from the orange zest). Overall, it was quite good but very sticky.

Greek Honey Cake

  • Servings: 12
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon orange zest
  • ¾ cup butter
  • ¾ cup white sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup milk
  • 1 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • ¾ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange rind. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts.
  3. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes, then cut into diamond shapes. Pour honey syrup over the cake.
  4. For the Honey Syrup: In a saucepan, combine honey, 1 cup sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes.


of interest

Show Us Your Books – November 2017

Happy Tuesday, everyone! It’s time for another edition of Show Us Your Books, where I briefly recap what I’ve read since last time, giving you a sneak peek of what I might be reviewing on the blog next. What’s really exciting about this month’s edition is that there were a lot of books I was really into. It was a good month 🙂 Let’s take a quick look!

Linkup Guidelines:
This linkup happens the second Tuesday of every month. The next is Tuesday, December 12, 2017.
1. Please visit and comment with both of your hosts, Jana & Steph
2. Please display the button or link back to me and the linkup hosts on your blog post
3. Please visit a few other blogs who’ve linked up and get some book talk going!

Last Month’s Edition

 

Engrossing Reads

The Rules of Magic – This prequel was one of the books I was really excited about this month. I read and post about Alice Hoffman’s Practical Magic in anticipation, and I scooped this one up from the library the first day it was available (thank you, waitlists!). I adored this much more than I thought I would. You can read my review here and check out a delicious recipe for Tipsy Chocolate Cake while you’re at it.

The Word Exchange – This debut novel by Alena Graedon combines our dependence on technology and the importance of language in a dystopian way that’s truly haunting. We read this for one of my book clubs, and even though we met almost two weeks ago, I still think about it almost every day. Admittedly, it started out a little slow, but just two chapters in and I was hooked. Keep an eye out for my review later this month!

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance – I gushed about this book last week, and today it’s available to own! My post about Ruth Emmie Lang’s novel says a lot, so I encourage you to pop on over and read it here. I adored this imaginative story, and I know you will too. 🙂

They Both Die at the End – Since reading this novel, I’ve read some mixed reviews, but that doesn’t change how I felt about Adam Silvera’s young adult dystopian novel. Imagine a world where you knew exactly which day you would die but not how – on the morning of your death, you get a phone call with the warning and are instructed to make the most of it. That’s the premise behind this novel, and I devoured it in a single day. Even though the title is basically a spoiler, I appreciated that the ending wasn’t what I was expecting.

Passed the Time Just Fine

Turtles All the Way Down – John Green’s latest novel (also YA) was released to much fanfare. While I really enjoyed it, it wasn’t my favorite this month – it had a lot of stiff competition. I still like The Fault in Our Stars the best of all his work, and I can’t resist picking up a new John Green whenever one is released. This book takes on the important topic of mental health, and honestly, it’s executed expertly. Definitely worth a read.

Little Fires Everywhere – This is another novel that’s been getting a lot of attention since it’s recent release. Having enjoyed Celeste Ng’s previous book, I was absolutely looking forward to reading this one, which many people have said is better. For me, it was 3 stars (not a bad thing!). I liked getting immersed in the world of Shaker Heights that Ng described, and I thought the characters were very interesting. I just finished it this past weekend, and it’s possible that the more I think about it, the more I’ll like it. Another one I’d recommend – especially if you like keeping up with the latest in contemporary fiction.

Not Worth It

Nothing – way too many great reads this month! (But here’s looking at you, currently reading category…)

 

Did Not Finish

The Refrigerator Monologues – I was pretty excited about this book’s combination of feminism and superheroes. It was pretty short, and I thought I could power through, but I read about 25% of the book and still wasn’t feeling it. I had a lot of books I was really looking forward to in the TBR pile, so I just let this one go.

 

Currently Reading

The Power – I’m trying to save my judgments of this novel until the end, but I’m almost finished – last 100 pages to go! I will say that so far, I’m underwhelmed by Naomi Alderman’s dystopia. (Wow, I’ve read a lot of dystopia this month…) I was expecting amazing things, but I’ll admit I’ve put it down to read a few other books since starting it. I just picked it up again after finishing LFE and I’m determined to finish.

What did you read this month? Which books did you enjoy most? Least? I’d love to hear your recommendations!

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.

 

book review, recipe

Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance + Sponge Cake with Forest Berries

One of my favorite things about Book of the Month (among the many) is the opportunity members sometimes get to read a book before it’s released to the rest of the world. Ruth Emmie Lang’s wonderfully unexpected novel Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance, which will be released next week on November 14th, was one of the October selections, and honestly, I was planning to share this post with you then, but I enjoyed this book so immensely, I couldn’t wait.

Lang’s imaginative novel follows Weylen Grey, a young orphan who was raised by wolves, as he grows up and travels the country looking for his true home. Each section of the story (set in a new year and different location) is told by those around Weylen – young Mary who befriends him in the woods while making deliveries for her father; a teacher who is taken aback by the student refusing to sit in a desk; an inexperienced mayor whose town is faced with an impending hurricane.

Judge Steph Ortiz, who chose this book for BOTM, described Beasts as “so comfortable and uplifting” and said it was “exactly the book [she] needed right now, and it made [her] so happy [she] wanted to howl at the moon.” After finishing the phenomenal The Rules of Magic, I was ready to be swept away again. A book that made me extraordinarily happy was exactly what I was looking for, and this one didn’t disappoint!

Unlike many of the other books I recommend, which while amazing are often full of tough topics, this novel left me with a wonderfully cozy feeling, and seriously, if you haven’t stopped and pre-ordered it yet, I’d suggest you do so now. It’s an excellent debut; I can’t wait to see what else Lang cooks up in the future.

Speaking of cooking (you had to know that was coming, right?), I decided to whip up a whimsical dessert to go along with this fairy tale novel. On one of her visits to the forest to see Weylen, Mary brings with her a freshly baked sponge cake, which they eat with hand-picked berries. I found a slightly fancy-sounding but down-to-earth-looking sponge cake recipe from Vikalinka and knew it would be a perfect fit.     

The only tweak I made to her recipe was to add some additional berries to the compote (and in decorating). In fact, I started by making the berry compote, adding the raspberries and blackberries to a small saucepan with a touch of water and some sugar. After about 15 minutes, I smushed the berries up a bit because there didn’t seem to be much thickening occurring. I let it continue cooking for another 10 minutes or so before following the rest of the directions. I used my food processor to blend the mixture until smooth, pushed it through a fine sieve and set it aside.

To make the cake, I started by preheating my oven to 350 degrees F and greasing my cake pans. (I didn’t line them with parchment paper, like the original recipe directs, but I didn’t have any issues getting the cakes out of my pans once they were cooled.)

In a large bowl, I mixed the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, adding the eggs one at a time and mixing for about a minute each. Finally, I added the vanilla and lemon zest.

In a separate bowl, I combined my dry ingredients, sifting together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. I added the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mixing well. The end result was a very thick batter (according to Vikalinka, it should be the consistency of buttercream frosting).

I scooped approximately half into each cake pan and then used my kitchen scale to ensure they were even (about 2 pounds each, including the pan). It wasn’t specified in the original recipe, but I had some minor concerns they wouldn’t spread out due to thickness, so I used a scraper to spread the batter as evenly as I could in each pan. Then, the cakes went into the oven for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, I made the mascarpone cream. I used a hand mixer to whip the chilled mascarpone with the powdered sugar and vanilla extract for about 2 minutes. To that mixture, I added the whipping cream and whipped for a few more minutes until it was stiff. I covered the bowl and put it in the fridge to stay cool while the cake finished baking and cooled.

Once the cakes were out of the oven, I allowed them to cool on a baking rack for 20 minutes, before turning them out so they could cool completely. I was a bit nervous about assembly (since I’m not usually the best cake decorator), but this cake features a very unfussy decor and is perfect for an imprecise decorator such as myself.

To start, I placed one of the cooled cakes on a cake stand. I covered that with a thick layer of the mascarpone cream (I ended up having a little bit left… it seemed like a lot when I was decorating).

On top of the layer of cream, I poured the berry compote and spread it a bit with a cake spreader. (Mine ended up being somewhat thinner than it appeared in the original recipe, but it still tasted delicious, and made for a lovely garnish on the plate afterward.) Atop the filling, I added the second cake and began the decorating process. I used some of the leftover cream on about half of the cake, used leftover berries to make a design and dusted the whole thing with a bit of powdered sugar.

The finished cake may not have been as gorgeous as I had hoped, but it still looked impressive (in my opinion). More importantly, it tasted amazing. This is definitely a cake I’d like to try again.

Sponge Cake with Forest Berry Compote

  • Servings: 8
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 1⅕ cup blackberries and raspberries
  • ⅕ cup sugar
  • 2 tbs water
  • 1 cup butter, softened and unsalted
  • 1⅓ cup granulated sugar
  • 4 eggs, large
  • 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or extract, divided
  • 1¾ cup flour
  • 2½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp baking soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 cup mascarpone, chilled
  • ¼ cup powdered sugar
  • ¾ cup whipping cream

To make the forest berry compote

  1. In a small saucepan combine berries, sugar and water. Smash berries and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until the syrup coats a spoon.
  2. Remove from the heat and process in a food processor or a blender until smooth.
  3. Push through a fine sieve to get rid of the seeds and set aside.

To make the cake

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, grease two 8″ round cake pans and line with parchment paper, set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a stand mixer cream softened butter with sugar until light and fluffy.
  3. Start adding eggs one by one, whipping until well combined after each addition for about a minute.
  4. Add 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/extract and lemon zest.
  5. Combine sifted flour, baking soda and powder and salt in a separate bowl.
  6. Add dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix well, stopping the mixer and scraping sides and the bottom of the bowl.
  7. Divide the batter between two pans. Weigh them to get exactly the same cake in size.
  8. Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes or until cake tester comes out clean.
  9. Remove from the oven and set on a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes, then remove from the pan and cool completely.

To make the mascarpone cream

  1. Whip chilled mascarpone with powdered sugar and 1 tsp vanilla bean paste/extract for 1-2 minutes until well combined.
  2. Then add whipping cream and whip for 2 more minutes until stiff.
  3. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.

Assembling the cake

  1. Spread mascarpone cream on the bottom layer of the cake.
  2. Pour the berry compote on top and gently spread with a offset spatula.
  3. Top with another cake layer and dust with some powdered sugar for the traditional look. Optional: top a portion with leftover mascarpone cream and/or berries.

Slightly adapted from: Vikalinka

This post contains affiliate links. Full disclosure here.