Orange Blossom Cornmeal Cake


On Sunday, Steve and I will travel to Cyprus for a week. We’ll spend some time with my family in Nicosia, travel a bit, and then all go to Paphos for Easter weekend. While I was growing up, Easter was a holiday I was ambivalent about. On the one hand, we had no school and the weather was almost always beautiful, with wildflowers blooming everywhere around our house. On the other hand, Easter week was so gloomy. There was the somber church service on Thursday night, when a big cross was carried around by the priest while chanting ominously “crucify him, crucify him” in ancient Greek. Then on Friday night, church service was equally dreary with a huge casket-like box in the middle of the church, representing Jesus’s tomb, completely covered in wildflowers and flowering herbs like rosemary. So, it was a gloomy service but a well perfumed one, adding to the dissonance of the occasion.

Things would change on Saturday night when there was the midnight service celebrating the resurrection. At precisely midnight, the church lights would turn down, everyone would go quiet, and the priest would emerge from the apse with a single lit candle, proceeding to light the candles of worshippers in front of him who would then light the candles of the people behind them, and so on, causing a wave of light to swiftly spread through the church and out into the courtyard, all while everyone was chanting the Byzantine resurrection hymn that they learned from the time they were in first grade (“Christ has risen from the dead, he has conquered death…”). But even this seemingly joyous night was fraught with some anxiety for me because the custom was (and still is) for men to light up giant bonfires outside the church and to explode homemade fireworks. Every year there were several men who lost fingers, entire hands, eyes, and they continue to do so today.

On this trip, we will be with my family on Saturday night in a little chapel outside the hotel we are staying in in Paphos, the westernmost city in Cyprus, on the Mediterranean. Bucking tradition, the service will begin at 11pm instead of midnight (because the priest has to be at his regular big church for the midnight service), which means that we will be able to go have the traditional Easter soup after the service and go to bed at a slightly more reasonable hour.

My family is not religious (my mom is the only one who really believes in God, but she has no affinity for the church and its priests). But there is something about Easter in Cyprus, specifically the Saturday midnight mass, that we all find beautiful. When you look past the religious symbols and iconography, ignore the mythical resurrection story, what you find is part of the soul of the people of the island. For those few moments when the holy light sweeps the darkened church that is filled with people’s voices chanting, you can’t help but feel a sense of awe. For tradition, for community, for family.

All of this to get me to share with you this recipe, which has nothing to do with Easter, but a lot to do with Cyprus. I fiddled around with a recipe I found on Food and Wine for a grapefruit cake one day and managed to turn it into something that we immediately loved. This isn’t a showstopper visually. It’s a simple, toothsome cake, but it is filled with flavors of early Mediterranean spring, combining orange blossoms and the oranges they turn into. It’s hearty but delicate. It demands your attention with every bite. So, enjoy it and happy Easter or happy Passover if you are celebrating next week.


Orange Blossom Cornmeal Cake – Adapted from Food and Wine


3/4 stick (85g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup medium-grind cornmeal
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs
1/3 cup and two teaspoons (85g) vegetable oil
finely grated zest of one orange
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon orange blossom water


Preheat the oven to 350°. Lightly grease a 9-inch cake pan (or springform pan). Line the bottom with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the cornmeal, granulated sugar, baking powder and salt. In a separate medium bowl, whisk the eggs with the melted butter, oil, orange zest, orange juice, and orange blossom water until they are combined. While whisking constantly, add the butter mixture to the flour mixture in a slow, steady stream. Whisk just until well blended. You can also use a spatula to finish mixing the batter. Don’t overmix.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45-50 minutes, until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Transfer the cake to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a sharp paring knife around the edge of the cake, then invert it onto the rack (or remove the sides of the springform pan). Peel off the parchment paper. Carefully flip the cake right side up and let cool.

Before serving you can sprinkle powdered sugar on the cake but it’s really not needed.

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread


My love of books started at a very young age. In one of my earliest memories, I must have been three years old, my parents had friends over and they were all sitting outside our house having a drink. It must have been past my bedtime but for some reason my mom had put me in my parents’ bed and let me sit there by myself and go through a picture book somebody had given me as a gift (maybe the friends who had come over?). The memory is very fuzzy but I remember a few things: how huge the bed seemed to me, how thrilling it was to be sitting in it, the safety I felt from the voices of my parents just outside their bedroom window, and the feeling of holding the book in my hands and flipping through the pages. I couldn’t read yet but it felt so exciting to hold this object in my hand that was filled with amazing pictures (and weird symbols I couldn’t understand) that changed every time I flipped a page.DSC04884

With my mom’s help, I learned to read a year later when I was four, so that when I started first grade at five years old (we started earlier back then), I could read comfortably and by the time I was in my early teens, when my birthday came around, the gift I wished for the most from people who’d come to my birthday party were books. I read everything I could get my hands on and with no access to a library, I was desperate for new books. When I was younger, I wanted fairy tale books, but by my mid-teens I was fully into literary fiction and science fiction books, a love that endures to this day.

Today’s recipe is actually from a little kids’ book called “Cranberry Thanksgiving.” I had never read this book as a kid (given that it’s a book about Thanksgiving, it was obviously never translated in Greek) but I found out about it and this recipe that comes from it from Steve’s sister Christine. She told me she makes this cake every year and that her three boys love it. The cake is peculiar in that it’s made using a method usually used for biscuits and scones, by cutting the butter into flour. So, you can think of it as a giant, golden scone, studded with red cranberries. The result is beautiful and delicious and yet more reason to love books and what they have to offer.

This is the last post for 2016, a year few people will look back on with affection. Let’s hope that 2017 proves to be kinder to us. Happy new year to everyone and see you again in January.DSC04901

Grandmother’s Famous Cranberry Bread – Slightly adapted from Cranberry Thanksgiving

Note: The original recipe calls for equal amounts of cranberries and raisins. That’s what I used in the cake you see in the photos. However, I’ve made it with only cranberries and we prefer it that way much more. Feel free to go either way.


2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup butter, cut into small cubes
1 egg
1 teaspoon orange zest
3/4 cup orange juice
1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, coarsely chopped
1 1/2 cups light raisins (or substitute with fresh cranberries, as above)


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan and line it with parchment paper to help you getting the cake out.

Whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a large bowl. With a pastry blender or with your fingers, cut in butter until mixture is crumbly. In a small bowl, whisk together egg, orange peel, and orange juice and then add to the dry ingredients. Stir just until mixture is evenly moist. Fold in cranberries and raisins (or only cranberries). The batter will be thick and there will be small pieces of butter throughout.

Spoon into the loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes, or until a toothpick nested in the center comes out clean. Remove from pan; cool on a wire rack.

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake


When we fly to Paris from New York, always on an overnight flight, we have a routine. We pack lightly so that we don’t have to check in our luggage. After we get through security at the airport, we buy a bottle of water to share on the plane. Once we are on the plane and we take off, I watch all the episodes of Friends that are available (they are still so funny and so much fun to watch). We eat our dinner (always the Hindu Vegetarian meal option – it’s by far the best airplane food on United Economy), drink some wine, take something to help my nerves (I am a very nervous flyer), put on ear plugs and eye masks and try to sleep.DSC05282

After a few hours of fitful sleep, the cabin lights come on and we are all awakened for “breakfast.” We used to dread the soggy, microwaved sorry excuse for a croissant that filled the cabin with a smell of fake butter and warm plastic. So a long time ago, we added something to our routine: at the New York airport, we visit Starbucks and buy two slices of their lemon pound cake. As everyone grudgingly wakes up and the flight attendants pass out those god forsaken croissants, we politely decline and sink our teeth into the delicate crumb of the lemon pound cake, savoring its lemony glaze.

This recipe for a lemon poppy seed cake is an even better, homemade version of that Starbucks lemon cake. It’s made with olive oil so it’s less rich (and better for you), and the glaze is thinner and more subtle. The poppy seeds add a crunch and a tiny bit of a nutty flavor. It makes a wonderful breakfast treat no matter where in the world you are or traveling to.DSC05046

Lemon Poppy Seed Pound Cake – Slightly adapted from the New York Times


1 ¾ cup all-purpose flour
zest of 2 lemons
1 cup sugar
½ cup buttermilk
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 large eggs
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
⅔ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon poppy seeds
½ cup confectioners’ sugar
4 teaspoons lemon juice


Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease an 8-inch loaf pan and line with parchment paper, leaving extra paper on both sides to help you lift cake out of the pan.

In a bowl, combine lemon zest and sugar and rub with your fingers until it looks like wet sand. Whisk in buttermilk, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, eggs, and olive oil. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and poppy seeds. Add dry ingredients into the batter and mix until combined, being careful not to overmix.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center emerges clean, about 1 hour. Let cool in pan until warm to the touch, then lift out of the pan onto a baking rack set over a rimmed baking sheet.

Whisk together 4 teaspoons lemon and the confectioners’ sugar. Use a pastry brush to spread glaze evenly over top and sides of cake. Cool completely before slicing.

Cornmeal Cake with Apricots


We landed in Paris on the first day of the Euro 2016 soccer championship. The violent clashes between fans were still a day or two away. The water on the Seine was down from the historic flood levels of the week before, though still high enough to lap at the edge of the road. The bad weather, however, wasn’t over. Daily rain, sometimes heavy, and temperatures cool enough that we needed a jacket in late June. As we left the Rodin museum on Monday afternoon, we saw cars at a standstill for blocks and blocks, the result of a violent demonstration at the Montparnasse against the new employment law being passed by the Hollande government. Walking around the same neighborhood a few days later, we saw the results: store after store with their glass fronts shattered. And the constant sight of soldiers in full gear and police in bullet-proof vests throughout the city made it clear that the country was (and is) still in a state of emergency. We were too, always on alert (we hate to admit it), scanning the faces of the passengers in the Metro, ready to make a quick exit, or choosing seats facing the street on the cafe terraces, not wanting to have our backs to the street.DSC04196

But also, there were our dear friends and many nights eating and drinking with them, laughing uncontrollably at our inside jokes, shaking our heads in disbelief at the state of the world. When Orlando happened, they were as devastated as we were, their own wounds still fresh from last November. Despite the floods and the soldiers on the streets, the hooligans and the damp weather, the angry strikers and the swollen rivers, this was still the same old Paris, with its charming streets and fairytale-like center, its daily markets and boisterous nights, its bizarre fascinations (this year it’s all about bagels, everywhere you look) and its amazing food. We ate many amazing meals, but we still remember the simple fruit we bought from the neighborhood primeur on the day that we arrived. The mara de bois strawberries smelled like a flower-strewn valley and tasted like roses. The cherries were firm and deeply red, achingly sweet and just tangy enough to make us pronounce them the best cherries we’d ever eaten. And the apricots were honeyed and juicy, with whispers of mango and coconut.

Cornmeal Cake with Apricots – Inspired by a recipe at David Lebovitz


2 ounces (56g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup (150g) sugar, plus 1 tablespoon sugar for topping
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac (use apple juice or orange juice if you are avoiding alcohol)
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3/4 cup (125g) finely ground cornmeal
2 cups (215g) almond flour/almond meal
6 tablespoons (55g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10-12 ripe apricots, pitted and halved


Lightly grease a 9-inch springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).

In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt, until there are no lumps. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 3/4 cup of sugar with the oil at medium-high speed for about 1 minute. Add the melted butter and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each egg into the mixture. After adding the third egg, beat the mixture for 3 minutes at high speed until it thickens and lightens in color. Mix in the brandy and almond extract.

Add the dry ingredients into the oil and sugar mixture in three installments. After each addition of the dry ingredients mix at low speed for only a few seconds, just until most of the cornmeal mixture is incorporated. You can also do this by hand with a spatula. After the third and final addition of the dry ingredients, use a spatula to make sure the mixture is well-combined. Do not overmix.

Scrape the batter into the pan, smooth the top, and add the apricot halves, skin side up, to cover the cake’s surface. Sprinkle one tablespoon of sugar on top of the cake and bake until it is light golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, 55-60 minutes. Let cool on a rack for about 30 minutes, then run a knife along the outside of the cake before you remove it. Let cake cool completely before serving.

Blueberry Coconut Cake


One of my favorite cooking challenges is using up food that’s about to expire or go bad, in ways that are unexpected or inventive. Last week, my challenge was tricky. I had blueberries that were almost past their prime, shredded coconut that had expired a month ago but seemed fine (I keep it in the fridge, which keeps it fresh longer), and some coconut yogurt that was about to expire. DSC05079

That last one is interesting. It’s a yogurt made with coconut milk, using probiotic bacteria, just like with milk-based yogurt. I had bought it for my vegan friend Lisa who was visiting us, but she didn’t finish it. I tried eating it myself but I found it too rich for my taste, a little like eating thickened coconut cream. So I figured that I could put all three together in a cake. Since I had the coconut yogurt, I decided to adapt the yogurt cake recipe that I love and really amp up the coconut flavor with the shredded coconut. I tasted a single blueberry with a little bit of coconut and found them compatible, so I threw the berries in as well.DSC05082

The result was delicious. The cake is tender and not too sweet. It has a delicate coconut flavor that’s expanded by the toasted coconut topping. The blueberries add a little tartness and a beautiful color contrast. Not only did I not have to throw anything out, we ended up with a breakfast treat that we devoured the next morning. If you can’t find coconut yogurt, you can use regular whole-milk yogurt. It won’t have as strong of a coconut taste but it will still be delicious.DSC05098

Blueberry Coconut Cake


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (135g) blueberries
1 cup sugar
1 cup shredded coconut (unsweetened), plus 2 tablespoons for topping
3/4 cup coconut yogurt (not coconut-flavored yogurt; if unavailable, replace with whole milk Greek yogurt)
1/2 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract


Preheat oven to 350°. Coat 9″x5″ loaf pan with a little vegetable oil and cover with parchment paper leaving some overhang on both of the long sides.

Whisk 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and kosher salt in a medium bowl. Add blueberries and stir with a spoon.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, shredded coconut, yogurt, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract. Fold in dry ingredients and blueberries just to blend.

Pour batter into prepared pan; smooth top. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of shredded coconut on top. Bake until a tester inserted into center comes out clean, 60-70 minutes. If coconut topping is getting too brown, cover with tin foil.

Let cake cool in pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Invert onto rack and let cool completely.

Cauliflower Cake


I wasn’t allowed to be a picky eater as a kid. If I complained or refused to eat my meal, I was…convinced to finish what was on my plate (let’s just say that there were threats of the wooden spoon coming out of the drawer). Not that I, or my sister, were bad eaters. We ate almost everything even though we liked some dishes less than others. There were, however, a handful of foods I was allowed to refuse, because my parents recognized that no matter what punishment I was threatened with, my revulsion was too strong to eat them. A few times I threw up the offending foods and that cemented their fate. There was tahini (which I can’t stand to this day), dried fava beans with spinach (cooked spinach still makes me gag), and black eyed peas. I was allowed to eat something else when they were on the table.DSC04208

On the other hand, one thing I always loved was cauliflower. My mom always made it the same way: stewed in a tomato sauce. I loved the texture and the taste and to this day, it’s my go to vegetable. I usually just cut it up, toss it in olive oil, salt, and pepper, and roast it in a 425º F oven until it caramelizes. We usually eat it tossed with the simple garlic lime vinaigrette that makes everything better.

When I saw the recipe for this savory cauliflower cake, I knew I had to try it and it didn’t disappoint. Not only is it a beautiful looking cake, but it has a lovely light taste (that even cauliflower haters could like) and a texture that’s not too dense but substantial enough to be satisfying. It makes a fantastic brunch dish, along with a green salad on the side. DSC04217

Cauliflower Cake – Slightly adapted from The Kitchn (Originally from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi)


1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into 1 1/4-inch florets (about 4 cups)
1 medium red onion, peeled (6 ounces)
5 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
7 large eggs
1/2 cup basil leaves, chopped
1 cup all-purpose flour, sifted
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated Parmesan or another aged cheese
Melted unsalted butter or vegetable oil, for brushing
2 teaspoons white sesame seeds
2 teaspoons black sesame seeds (or more white sesame seeds)
Salt and black pepper


Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Place the cauliflower florets in a saucepan and add 1 teaspoon salt. Cover with water and simmer for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft. They should break when pressed with a spoon. Drain and set aside in a colander to dry.

Cut 4 round slices, each 1/4-inch/5-mm thick, off one end of the onion and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer the onion to a large bowl, add the eggs and basil, whisk well, and then add the flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, 1 teaspoon salt, and plenty of pepper. Whisk until smooth (but don’t overmix) before adding the cauliflower and stirring gently, trying not to break up the florets.

Line the base and sides of a 9 1/2-inch/24-cm springform cake pan with parchment paper. Brush the sides with melted butter or oil, then mix together the sesame seeds and toss them around the inside of the pan so that they stick to the sides (this is optional, you can skip it if you want, but it does look beautiful when you unmold the cake). Pour the cauliflower mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly, and arrange the reserved onion rings on top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 45 minutes, until golden brown and set; a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving. It should be served just warm, rather than hot, or at room temperature.

Chocolate Fudge Cake


One day, a Sears catalog came into our lives. My dad was working with Americans and somebody gave it to him. He brought it home and handed it to me and my sister. It was as thick as a phone book and it quickly became one of our favorite possessions. We didn’t know what Sears was or even what catalog shopping was. But those glossy pages showed us that there was a whole other world out there, one where kids had full-sized pinball machines in their bedrooms or spent the night in colorful tents in their back yards or played with dolls and remote controlled cars that we had never seen before. It was a world we fantasized about, my sister and I. We made a game of flipping through the pages and imagining what we would buy if we could and how it would change our lives.DSC04998

There was one page that I always paused on for just a few seconds longer. It was the page that featured an Easy-Bake Oven. I couldn’t believe that there was an oven that a kid could get and use to bake desserts. It seemed impossible. Out of all the toys and games in that catalog, the Easy-Bake Oven was the one I longed for the most (though the pinball machine was a very close second). I never expressed this wish out loud, since this was a toy that only girls were supposed to like, but secretly I dreamed of having one and making little chocolate cakes just like the ones the smiling girls in the photograph were holding in their hands. Of course, I never got an Easy-Bake Oven and it wasn’t until many years later, when I moved to the U.S. as an adult that I learned the truth about them. That they used a light bulb to heat their interiors and that what you could bake in them was never really that great (though the newest versions no longer use light bulbs but are regular mini ovens).DSC05021

I now make my own chocolate cakes, like this one, which can only be made in a real oven, not at Easy-Bake one. It is a luscious chocolate cake with layers of chocolate ganache, covered in a beautiful shiny glaze of even more chocolate. It’s the ultimate chocolate lover’s cake. Moist, intense, addictive. And yet, not hard to make. The cake part is made in a single bowl, without even the need for a mixer. And the filling and glaze are made in the microwave in minutes. It should be called the Easy-Bake Chocolate Cake.

Chocolate Fudge Cake – Slightly adapted from King Arthur Flour


2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
2 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
2 tablespoons (3/8 ounce) cornstarch
3/4 cup (2 1/4 ounces) Double-Dutch Dark Cocoa or Dutch-process cocoa
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 large eggs
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) water
12 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
6 ounces heavy cream
3 tablespoons of your favorite liqueur (such as Frangelico, Amaretto, Grand Marnier, Framboise, or any other flavor that goes well with chocolate)
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate
4 ounces heavy cream


Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly grease and flour (or grease, then line with parchment, then grease again) two 8″ x 2″ round cake pans or two 9″ x 2″ round cake pans . Note: If you are using 8″ pans, they must be at least 2″ tall.

Make the cake: Whisk together the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add the eggs, oil, and vanilla, and beat with a spatula until smooth. Gradually add the water, mixing with a spatula (or whisk once the mixture loosens up) until smooth. Try not to overmix it. Pour the batter into the prepared pans.

Bake the cakes for 35 to 38 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn them out of the pans to cool completely on a rack.

Make the filling: Combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat for one minute until the cream is hot, and the chocolate is soft. If necessary, heat again in 15 second increments. Stir to melt the chocolate completely, reheating very briefly if necessary. Add the liqueur and stir to mix well. Set aside until it cools and thickens (if you use it immediately, your cake layers will slip and slide). You can hasten the cooling by putting the bowl in the fridge but remember to check it often and to give it a good stir before you use it on the cake.

Using a sharp, long, serrated knife, divide the cooled cakes in half horizontally, to make four layers. Place one layer on a serving plate, and spread with a third of the filling. Repeat with the next two layers. Top with the final cake layer.

Make the glaze: Combine the chocolate and cream in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat for one minute until the cream is hot, and the chocolate is soft. If necessary, heat again in 15 second increments. Stir to melt the chocolate completely, reheating very briefly if necessary. Pour over the cake immediately and spread the glaze over the top of the cake with an offset spatula, letting it drip over the edges and down the sides. Once it’s done dripping, you may smooth the sides with the spatula, if desired. If you want to add some decorations on the top (like I did with the malted milk balls in the photos above), add them now, before the glaze fully sets. Allow the cake to rest, covered with a cake cover (or a big turned-over bowl) till the chocolate is set; overnight is good, though several hours are sufficient.