pistachio cake

Now that I’ve gotten a few bigger projects out of the way — hooray! And more soon on all of that, eee — I have a little more time again to do the things I like: read books with pages, fuss endlessly over our charges, get excited about summer events (I might make another wedding cake!), this year’s container gardening attempts, what color lipstick Refinery29 says was all the rage at Coachella this year (if I’m being completely honest) and more relevantly, cooking. Brainstorming earlier this week, Sara, who helps (I mean, she tries, she has only so many superpowers) keep me organized, said she’d had a really go pistachio cake at a coffee shop recently and I immediately wanted to try my hand at my own.

the prettiest pistachios
ground with sugar, salt

In my mind, the perfect pistachio cake would be absolutely green (my favorite color) with pistachio intensity, ideally with even more pistachios than flour but require no pistachio paste (not available everywhere and certainly not at, say, Sicilian quality), multiple bowls, or finicky steps. Usually, I start with recipes I’ve made before, trying to extract what I liked about them and apply them to something new, but I didn’t have a preferred template yet for a good, very nutty pound cake yet so I started pulling down books until I found ones that sounded promising. I landed on two, in fact, one from Yossy Arefi’s Sweeter Off The Vine and one from Rose Carrarini of Rose Bakery’s Breakfast, Lunch, Tea. They were so different, I had to make both. The first one was tender, moist, and honestly perfect, although I immediately wanted to swap out some flour with more pistachios to fulfill my dark green cake hopes and dreams. The second, which indeed had way more pistachios than flour, ended up so buttery, I am not even exaggerating when I say I could have wrung it out. I didn’t know where to go from there so I did something weird: I made some tweaks and averaged the recipes together. Like, grade school math. They teach this technique in cooking school, right?

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granola bark

In a departure from pretty much all of our norms, we went to Las Vegas this past weekend to celebrate a friend’s big birthday because… why not? Possibly needless to say, my opportunities these days to take long plane rides with no kids, lounge by pools long enough to finish books, uninterrupted even, and spend exactly zero minutes searching for or scrubbing sippy cup parts are scarce and when graced with a chance to do all of the above at once, it took half a second to book our tickets. Also needless to say, I could now use more sleep, less gin, and to reintroduce my system to fresh fruits and vegetables. This probably means we did it correctly.

the liquid ingredients taste like a graham cracker
a few things you'll need

I’m glad I did at least one semi-wholesome before I left, which was to make a big satisfying sheet of granola in the format of breakable “bark.” This comes from the new cookbook, Tartine All Day from Elisabeth Prueitt, half of the duo behind the famed bakery in San Francisco. To say I have been excited about this book would be the understatement of the season. Ever since I discovered Prueitt’s Instagram last year, where she shared the bits and pieces (with recipes!) of what she was fine-tuning for this book, I had a running list in my head of recipes I couldn’t wait to get to, and some I couldn’t even wait that long for. Also in this book, an apple beehive* that will torture me until good apples are back in season in New York; a 5-day sauerkraut, cider caramel ribs, and crispy waffles** also made the shortlist, but I’m glad I got to this first because it’s been way too long since we had a new granola recipe here and this one ticks all the boxes: not too sweet, good crisp, but not tooth-breaking crunch, and if you’re in it for the big chunks, you know, the ones you fish out of the jar first (of course you do), you’re in for a treat because this is basically all-cluster granola.

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almond horn cookies

The only thing my mother ever asked me to bring home from the bakery where I worked in high school where almond horn cookies, or Mandelhörnchen, probably no surprise as we are a family of established marzipan fiends, most especially when dark chocolate is also involved. Chewy at the center with crunchy edges, the best ones are dipped in chocolate and while I have yet to see them also with rainbow sprinkles, I say there’s no time like the present to make this a Thing.

all you'll need
breaking up almond paste

If you have no soft spot for almond paste or almond extract, you should turn away now. It’s almost all they’re made of. They’re also naturally flourless, gluten-, leavener- and dairy-free (if you use a dairy-free chocolate); the last time we had a cookie that checked all of these boxes it was all I could talk about for the next six months.

a log-ish shape

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mushroom tartines

Would this be a good place to admit that I only moderately enjoy sandwiches? I know, what kind of monster says such things! But, wait, come back. What I mean is, it’s the proportions: too much bread, too little filling. The obvious solution would be Dagwoods or sandwiches from one of those Jewish delis that are taller than your glass of Cel-Ray, but what if you didn’t want to have to unhinge your jaw just to take a bite?

extra-pretty mushrooms
thinly sliced

My solution, as ever, is to serve them open-faced, piled high and with ideal proportions. If we were in Paris — and oh, I wish I were — we’d call them tartines. My brain is clearly already there because I modeled this “toast” on a croque monsieur (which I just learned, to my delight, translates as “gentleman crunch”), those cheese-coated, pan-fried ham and cheese sandwiches with frico for miles. I’m partial to the forestier-style croque at Buvette, where mushrooms take the place of ham and there’s a thick, Dijon-rich bechamel underneath (where a cold sandwich might enlist mayo or aioli). My open-faced version uses a whole-grain sourdough bread as a foundation and so much cheese on top that it spills down onto the baking sheet and lifts off in crispy flakes. I honestly don’t know why we’d ever want to eat anything else.

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cornbread waffles

American breakfasts are predominantly sweet: yogurts with fruit sauces and overnight oats with more fruit sauces and lattes with caramel syrup and whipped cream and our secret household love, that flaky cereal with the dried strawberries, but most especially the baked goods, muffins and quickbreads and cinnamon buns. I love them all but more Saturdays than not, I wake up craving something savory I can plop a wobbly egg on top of and it’s for this reason that knew the second I saw cornbread waffles in Joy Wilson’s, aka Joy The Baker’s, new brunch cookbook that they’d be the first thing I was going to make.

making cornbread waffles

Brunch has become a cultural punching bag over the last several years — “The meal brings out the worst in restaurants and their patrons. ‘Chefs bury the dregs of the week’s dinners under rich sauces, arranging them in curious combinations.’” “Less satisfying than the two things it purports to replace.” — but this, like most food things people like to complain about, are bothersome at restaurants. At home, brunch is everything: loosely scheduled and relaxed, exactly the way weekends should be, and pretty much anything you like to eat can be easily reformatted for a lazy midday meal.

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peanut butter swirled brownies

I realize that you might have been expecting something green, rainbow-ed or four-leaf clover-ed or filled with beer, cabbage and potatoes today. But sometimes life presents bigger exigencies, needs that must be addressed tout de suite, wrongs that cannot wait for the ideal slot on the calendar to be righted. What I mean is: I really wanted a chocolate and peanut butter brownie the other day and realized I’ve never, in 10-plus years of showing up here a couple times a week, made time for these. This is reprehensible.

brownie batter
peanut butter batter

I found a version I’d worked on a few years ago in the mines of my disorganized laptop. I’ve always thought that peanut butter is perfect complement for cream cheese; the sharp creamy flavor brings out everything that often puts peanut butter to sleep in other recipes. But I hadn’t noted why the recipe had underwhelmed me, only remembered that it had so I had to — woe is me — make them again. They weren’t right; the peanut butter was too muted. So, I made them again sans cream cheese and they were better, but there were marbling issues. And then, fully drowning in chocolate peanut butter brownies but unable to quit now, I made them one last time and now I need you to come over and take these away. No human being should have to face down dozens of sea salt-flecked crisp-edged, fudgy-centered peanut butter swirled brownies every time they open the refrigerator — these are amazing cold, by the way, just do it — to get a grapefruit or avocado or apple, any of the other foods I used to sustain myself with before this week began.

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