Friday, March 20, 2009

a smidge of a recipe

Out of eggs, three days until the farmer’s market egg stand, and an un-satiable 10pm desire to bake a cake. Not so much a desire to eat cake, mind you, but to beat sugar and butter together and smooth batter with a spatula. But of course, once the cake is sitting there all elegantly cracked on top and cooling, the nub end of the loaf (this is a cake-bread) becomes a mandatory taste-test.

I rarely gravitate towards recipes calling for bananas, I think because I am too diligent about eating them while still tinged with green in an everyday-snack sort of way. Banana creations are always calling for those mushy, over-ripe things; banana bread has hence never been in my repertoire. Sweet potatoes, however, hover around my counter far longer than bananas. A crop native to the tropics, these things stick awkwardly out of the fruit bowl looking well-positioned for long storage but deceivingly so: they start to turn brown long before I usually get inspired to render them edible.

Coconut, liberally. I keep a medium-sized jar of shredded unsweetened coconut on my counter, between the big jar for sugar and the little one for salt. The coconut jar has its own steel spoon.

The last potent nutmeg kernel. I bought it at a spice farm in Zanzibar last August; this farm will remain indulgently in my mind as a big-person’s Candy
Land. Now that I'm out, I’m just pretending that nutmeg has gone out of season, like persimmons, rather than admit I will have to travel 8000 miles to return to the spice farm where I bought it to find more. Nutmeg, though we rarely realize it, is the pit of an un-appealingly yellow fruit. Embracing the pit is a lacy pink membrane that is referred to on the spice rack as mace; I wish I had thought to ask the spice farmers what they do with the flesh of the fruit. I grated my entire last darn brainy-looking mass into the batter, and immediately wished there were spice farms in Los Angeles.

Sometimes I find the circumstances that produce our foods so much more interesting than the recipes. How I ended up creating a recipe for an eggless cake-bread borne of the tropics, yet so temperate climate end-of-winter feeling, is purely based on circumstance.

But I’ve also included a formal recipe here, though with a smidge of hesitation. I can’t help but feel that there are so many recipes circulating out there in this virtual space and that mine isn’t necessarily better than all the rest. And I will probably be setting out into uncharted baking territory by the time I’m posting this up. I transcribe it now, however, justified as a kind of archival practice and perhaps the first of a few recipe jottings on this site. Haven’t we all had that serendipitous kitchen creation, only to be befuddled a year later over what exactly went into that spicy thai soup that made it so much zestier than the next? Or which recipe for fresh ginger cake did we follow, the one with molasses or the one with none? Index card recipes are so the grandmother I never had. I suppose I’m suggesting that sometimes our taste-memory isn’t quite sufficient enough, that cookbooks don't always provide us with the most personal instructions, and that perhaps I might capture these recipes—let’s refer to them as happenings, rather than objects—in case, just in case, we should desire an encore. I also intend these jottings as inspiration for your own happenstance recipes. Thank you as well to Steph, who graciously accepted half of the loaf this morning, and allowed me to make more room on my cooling rack.

Out-of-Eggs Sweet Potato-Coconut Bread

Inspired by a banana bread recipe from Orangette

Preheat oven to 350˚. Butter a standard-size loaf pan.

1 stick of butter, softened

¾ cup brown sugar [I don’t keep brown sugar around but instead mash a bit molasses into white sugar—it’s so much moister than brown sugar from a bag, but I’m fussy]
1 ½ cups sweet potato puree from about 2 roasted whole sweet potatoes/yams
2 cups flour [any all-purpose or pastry flour will do]

¾ tsp baking soda

½ tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/8 tsp salt

¼ tsp distilled white vinegar

½ tsp vanilla or almond extract, optional

½ cup unsweetened shredded coconut
sugar for sprinkling

Mash the roasted, skinless sweet potato until its nearly free of lumps (a food processor does this job well), and measure out 1 ½ cup.

Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Beat in vinegar and extract.

In separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and nutmeg.

Alternate additions of puree and flour mixture, beginning with puree, to butter mixture approximately ½ cup at a time. Mix until all of the flour is just combined; do not over-mix.

Spread batter (it’s thick) in loaf pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula. Sprinkle liberally with sugar—I like to keep a jar of vanilla bean-infused white sugar for opportunities like these, but any sugar will give the loaf a nice crust.

Bake 60 minutes, or until toothpick (or wooden chopstick in my case) inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from pan and cool on rack. Eat nub end while still warm, but cake is best a few hours after it's baked.


Georgia said...

Have you heard of Human Flower Project? Am sure HFP would be interested in your time in Zanzibar. I can smell the combination of vanilla and nutmeg. Also, I once baked a delicious flourless chocolate cake using bananas and sweet potatoes.

Ems said...

I have been on a muffin kick lately, and basically any sweet bread can become a muffin, so I'm going to make these soon.

Coincidentally, we are having sweet potatoes for dinner and I put a few extra ones in the oven to bake, so I have everything we need for the recipe! Even shredded coconut, oddly enough.