Archive for August, 2012

August 15, 2012

birthday cake + a thank you

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Today, as I’m sure most of you already have heard, is the 100th birthday of a very cool lady. Mrs. Julia Child was born just a century ago, and I’ve got her book just a few feet away.

I wish I could say I was already a fan of my Francophile heroine before I saw the movie Julie and Julia, but that would not be true. I am one of the many who felt inspired by the film and proceeded to read all I could about the tall, smiley woman from California. My smart husband bought me her cookbook as a gift, and my admiration for Child grew as I poured through her work. What a gal, right?

Once I got my hands on her autobiography My Life in France, I was a goner. Julia had all the wit and charm any girl could want, and went through a self-discovery during her time in France that I had the smallest taste of during my time there. She was a trailblazer and a joker, a lover and a best friend. She loved her man, her food, and herself. Not in a bad way- no, she definitely was not a narcissist. She just accepted who she was and became more beautiful for it.

I love how she describes herself in her aforementioned autobiography. This is who she was before she found her passion:

“Upon reflection, I decided I had three main weaknesses: I was confused (evidenced by a lack of facts, an inability to coordinate my thoughts, and an inability to verbalize my ideas); I had a lack of confidence, which cause me to back down from forcefully stated positions; and I was overly emotional at the expense of careful, ‘scientific’ though. I was thirty-seven years old and still discovering who I was.”

Well, apparently she found her voice… and helped me find mine.

After studying Graphics and Web Design for 3 years at a solid university, I found myself, a newlywed, terribly unhappy with myself. I had wanted to marry Spencer so badly for over a year and although I was so glad to finally have his last name, I discovered a jealousy in myself. I was jealous of what I saw in my husband. You see, he loves to write. He’s the most talented writer I know. He can write anything and make it fascinating. Whether it’s a short story for me or a paper on political tensions in the Balkans, I devour what he shares. He fuels this talent by reading and discussing and practicing- and I wanted that.

When you’re living with someone with so much talent, you can’t escape it. Spencer never flaunted it, but I couldn’t pretend he didn’t possess something I wanted. I wanted that passion, that skill. Not for writing, necessarily. I never really liked to write (that’s why there’s usually a few months between each blog post) so I needed another creative endeavor. Like most young brides, I found cooking and baking to be highly gratifying as my husband would eat anything I made for him. Thus, food made sense.

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Add my interest in Julia to this new desire to find my creative spark, and then it happened. I was happier. I would spend hours in the kitchen, practicing and mixing, and I loved every minute. I found new blogs to follow and it was as if my whole world was expanding. It was brighter all around… and much more tasty. All because Julia shared herself with me.

So thank you, Julia. Your story changed me. You changed me. Because of you, my heart can give into ex-patriot passion and my table can be French. Because of your cookbook, I served chicken and asparagus crepes at my Bastille Day party. You taught me to beat egg whites to soft peaks by hand. You let me wear pearls in the kitchen to add a little class to my culinary adventures. Even as a housewife, I get to travel the world and still be home in time to serve my husband a delicious spread!

To celebrate her birthday, I made a little spongecake. This was my first spongecake to try, and I’m excited to say that ma gåteau a l’orange turned out quite well. If you feel the Julia-fever, give this recipe a go. And maybe you’ll try to do all the whipping by hand. My arms are definitely sore, but I’m happy as a clam to be so French today.

Good luck, fellow bakers. Julia perfected it, and now we get to too.

Gåteau A L’Orange (Orange Spongecake) 

adapted from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking

  • 2/3 cup sugar
  • 4 eggs, separated (be sure to not let any yolk into the whites)
  • dash of kosher salt
  • grated rind of one orange
  • 1/3 cup orange juice
  • 1/4 cup flour

Preheat your oven to 350. Butter and then line a 9 inch springform pan with parchment paper. In one medium mixing bowl, mix egg yolks and sugar til pale yellow and thick. Add a touch of salt, orange rind, and orange juice. Beat for another minute until light again. Then add flour.

In another bowl, beat egg whites with another dash of salt til they form stiff peaks. Add one fourth of egg whites to the yolk mixture and fold together. Then add the remaining whites and fold. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30-35 minutes.

Remove from the pan when slightly cooled. Allow to cool completely.

Using a long knife, level the top of the cake, then cut through the middle so you have two layers. Fill and top as you like.

I thought that blackberries would pair nicely so boiled a cup of berries with 1/4 cup water and 2 tablespoon. I peeled a clementine (it’s what I had on hand, you could use half an orange) and threw it in the boiling pot. Next, after mashing up the fruit, I separated the syrup and the bits of fruit left.

To assemble, I put a thin layer of whipped cream on the lower piece, spooned on the mashed fruit, and put the top cake layer on. Added another batch of whipped cream and topped with fresh fruit. Last, after slicing, pour some syrup over the individual pieces.

Bon appétit!