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.

Chocolate Orange Squares

DSC04964What is it with mint in desserts? I’ve never understood its appeal. Mint chocolate chip ice cream? For me, it’s like eating toothpaste with chocolate. Sure, there have been a handful of times when I had a thin mint after dinner because someone offered them, but it didn’t feel like dessert. It was more like chewing gum after dinner. (As I am writing this I am realizing that I sound very much like our French friends who complain about Americans’ obsession with cinnamon in desserts. Je vous comprends mes amis, finalement!)

So when Melissa Clark posted a new video on the New York Times website where she made mint chocolate squares, I watched it (because I will watch anything with her in it) and then forgot about it. I was never going to make them. But a couple of days later I had a sudden inspiration. Why not replace the mint in the recipe with something else? And what goes better with chocolate than orange? So after a few easy replacements, these chocolate orange squares were born.

This isn’t a difficult recipe but it does happen in three steps, so it takes a little bit of time, though most of the time is just waiting for things to cool down or chill in the fridge. The great thing about these, though, is that you can pop them in the freezer in a ziploc bag and whenever you want a sweet bite (emphasis on ‘bite’; these are rich so you won’t be eating them by the handful), you just take one out and leave it on the counter for 20-30 minutes to lose its chill before eating it. DSC04961

Chocolate Orange Squares – Adapted from the New York Times

Makes 36 squares (or 16 larger ones)


For the chocolate shortbread:
1 cup/125 grams all-purpose flour
½ cup/100 grams granulated sugar
2 tablespoons/15 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons/113 grams unsalted butter (1 stick)

For the orange filling and chocolate top:
3 ¼ cups/405 grams confectioners’ sugar
3 tablespoons/43 grams unsalted butter, softened
¼ cup/60 milliliters heavy cream
2 teaspoons orange juice
1 ½ teaspoons finely grated orange zest
9 ounces/255 grams bittersweet chocolate (at least 60 percent cocoa solids), chopped
½ teaspoon coconut oil (optional)


1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch-square baking pan with parchment paper, allowing 2 inches of paper to hang over the sides.

2. Make the shortbread: In a food processor, pulse together flour, sugar, cocoa powder and salt. Add butter and process until a smooth dough forms. Press dough evenly into the bottom of prepared baking pan. Bake until firm to the touch, and sides of the crust are beginning to pull away from the pan, about 25-30 minutes. Cool completely.

3. Make the filling: In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine confectioners’ sugar, butter, cream, orange juice, and zest. Beat until mixture forms a thick, smooth paste. Press filling evenly over shortbread. It will be a little sticky. Use an offset spatula and your fingers to coax it into place. Cover with plastic wrap and chill to set the filling for at least 1 hour and up to overnight.

4. Use parchment paper overhang to lift the shortbread and filling out of the baking pan and onto a cutting board. Cut into 1 1/2-inch squares (there should be 36 squares). Place squares on a rack placed over a parchment-lined sheet tray, and let them come to room temperature for about 15 minutes.

5. In the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, melt 7 ounces chocolate, stirring occasionally, until smooth. Remove from heat, add remaining 2 ounces chocolate and let sit for 2 minutes.

6. Add coconut oil, if using, and stir the chocolate until smooth. Spoon 1 teaspoon chocolate on top of a cut square, using the back of the spoon to spread chocolate to the edges. Be sure to fully cover the top of the square with chocolate. (Leave the sides exposed, though it’s O.K. if some of the chocolate drips down.) Repeat with remaining squares.

7. Let squares sit at room temperature until chocolate is set, at least 1 hour. Serve them at room temperature or chill in the fridge first. You can also store them in the freezer. Let sit on counter for 20-30 minutes before eating if you freeze them.

Roasted Sunchokes with Orange, Rosemary, and Pine Nuts


Yesterday was the first day of spring, and here in New York city we got…more snow. Yep, as I am writing this post, I am watching a furious swirl of wet snowflakes covering the oh-so-recently snow-free ground. I can almost hear them: You thought you could get rid of us that easily? <insert evil laugh here>

Nothing describes the absurdity of this winter better than this quote from today’s New York Times: “Snow starts around noon, as temperatures hover just above freezing, and roughs up the evening commute. At 6:46 p.m., spring begins, the snow stops abruptly and twittering robins drape the city with garlands of daffodils.” Steve and I laughed heartily when we read this and then we stopped laughing and each shed a single tear for the loss of our meteorological innocence.

What can I say? Prolonged and brutal winters can make you a little crazy.

So, just give up on the weather and simply eat and drink to your heart’s delight. To help you with that, here’s an easy recipe for an appetizer that you can make with things you can find right now in your grocery store. Sunchokes are also known as Jerusalem artichokes, for reasons that I can’t fathom, since they are closer to potatoes and carrots than artichokes. In any case, they crisp up in the oven really nicely and they pair very well with toasted pine nuts, orange, and rosemary. A hint of balsamic vinegar adds an additional note of acidity and the final dash of aleppo pepper gives it that unexpected smoky heat that draws you in for one more bite. 

DSC03877Roasted Sunchokes with Orange, Rosemary and Pine Nuts

Makes 4 appetizer servings


1/4 cup pine nuts
1 lb sunchokes (jerusalem artichokes), washed and scrubbed clean
2 cloves garlic, peeled and slides in thin slices (about 2mm each)
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
2 tablespoons olive oil
salt and pepper
1 orange
2 teaspoons of good balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon aleppo pepper


Preheat the oven to 425°F.

In a sauté pan, toast the pine nuts over medium heat, tossing frequently, until they give off a toasted smell and they just start to turn golden brown. Immediately remove into a plate and allow to cool.

Slice sunchokes crosswise into 1/4″-1/2″ slices. In a large bowl, toss sunchoke slices with the garlic, rosemary, olive oil, and some salt and pepper. Spread on two large baking sheets, so that all sunchoke slices are lying flat on the pan. Make sure that all garlic slices are on top of sunchoke slices, otherwise they will burn. Roast in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, without turning, until the bottoms of the slices turn dark brown, but don’t burn. The tops will stay yellow and become soft.

Meanwhile, peel orange and slice crosswise in four 1/2″ slices (there will be some orange left over). Place each slice in the bottom of an individual serving bowl.

Once sunchokes are roasted, pile them on top of the four orange slices. Top with roasted pine nuts, balsamic vinegar, and aleppo pepper, divided among the four bowls. Serve immediately


Gluten-free, Dairy-free Chocolate Orange Cake


This is what my cookbooks look like. Whenever I buy a new one I go through it and mark any recipe that looks like something I’d want to try. I like to use these nifty Post-it bookmarks that are clear where they attach to the page so that they don’t cover anything. As you can see from the photo (and this is only a small sample of the cookbooks I have), I end up with a lot of recipes that I want to try out. And this doesn’t include recipes from magazines and blogs, which I collect using the fantastic Paprika recipe manager app.


To make a long story short, I really shouldn’t be adding to my collection of recipes to try. But the other day I was reading a newspaper from back home online, when at the bottom of the page I noticed the title of a recipe: Incredibly Light Chocolate Orange Cake (without Flour).  I was intrigued. Chocolate and orange are one of my favorite flavor combinations (here’s looking at you, irresistible orangettes!). A quick look at the ingredient list revealed ground almonds as the substitute for flour and boiled, whole oranges as the substitute for butter. I was beyond intrigued. I had to try it.


The result was actually very interesting. A moist cake with a distinct chocolate taste but redolent with aromas of orange. I say aromas because the presence of orange in this cake goes beyond what you would get if you used only orange juice. Since it incorporates the entire fruit, you get the sweet and tangy flavor of the orange segments, the mellow bitterness of the pith, and the sharp taste of the orange oil from the rind. All together, it creates a not-too-sweet cake that begs for another bite, if only to decipher the complex combination of tastes hitting your tongue at the same time.


I know this post seems to come a day late, given that yesterday was Valentine’s day. But Steve and I don’t really do much on Valentine’s day, a day we feel ambivalent about. Back in my single days, I used to hold a dinner party for all my single friends, making beef bourguignon and a chocolate torte, all of us toasting to our singledom, in defiance of this silly holiday that taunted us.

Now that I think about it, given the bitter and sweet flavor combinations of this cake, it would perhaps make a perfect Valentine’s day cake, for both those in celebration of the day and those who don’t like it.


Gluten-free, Dairy-free Chocolate Orange Cake – Translated and slightly adapted from Phileleftheros


2 small oranges, preferably organic/unsprayed (about 12 oz / 345 g)
2 tablespoons orange liqueur, like Grand Marnier
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup unsweetened cocoa (2 oz / 55 g)
1 ¼ cups sugar (7 ¾ oz / 250 g)
2 cups ground almonds (7 oz / 200 g)
pinch of salt
6 large eggs


Preheat the oven at 350º F (180º C). Lightly grease the bottom and sides of a springform 8″ (20 cm) cake pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.

Wash the oranges and place them in a medium-sized pot. Cover them with cold water and heat over medium-high heat until they come to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let simmer for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Drain oranges and let cool. (Oranges can be boiled up to two days in advance and kept in the fridge)

Roughly chop the oranges, remove any pits, and place in the bowl of a food processor. Add liqueur and process until no pieces of orange are left. The mixture should be a relatively smooth pulp with small pieces of rind (it doesn’t have to become completely smooth). Add the baking powder, baking soda, cocoa, sugar, almonds, and a pinch of salt. Process until combined.

Add eggs one at a time, processing until each egg is combined. Pour mixture in prepared pan and bake for about 60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean. Immediately run a sharp knife around the edge of the pan and place the pan on a cooling rack. Let cake cool completely in the pan.

Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies

Last weekend, I was sitting next to our friends’ adorable six-year old daughter, eating breakfast, when she turned to me and asked:

– Why don’t you and Steve have kids?

The question stopped me in my tracks. I mean, how do you tell a six-year old that growing up you always thought you’d have kids, you always assumed you would, but then you hit your 20s and boom! this life changing event happened – you came out? How do you explain to her that at that point you thought, ok, this settles it, I’m not going to be able to have kids, and you kind of came to terms with that but then the years passed and you saw more and more same-sex couples actually doing it, actually having kids of their own, and you thought maybe that will be me?

How do you tell her that for many years you were still finding your way, still looking for a partner in life, so kids were not in your plans, and then you met a man, a wonderful man, who would turn out to be the love of your life, your future husband? How do you describe how much fun you were having together and how the years started adding up one at a time until you both realized there was a deadline coming, to make a decision on having kids, and that the deadline came and you talked and you realized that you just loved your life together too much and you were too old by then, too satisfied with the way things were, too content with everything to disrupt it with the addition of a kid?


How do you explain to this inquisitive, smart, and beautiful six-year old girl that it was a tough decision, a really tough decision, and that there are days when you are going to work and you see a blond-headed toddler who looks so much like Steve did in all the photographs from when he was little, and the little boy waves at you and your heart skips a beat? How do you describe the wistful feeling you have when you imagine a little version of Steve running around, but then the toddler starts to cry and scream and you see the parent scramble and try to find a way to make him happy, and you think yes, that’s right, it’s a sacrifice and a commitment for life and you weren’t ready to make either, and that is ok?


Well, you don’t tell her any of these things. And I didn’t. I just smiled and told her simply that Steve and I had decided that we wouldn’t have our own kids and that we were instead really happy that we had so many friends in our lives with kids, just like her own dads and her and her brother.

As we both went back to our breakfasts, I thought of that alternate universe where our lives had taken a different path, one which included a little boy of our own, and how as soon as he was able to do so, I would bring him in the kitchen and show him how to help me make these vanilla almond orange cloud cookies, and how  much fun we’d both have making them and eating them. But then, someone asked me a question about one thing or another and the conversation shifted and the day took its own course.


Vanilla Almond Orange Cloud Cookies – Adapted from Joy the Baker

1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon orange zest
1 vanilla bean, seeds scraped
10 ounces almond paste
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large egg whites, lightly beaten
powdered sugar

Place two racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat oven to 325º  F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small bowl, mix together granulated sugar, orange zest, and scraped vanilla seeds. Use your fingers to works the zest and vanilla into the sugar, creating a fragrant, moist sugar.

Place sugar in the bowl of an electric stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Add the almond paste. Beat on medium speed creating a crumbly sugar and almond mixture.

While almond mixture is combining in the mixer, place two egg whites in a small bowl. Whisk with a fork until loose and frothy. This will help in pouring the egg whites into the mixer. With the mixer on medium speed, gradually pour the egg whites in to the crumbly almond and sugar mixture. Beat until a smooth paste is formed.

Spoon or scoop batter by the heaping tablespoonful onto the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle generously with powdered sugar. Using the tips of three of your fingers, make indentations in each cookie.

Bake cookies for 20 to 25 minutes or until cookies are lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on the pan. Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Cranberry Orange Crunch Muffins

I was reading Molly Wizenberg’s blog Orangette the other day. First, let me just tell you that Molly is one of the best food writers currently out there. Scratch that. She’s one of the best writers. Period. If you haven’t read her blog or her book, go read them now. I strive to emulate her knack for blending personal stories with spot-on, yet unorthodox, descriptions of food and cooking. For me, she is the heir to Ruth Reichl (not that Ruth has abdicated her throne yet).


Anyway. Molly was writing about repetition in cooking. About how she tends to go back to the same recipes and make them over and over again. Don’t we all? There’s comfort and safety in familiar recipes. When you have one that works, that’s not to hard to make, that results in food that’s exciting or satisfying or impressive, why wouldn’t you go back to it repeatedly?


In fact, a big reason why I started this blog was to share exactly those recipes that I find myself reaching for again and again. Nobody can deny the thrill of trying out a new recipe, one that caught your eye while reading Bon Appétit or your favorite food blog. But like any unexplored territory, an unfamiliar recipe can hide unseen dangers. Despite the assurances of the writer, your cake never rises beautifully like in the photograph, or your leg of lamb comes out tough, almost crunchy, like cartilage.


Not that tried-and-true recipes don’t offer themselves to some adventure. Over time you may start replacing ingredients (either on purpose or because you forgot to buy the cranberries). Or you may start adding things you suspect would improve it. But most of the time, you just stick to the plan, knowing that, like an old friend, they’ll never let you down.

One of those recipes for me is the one I’m sharing with you today. I make these cranberry orange crunch muffins year-round. They are the perfect muffin. Their slightly crisp exterior gives way to an incredibly light interior. They are almost spongy, though not unpleasantly so. The mildly sweet crumb is bracketed by tart cranberries and the toasted sweetness of the pecan topping.


Fresh cranberries will soon be everywhere. It’s one of the joys of fall (along with butternut and acorn squashes and apples). But you can easily use frozen cranberries to make these. No need to thaw them. Just chop them and use them as you would with fresh cranberries. I bet that once you’ve made them once, you’ll make them again. And again. And again.


Cranberry Orange Crunch Muffins – Slightly Adapted from King Arthur Flour


2 cups (8 7/8 ounces) Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup (2 3/8 ounces) sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil
3/4 cup (6 ounces) 2% milk
1/4 cup (2 ounces) fresh squeezed orange juice
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange peel
1 cup (4 1/4 ounces) coarsely chopped fresh or frozen cranberries

1/4 cup (7/8 ounce) finely chopped pecans
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) brown sugar, dark or light, firmly packed
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon


Preheat oven to 400°F. Lightly grease 12 muffin cups or line them with muffin paper cups.

Batter: In a medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt, then toss the cranberries in the mix and stir to coat.

In a separate bowl, or in a large measuring cup, whisk together the egg, oil, milk, orange juice, and orange peel. Gently and thoroughly fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. Do not over mix

Using a muffin or cookie scoop, or a 1/4-cup measure, pour the batter into 12 lightly greased muffin cups, filling them about 3/4 full.

Topping: Combine all of the topping ingredients. Sprinkle about 1 tablespoon of topping over the batter in each muffin cup.

Baking: Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, or until they’re nicely domed and a cake tester inserted into the center of one comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven, and run a knife around the edge of each one to separate it from the pan. Carefully tilt each muffin in its cup so steam doesn’t collect underneath as they cool. After about 5 minutes, transfer them to a rack to cool completely.

Chocolate Orange Granola


The weather in New York has been strange this week. A few days ago it was so hot and humid that walking outside felt like having a dryer vent as a permanent escort. Then yesterday the temperatures suddenly dropped and it got cold enough that I needed a sweatshirt to walk outside in the middle of the day. And today we woke up to a dark and cloudy morning, as if it was the middle of November. IMG_2248

This suddenly cooler and fall-like weather has given me back-to-school anxiety. With only a month left before the end of the summer, it seems like it’s going by too fast. Every summer I go through this, until September comes and I realize that just because it’s no longer officially summer, it doesn’t mean it’s winter. In fact, we can have summer-like weather (or even better, beautiful indian summers) all through the end of October.


So, if you are like me and are already dreading the end of summer, take a deep breath and relax. Reward yourself by making (and eating) this chocolate orange granola. Have it for breakfast with milk or as an afternoon snack. Or eat it for dessert if you want. The summer is the time to bend the rules a little bit.


This is based on a recipe that appeared in the New York Times, called “My Favorite Granola.” Unlike the olive oil and maple granola recipe I posted a little while ago, this produces a sticky, chunky granola that comes out in sweet clusters. The original recipe combined orange and vanilla flavors but I found that too cloying and too reminiscent of a panforte. So, I changed it a bit, toned down the orange and added chocolate.


Chocolate Orange Granola – Adapted from the New York Times

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not quick-cooking)
2 cups cornflakes
1 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup sliced almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup canola oil
Finely grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 cup of bittersweet or semi-sweet mini chocolate chips (or your favorite dark chocolate chopped into small pieces)

1. Heat oven to 325 degrees. In a large bowl, combine rolled oats, cornflakes, steel-cut oats, almonds, salt and cinnamon. Mix until well combined.

2. In a small saucepan, combine honey, maple syrup, canola oil, and orange zest. Place over medium heat and boil for 1 minute. Discard vanilla beans, and pour hot liquid over dry ingredients. Using a rubber spatula, mix until well combined.

3. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread evenly with the granola. Bake until golden brown and evenly toasted, tossing once about halfway through, about 30 minutes. Remove baking sheet from oven and place on a rack to cool; mixture will be soft and sticky while hot, but will dry and become crisp as it cools.

4. When granola is completely cool and dry, break into bite-size pieces and mix with the mini chocolate chips. Store in an airtight container.