I’ve never understood why the phrase is “easy as pie” as opposed to “easy as cake.” Pie, in my mind, equals not so easy. Getting a crust right is a tricky thing; at least, it can be for me, though at this point I sort of get how to do it. Mind you, I worked in a pastry shop for a summer and took a Zingerman’s pie making class; a magazine I was working for paid for it, which helped. Then there’s the filling, involving cutting fruit up, no big deal with bananas, a 2nd circle of hell thing with cherries.
Cake, on the other hand, is easy peasy lemon squeezy—in this case, literally, because of, well, the lemon. True, a sponge cake can be a little gnarly, given the whole separated egg thing, but we’ll save that for another day. This Spiced Lemon Walnut Rosemary Cake, on the other hand, couldn’t be simpler. It’s really lovely for springtime. I split this recent one between two good friends, Steve, and my son, and they all made kind of a big deal about it. The kid had to pick out the walnuts, but liked the rest so much he didn’t mind.
Note that exact ingredients are below, as is required for baking. Baking is not an improv thing unless you’re some sort of baking genius. Which I am certainly not.
You can make this in a Bundt pan, which I like because 1) they’re pretty in a frumpy way, and 2) I also like the way they portion out. But you can also use a flat glass pan, like a casserole dish. Should you use the Bundt pan, you MUST apply first a generous layer of fat—coconut oil, butter, or non-stick spray—followed by a good dusting of flour, which you then tamp out so there’s no excess. I skipped the flour and you can see the result below. The top of the cake decided to stay in the pan. As long as the cake is still hot, this isn’t a complete disaster; you can just scoop it out and press it back in place. Still, if you’re trying to impress someone, and just to circumvent a case of severe kitchen frustration, do the flour.
Use a whisk to combine dry ingredients. A great trick I learned during that summer in the pastry shop.
If you have leftover buttermilk, freeze it in little muffin cups. It’s super handy, I always have to buy more than I can use, and voila, no waste. You can always sub it for milk in any baking recipe; it has more body and flavor.
This is an oil-based cake rather than a buttery one. Use what’s known as “tasteless” oil. This doesn’t mean oil used by fans of Baywatch. Snort! This means oil without a taste, so olive is out. But sunflower, grapeseed, canola, even avocado work fine.
For this type of cake, add the dry ingredients and buttermilk in layers. Start by putting a third of the dry ingredients into the oil/sugar mix, then add half the buttermilk. Etc, until both are used up. You want to start and end with dry ingredients, so that’s why they’re in thirds and the buttermilk in halves. Why? I don’t know!
Fold in the walnuts at the very end. The walnuts are finely chopped, so distribute fine. If you have a walnut hater, wait til the cake is in the pan. Gently add the walnuts to the pan, leaving them out of however much of it the walnut hater will eat.
Make the syrup ahead—even a day or three if you’re serving the cake as part of big do and you want to advance prep. You want to pour/brush cold syrup on the hot cake, the better to infuse the cake with the flavor. Do this with the cake on a rack over a plate after you’ve poked a bunch of wholes in the cake with a skewer; I reuse my cake tester to dandy effect. You’ll end up with syrup on the plate, which you then add to the cake, getting as much of the syrup in there as you can.
Serve with lemon sorbet for a little lemon madness or really good vanilla ice cream to counter the lemon. Or raspberry or strawberry sorbet for crazy color contrasts. And of course, since it’s a coffee cake, coffee.
Look, even if you’re intimidated by bread, Greek Easter Bread is crazy easy and crazy delish.
I do get that bread can intimidate. There’s the rising, and the fact that yeast is a little temperamental. There’s the kneading, which needs to be done enough, and yet not too much. In this case, there’s the braiding, but that’s kinda fun.
In fact, it’s all pretty fun. This particular recipe hails from the April 2004 issue of Bon Appetit, and was part of a big Greek Easter feast. Without the red eggs, you just have a spectacularly yummy bread braid. You could also do any color eggs you want. Whatever way you bake it, you will end up with a fragrant, barely sweet, buttery puffy loaf. You don’t need more butter, but you can add some if you’re feeling especially decadent.
My son, who likes few things better than ripping a piece of bread off a freshly-baked loaf, couldn’t quite get over this one. “What’s in this, Mom?”
The grated citrus peel, both lemon and orange, adds a lot of flavor. But the true secret of a wonderfully enigmatic Greek Easter Bread is mahlepi, or mahleb, aka ground dried cherry pits. You will have to venture to a Middle Eastern or Mediterranean market to find it, but you can substitute a teaspoon for 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract in any baked good. While you’re there—if you’re there in the spring—look for the special red Easter egg dye. It’s stronger than the mix of beet juice, turmeric, and red food coloring that I used.
Greek Easter Bread: A Few Tips
2-3 days ahead, dye hard-boiled eggs in deep red dye. Let them sit in the dye until you’re ready to bake the bread. I use 3 eggs in the bread, but to have some extra deep red eggs on hand is cool. They are really beautiful and unusual.
Whisk a package of yeast into 1/4 cup of warm (about 100-110º) water. Let it rest undisturbed until it gets thick and a little bubbly. If this doesn’t happen, your yeast done bit the dust. Do not proceed until you find some working yeast.
Exact proportions are listed in the recipe. Get out your hand held electric mixer to cream soft butter and sugar together. You’ll then beat in an egg, the citrus peel and mahleb or vanilla, warm milk, and flour. Once you get the egg in and as you add the milk, the mixture may look “broken.” In other words, the butter won’t be so smooth any more. Don’t worry; as you add the flour, first with the mixer, then with a spatula, it will all come back together in a lovely soft dough.
You need the dough til it’s smooth and satiny, then let it rest to rise. In theory, this should take about 1 and 1/2 to 1:45. Mine took closer to 2 1/2 hours. Don’t despair; if your yeast is live, the bread will rise. Just give it time, and keep it in a warmish place (but not the oven).
Gently knead the risen bread down, then separate it into 3 pieces. To make the bread into ropes, you kind of roll and pinch until you have a 24-inch rope, three times.
Braiding the braid is a little more like a French braid; the video shows how I got to kind of a false start, and frankly the end is a little messy. So tweak that to your hearts content.
Then make the indentations for the eggs. Blot the eggs like crazy; they’ll still bleed a little, but don’t worry. Press them into the little dents you’ve made in the bread. Let rise a second time, till lovely and puffy.
Bake at 350º for 20 minutes, then turn the bread and bake another 10. The finished bread should be golden and make a nice hollow sound when you tap the bottom.
You can definitely eat this bread all by itself, but a little butter, jam, honey, quark, or labneh is also lovely. And Greek coffee on the side makes it even better. Here, it’s part of a table of Greek appetizers including Greek salad and spanikopita.
I do love my cabbage, which is obvious if you have a little high school French. (And if you haven’t, “chou” means cabbage and “fou” means crazy). It’s a simple, salt-of-the-earth veggie that grows absolutely everywhere. I predict it will soon overtake Brussels sprouts as the Next Big Veggie. And, as far as preparations go, roasted cabbage raises the ante considerably from the terrifying boiled cabbage of yore.
Like all the other roasted veggies this week—kale, cauliflower, and carrots—roasted cabbage is ridiculously easy. Unlike them, cabbage takes on a decadent quality. Roasting brings out the cabbage’s sweetness. The fat that you use makes every bite feel sumptuous. The seasonings you choose up the ante a little more, though just salt and pepper work beautifully, too. I loved the seasonings in this recent Cooking Light recipe , though I did find working with softened butter to be a challenge. I recommend melting half the amount of butter, mixing with an equal amount of oil, then tossing the seasonings directly on top. It’s a lovely combo.
Also departing from most other vegetables, cabbage needs a little bit of extra love. Cut it in wedges; depending on the size of your cabbage, 4-6 is a good number per half of cabbage. As you can see from the photos here, I only had about a 1/4 wedge on hand, so I just cut it in 3 pieces. But don’t toss in the oil and spices with wild abandon. Rather, gently turn the cabbage in the fat. For extra-decadence, melt a little butter with the oil; cabbage and butter, like cabbage and pork, make each other very, very happy. A little sugar (I like coconut) adds some nice carmelization and a little more sweetness.
Then, place the wedges on a cookie sheet, and roast as usual. At the 20-minute mark, turn the cabbage carefully with a spatula. If you can keep the wedges at least somewhat intact, they work out to be excellently-sized portions. And even if they fall apart, you can still see the demarcation lines pretty clearly.
On the groaning board that many of us create this time of year, cranberries should be present. They possess an extraordinary ability to cut through the fat, heavy, savory tastes of the season with a just-right bang of tart sweetness. For some folks, cooked cranberry sauce does that trick perfectly. (See the recipe for Ruby Red Cranberry Beet Sauce.) But for others, only something raw will suffice—particularly given the scarcity of raw food at countless holiday gatherings. Enter Sparkling Raw Cranberry Orange Relish.
If cooked cranberry sauce is easy, Sparkling Raw Cranberry Orange Relish is downright ridiculous. Just put raw cranberries and orange flesh in a food processor, buzz til finely chopped. Then put the mixture in a bowl, stir in sugar to your taste, and boom, you’re done. I ended up adding ginger at the last minute and loved it.
And for those who want to be careful about sugar intake, Sparkling Raw Cranberry Orange Relish offers tremendous flexibility. With a cooked cranberry sauce, you have to cook the sugar or it won’t dissolve properly. So if you start low and then try to add sugar in, you could end up with a gritty sauce. The raw relish actually sparkles because the sugar crystals catch the light; that nearly imperceptible crunch blends beautifully with the crispy texture of the raw cranberries. Start as minimal as you like. Stir in a tablespoon of sugar; maybe that’s enough. Taste, then stir in the next one. Just keep going until it tastes the way you like it.
You can make Raw Cranberry Orange Relish up to 2 days ahead, and you can freeze leftovers. Due to apples and pears not holding up so well once they’re cut, I wouldn’t recommend substituting them for the orange unless you’re going to eat the relish immediately. With my feasts this time of year, I like to cook as many dishes ahead of time as possible, so I stick with orange. Of course, it’s your call.