Author Archives: lisa

olive oil + corn meal = cake

The underpinning of fruity olive oil plus corn meal, buttermilk, and whole eggs fashions a luscious cake.

Cake, you say?

Yes, and I say this resoundingly (exclamation point).

A lightly sweetened wedge of the cake pairs off superbly with all kinds of summer berries or slices of mixed stone fruit, especially peaches (in cooler weather, poached pears), in a composed compote. The absence of a flavoring agent (overt or in the muted background) lets the slightly gritty wedges form a blank canvas for soaking up spoonfuls of the accompaniment. Or have a slice just by itself, with good coffee.

Thinking out-of-the-bread-box (so to speak) is a fine way to plan out a casual dessert.

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Tartine Book No. 3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole, by Chad Robertson (San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2013), $40.00

In Tartine Book Nº3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole, Chad Robertson dives deep into baking with whole grains (including ancient grains), turning the tables on classic pastries (take a good, tasty look at his Chamomile-Kamut Shortbread on page 251 and Buckwheat-Hazelnut Sables on page 261) and reinvigorating traditional breads with blended grains (a spectacular example of this is the author’s recipe for Spelt & Toasted Corn-Flour Baguettes on page 59, and following pages, and a veritable textbook on how to achieve the best “crumb” and flavor in a creation based on a multi-layered process and likely appealing to only the most passionate–and possibly advanced–of bakers). Even if you only put together Robertson’s 50/50 Sablé Cookies (page 258, and following page) and read through this work at leisure, you would come away deeply admiring the scope of the topic and love of the art Roberston conveys.
This is an exciting book. It may shake up some time-honored formulas and techniques–but only if you are not wedded to exploration.
The dynamic quality of Tartine Book Nº3 is evident throughout many distinctive chapters, like “Hearth Loaves with Sprouted Grains” or “Pastry.” Expect to add to your baking education–and the pantry–significantly by creating perfect crispbreads, scones, or tarts. And prepare to take your notion of the peanut butter cookie and have it turned completely upside-down (hint: Robertson’s take is made with oat flour and the cookies make one huge jump into confection immortality).
My suggestion: With a copy of Tartine Book Nº3 in hand, travel into this author’s mixing bowl to learn his philosophy and methods. It may take several reads to absorb the material. Even if bread is not your thing, perhaps he can lure you with Salted-Chocolate Rye Cookies (page 248, and following page). Unlike his Golden Brioche (which uses four different flours and a poolish, in addition to kefir butter), the cookie-making is a way-briefer, easier event, makes you rethink rye flour entirely, and produces swoon-worthy results.
All bakers beware. This book enchants.

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olive oil-corn meal cake


1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons fine yellow corn meal
2 3/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1/2 cup olive oil


Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Film the inside of a  9-inch baking pan (2 1/4 inches deep) with nonstick flour-and-oil spray.

For the batter, whisk the flour, corn meal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and sugar in a large mixing bowl. In a medium-size mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and oil until thoroughly blended. Pour the whisked ingredients over the dry ingredients and stir to form a batter, using a wooden spoon or paddle. The batter will be moderately thick and gritty.

Spoon the batter into the prepared baking pan, smoothing it into an even layer with a rubber spatula or narrow offset palette knife.

Bake the cake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes, or until risen and set. A wooden pick inserted in the center of the cake will withdraw clean. The edges of the cake will be light golden.

Cool the cake in the pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes. Invert the cake onto another cooling rack, lift off the baking pan, then invert again to stand right-side up. Cool completely. Cut the cake into pie-shaped wedges for serving, using a serrated knife. Store in an airtight cake keeper.


one nine-inch cake, one dozen slices


on baking day, or up to two days in advance, stored in an airtight cake keeper


◊ using fine corn meal creates a lightly gritty, tender cake
◊ use fresh leavening agents for the best overall lift to the batter as it bakes

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Cinnamon toast. I love it more than ever. Simple, aromatic, crunchy, and buttery–all wrapped up in one crispy package.

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Can you recommend recipes from your books to being to a pot luck dinner, family get-together, or neighboorhood party?

Bake-ahead sheet or one-layer cakes and fairly sturdy bar cookies are ideal for preparing in advance and transporting to an event. Bar cookies can be cut into squares or rectangles, and gently layered between sheets of waxed paper or cooking parchment paper within sturdy containers. Sweets baked in rectangular, square, or round pans (each single, not multiple-layer) are easy travellers, whether frosted or not–leave the dessert in the pan, cover, and place the baking pan in a larger pan for safe delivery.

From Baking by Flavor, the following items are ideal for contributing to a potluck dinner: Kitchen Sink Buttercrunch Bars (page 209), Caramel, Nougat, and Walnut Candy Bar Cake (page 235, and following page), Sour Cream Fudge Cake (page 260, and following pages), Simply Intense Chocolate Brownies (page 280, and following page), or Cream Cheese-Swirled Brownies (page 492, and following page). From ChocolateChocolate: Bittersweet Chocolate Brownies (page 76), Supremely Fudgy Brownies (page 81), White Chocolate Chip and Chunk Blondies (page 145), Layered Toffee Bars (page 176), or Buttery and Soft Chocolate Cake for a Crowd (page 403, and following page). From Baking Style: Art, Craft, Recipes, A Noble Marzipan Cake (page 41, and following page), A Gentle Banana Cake (page 118), Date Bars, Big and Crazy Chewy (page 163), Confection Brownies (page 178),  Moist and Chewy Fruit Slice (page 322, and following page), Blondie Cake (page 409), or A Decadent Streusel Coffee Cake (page 467).

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My recipe for Cinnamon-Swirl Sour-Cream Coffee Cake, a baking delight if there every was one, was published in the FOOD pages of the Boston GLOBE. You can view the recipe here. What a splendid cake to have on hand to serve to a crowd at brunch. Enjoy!

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mix and crunch

The fruit-and-nut Crunching Mix Crave strikes me routinely. Sometimes, I even let chocolate sneak into the mix–but not at this time. Right now, all I want is a nice combination of seeds, nuts, and dried fruit. Purveyors of already-composed mixtures, generally, leave me flat. Sorry. (Well, I’m not that sorry.) Typically, when reaching for one of those bags on the shelf of your local market, you’re buying into (literally) a preordained selection of elements. No thank you! It’s only a simple matter of deciding the elements that appeal to you the most and composing your own mixture. A homemade blend seems to taste fresher and look a lot more vibrant. You can assign your own quantity of each goody, but do portion out each with some balance in mind. Now, go forth and assemble.

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Baking by Flavor Tracker: The well-loved and repeatedly-baked kitchen sink buttercrunch bars (page 209) from Baking by Flavor have filled cookie tins far and wide–year in, year out. Easy. Rich and chewy. A raging favorite.

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gingerbread gone pumpkin

Mellow, with just the right level of spice. Pumpkin puree-shaded. Moist and nicely close-textured. Dappled with a mosaic of candied ginger.

I’ll take gingerbread this way at any time, may I say. My (newest) favorite earthy-cake glows in the fall kitchen, and likely I’ll be baking this one throughout winter as well. It’s that good.

Superb served just as is (with a cup of tea) or dressed up with poufs of whipped cream streaked with a ribbon of molasses (as a plated dessert), this cake charms–every which way.

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a pumpkin morning

A pumpkin morning centers around something fresh and warm from the griddle–a cakelike, spice-scented waffle, that is.

A soft, thick batter, pressed between the grids of an iron emerges tender and fragrant with the flavors of autumn.

Have the waffle with, perhaps, a pour of warm maple syrup or swipe of honey-butter. Or a compote of gently baked pear or apple slices. But I’m content to have mine with a dusting of cinnamon-confectioners’ sugar as fast as I can get it from iron to plate.

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