My bookworm tendencies have gotten the best of me. I requested 43 books and guess what? All of them are currently waiting for me at the library on the hold-shelf.
Do you know how many freaking books that it?! I mean, I am a warrior when it comes to reading but still. That’s insane even for me. Needless to say, I put myself to work, catching up on all my books. I finished The Late Bloomer’s Revolution (absolutely hysterical and totally relatable) in one day, staying up far later than I have in months (wow, did I just admit to my old granny tendencies) and am now totally engrossed in Astrid and Veronika.
Linda Olsson writes a beautiful tale about two women who become unlikely friends after living next door to each other in the quiet and lonely country of Sweden. Though 50 years separate these two women, they form a tight bond after sharing their sorrowful experiences and soft memories. The writing and descriptions in this novel paint glorious and sometimes heartbreaking pictures. I can’t get most of the scenes out of my head. There is such beauty in the way she writes, softly yet painstakingly thorough.
Some of my favorite scenes happen in the kitchen. Go figure, right? But, there in the kitchen, the women get to know each other, soothe one another despite the fact that they hardly know each other at all. One of my favorite scenes happens in the beginning of the novel, after the younger character, Veronika, spends a fitful night tossing and turning, having nightmares and later becoming sick. Her neighbor, the elderly Astrid, makes a surprise appearence, having never met the other lady before.
“In the kitchen she saw that her neighbor had returned and was busy lighting the stove. She had back to Veronika, and didn’t indicate that she had noticed her… She had found the frying pan and Veronika could smell the melting butter. On the table was a small jar of jam and a dented old blue thermos. The old woman was frying pancakes and when she had finished the first one she brought the plate to the table. She opened the jar and spread a generous helping of jam over the pancake before rolling it up with a fork… Veronika took the rolled-up pancake between her fingers and took a small bite. It tasted wonderful- light yet smothered in butter, and the jame sweet and filled with the flavor of wild strawberries.”
For some reason, that scene is burned in my mind. The ease and simplicity of it make me smile. Immediately, I thought about my own life and what I would whip up to comfort a stranger. Cookies seem wrong, and pies and tarts are to fussy. But a simple butter cake studded with dried fruit. Now that’s what I’d serve to break the ice.
With this in mind, I turned to Carole Bloom’s stellar book, The Essential Baker. If you haven’t seen this book yet, go out and get it. It is literally an anthology of all things baking-related. Bloom extensively goes over every technique and ingredient. Organized by ingredient, this book features recipes that every baker can use. Stone fruits, spices, tropical fruits, cocoa, you name it, Carole Bloom included it. I borrowed my copy from the library just to test it out, but I plan to order my copy ASAP.
Anyways, back to the cake… After reading that passage in the novel, I fell upon Bloom’s Dried Apricot Loaf Cake and knew that I had to make it. It seemed quite fitting, a plain cake that packed a surprisingly tasty punch. Instead of dried apricots, I used the unloved dried fruit, the raisin. I love these little babies but I know that some don’t enjoy them. (To them I say, how do you eat oatmeal cookies?!). Out of buttermilk, I substituted sour cream which is one of my favorite baking ingredients. 20 minutes later, my cake was in teh oven, slowly baking and rising as I flipped through my novel.
The cake came out 60 minutes later, although watch your own cake to make sure it doesn’t brown to much. And I’m proud to say that this cake lived up to my expectations. Soft and delicate, the cake’s fluffy yet tight crumb will delight all. Plus, the occasional Frangelico-soaked raisin make for subtle finds. This is the kind of rustic cake that should be made for friends, family, enemies, and strangers alike. It can be thrown together in a pinch, and uses ingredients that most of us have on hand anyways.
I may not have an elderly neighbor that I’d whip pancakes for, but this cake would definitely work better for me anyways. Unpretentious, simple, and scrumptious, this raisin loaf cake will win the hearts of many. One of my favorite lines from this book has been engrained in my mind. It’s a motto I should live by, one to keep close to the heart in times when it seems like darkness is all around, and one that is repeated throughout the novel. “Do not fear the darkness, for in it rests the light.” Simply stated and so true.
Raisin Loaf Cake
adapted from The Essential Baker (originally listed as Dried Apricot Loaf Cake)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons all purpose flour
½ cup dried raisins, finely chopped
2 tablespoons Frangelico liqueur
6 ounces (12 tablespoons, 1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 extra-large eggs, at room temperature
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
½ cup sour cream
One 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ inch loaf cake pan
Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a paper towel or your fingertips, generously coat the inside of the pan with the 1 tablespoon of butter. Dust the inside of the pan with the 2 teaspoons of flour, then shake and tilt the pan to evenly coat the bottom and sides. Turn the pan over the sink and tap out the excess flour.
Place the dried fruit in a small bowl and pour the Frangelico over them. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the fruit steep for at least 15 minutes.
Place the butter in the bowl of an electric stand mixer or in a large mixing bowl. Use the flat beater attachment or hand-held mixer to beat the butter until it is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the granulated sugar and the brown sugar to the butter, and cream together until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.
In a small bowl, lightly beat together the eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla, and add to the butter mixture. The eggs will sit on top of the butter mixture, so scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula after adding them to help mix evenly. The mixture may look curdled but will smooth out when the dry ingredients are added.
Over a large piece of waxed or parchment paper or a bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the salt and toss together.
Add the dry ingredients to the butter mixture alternately with the sour cream and blend well after each addition. Beat until smooth. Add the dried fruit and Frangelico and blend well.
Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan. The batter is very thick, so use a rubber spatula to spread it evenly into the pan.
Bake for 1 hour and 5 minutes, until the cake is light golden on top and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the pan from the oven and cool completely on a rack. Use a flexible blade spatula or think-blade sharp knife to run around the outer edges to loosen the cake from the pan. Invert the pan over the cooling rack or a serving plate and gently pull the pan away from the cake. Cut the cake across the width into slices and serve at room temperature.
Store the cake tightly wrapped in aluminum foil at room temperature up to 4 days. To freeze up to 3 months, wrap the cake tightly in several layers of plastic wrap and aluminum foil. Use a large piece of masking tape to label and date the contents. If frozen, defrost overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
Yields 12 servings (One 8 ½ x 4 ½ x 2 ½ inch loaf cake)