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Let me eat cake

When it comes to Seattle’s infamously rainy weather, I’m usually pretty nonchalant. Sure, it may be gray for roughly eight months of the year, but the clouds make a nice, fleecy blanket, insulating us from the frigid winter air that haunts our sunnier brethren at similar latitudes. And anyway, what Seattle calls “rain” is actually more of a mist—just a spittle of sorts, really, and hardly worth the price of an umbrella.

But today, dear reader, marks the twenty-fifth consecutive day of rain in our very Emerald City, and, says National Weather Service meteorologist Gary Schneider, “There are no dry days in the foreseeable future.” Yesterday, when a ray of sunlight briefly lit upon my desk, it took every ounce of my strength to keep from ripping off my clothes and curling up in the bright, warm spot next to the keyboard—a very, very abnormal response from a normally sun-phobic redhead. Clearly, I could use a good mood-enhancer, and short of a full day of sunlight, a cake—or eight—will do.

The holidays may have been a two-week parade of excess, but no amount of food fatigue can keep me from dessert. Anyway, for all its caloric riches, Christmas offers little in the cake department, a deficiency that has not been lost on my sweet tooth. No holiday cookie, candy, tart, pudding, or pie can replicate the gustatory experience of a good piece of cake—moist but crumbly, dense but spongy, simple but profoundly satisfying. And to boot, cake is uniquely well-suited to sopping up nearly anything: tea, coffee, port, or, if it strikes your fancy and your city, precipitation. I feel only justified, then, in availing myself of a stash of sugar, butter, and almonds and remedying the situation with a few dainty grape-freckled almond cakes.

Coarse-crumbed, delicate, and tender to the tooth, these cakes make up in richness what they lack in size. Subtly sweet but unabashedly buttery, they emerge from the oven like little lumps of gold, palm-sized and promising. With crisp edges and a moist, melting center, they take kindly to a good dunking in something wet, warm, and soothing, and even, maybe, to a deluge.

Red-Grape-and-Almond Butter Cakes
Inspired by Gourmet, October 2003

These cakes are a homey riff on the French financier, a small butter- and almond-rich cake baked in a rectangular mold. Gourmet’s version of this recipe called for baking these cakes in and eating them from 4 small, shallow gratin dishes, but I wanted something even smaller, something able to be eaten out of hand or nestled into the lip of a saucer, next to a teacup. I suppose I could have gone traditional and used financier molds, but because I don’t have any, I reached for the muffin tin. The method here yields 8 round cakes, perfect for an afternoon snack or light dessert, dunked in tea, coffee, or plain steamed milk, or maybe with a glass of ruby or vintage port. For variety, try using different seasonal fruits: wedges of ripe plum or apricot, for example, will be on my list for next summer.

¾ cup whole blanched almonds
½ cup granulated sugar
1 stick (½ cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ tsp pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1/3 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp salt
A handful of seedless red or black grapes, halved

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit, and set a rack to the middle position. Butter or spray 8 wells of a 12-well ½-cup muffin tin.

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse half of the almonds with 1 Tbs of the sugar until very finely ground and powdery. Transfer the ground almonds to a small bowl, and repeat with the remaining almonds and 1 more Tbs of the sugar.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the butter and remaining 6 Tbs sugar with an electric mixer set to high speed. When the butter and sugar mixture is fluffy and pale yellow, beat in the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce the mixer speed to low, and beat in the ground almonds, flour, and salt, mixing until just combined. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter evenly among the 8 prepared muffin wells. Press the halved grapes lightly into the batter, distributing them evenly among the 8 cakes. Slide the pan into the oven, and bake the cakes until they are firm and pale golden with slightly darker edges, about 15-20 minutes. If the cakes appear to be browning too quickly at the edges, tent the pan lightly with a sheet of aluminum foil.

Cool the cakes for 10 minutes in the pan; then remove them to a rack to continue cooling. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Yield: 8 miniature cakes


Blogger Zarah Maria said...

Oh! Let ME eat cake! They look scrumptious Molly. And ugh, rain. It just ain't grand - but hey, you wouldn't have an excuse for baking cake otherwise! Who am I kidding? There's always an excuse for cake!:-)

3:17 PM, January 12, 2006  
Blogger ACB said...


Molly, I would love to know how you and The Boy cook in NYC kitchens. So small! I'm in a sublet and going crazy. Granted, the regular tenents are not cooks, so their knives are dull, the have crappy pans, no sea salt, etc. Having the right tools always makes it easier.

But, do you have tricks? Tips? Required tools? Besides the phone and takeout menu, which seems to be the cooking method of choice in this city... sigh.

4:33 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous TheBon said...

We here in Eugene have also been deluged with rain as of late. In fact, we are already an inch and a half over normal rain amounts for the whole month. I'm not sure if we've had as many days straight as Seattle because, frankly, I haven't been keeping track.

6:02 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Ivonne said...

The cakes look delicious ... the perfect remedy for bad weather.

I saw some photos of rain-soaked St. Helena ... let's pray to the food gods that it will stop soon!

I love your blog ... keep up the great work!

7:57 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous Tana said...

If I lived where it rained for twenty-five days in a row, my head would be in the oven, not some cakes. God bless ya, honey.

8:34 PM, January 12, 2006  
Anonymous clare eats said...

25 days rain Yowsers Batman!

That is CRAZY! I go nuts after a few days!

Those cakes look yummy! I think we call the friands here in Oz and even have cute pans just for them!

9:21 PM, January 12, 2006  
Blogger Michèle said...

Molly how terrible that you are suffering from so much rain. I imagine by just day 5 my hair would be a frizzy mess. But as always you have found away to keep it from bringing you down--those muffins look wonderful!

11:37 PM, January 12, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

Cute and delicious! I love that you used grapes instead of something more ordinary, like a berry, Molly. I'd send up some of the dry LA weather to you, if I could.

7:23 AM, January 13, 2006  
Blogger Shauna said...

Oh heavens, these cakes look scrumptious, my dear. Of course.

It's so funny, isn't it? Seattle and rain. People should know it isn't always like this. This is the first year I've lived here where it actually feels like its own cliche. It's raining again this morning, though. People are making flood jokes on the bus.

I wonder if I could make a gluten-free version of these right now....

7:47 AM, January 13, 2006  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

25 days straight wow. But like you said it isn't heavy rain. The week I was there in 2003 it did rain every day but drizzle and squirts really. I still miss Seattle though. Sigh.

7:50 AM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

I thought about you when I saw the weather report this morning! Good luck staying dry. I clipped this recipe when it came out and I've had it sitting in my non-newspaper file for years without getting around to it. Love that I can live vicariously through you!

10:01 AM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous sher said...

Beautiful, Molly. Simply beautiful.

We've had some very rainy days here in Northern California, but 25 days? Yikes!!!!!!


10:12 AM, January 13, 2006  
Blogger Brian Gardunia said...

at least you have had rain. Texas right now is so dry that it is beginning to feel like Arizona. I won't complain about the temperature since it is 80 in January.

I've got to get back to the Northwest.

I will give these a try, although eight will probably only last until they cool long enough to touch.

10:37 AM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Briana said...

It's 70F in Los Angeles right now and the sun is shining... but I promise you, it's cake weather here as well... Actually, I'm on my way home to whip out a birthday cake and I'm trying your double chocolate recipe with the ganache- the pix were much to good to resist not trying something new.

Love the blog!

4:02 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous hag said...

I live in vancouver, and we have had the exact same weather as Seattle...I feel your pain. I think your recipe is the perfect solution to the weather. I am baking them tommorow! Keep up the good work.

4:38 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Becca said...

you are just an excellent writer! I love reading your posts ... and cake is my major weakness ... so this post was especially delicious.

7:57 PM, January 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

read "Pastries" by Bharti Kircner. cute foodie novel set in Seattle.

5:49 PM, January 14, 2006  
Anonymous Raina said...

It may not be raining constantly in Wisconsin, but the sun hasn't been out for more than part of the day in about three weeks. You know it has gotten dire when the prospect of doing dishes makes you cry... So I made these cakes last night and they're fantastic. They taste like a cross between the almond cookies one gets at Chinese restaurants and the butter cake that my husband's French grandmother makes. In short, lovely after quiche with a cup of coffee. Thanks for the pick-me-up, Molly.

3:34 PM, January 15, 2006  
Blogger Jeanne said...

Now I know what I'll be baking tomorrow....

6:32 PM, January 15, 2006  
Anonymous Melissa said...

I think all that rain is the perfect excuse to bake lots of goodies! Not that I usually need excuses, but never mind. This take on financiers - one of my favorite French confections, by the way - is brilliant. I can just imagine how beautifully the sweet acidity of the grape compliments all that buttery, almondy goodness. Brava!

11:23 AM, January 16, 2006  
Anonymous Tania said...

I've never baked grapes into a cake before. What a yummy idea!

So sorry to hear about the days and days and days of rain, but I do love your description of wanting to curl up in the sunbeam.

9:03 PM, January 16, 2006  
Blogger Natalia said...

Is all that rain worth it for the cake? I'd say yes, those look incredible. And I agree, none of the traditional Christmas cookies, pies, etc. compare to a good piece of cake.

11:11 PM, January 16, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Goooodness! I leave town for three days, and a deluge of comments comes rolling in! So glad to see I'm not the only one who prefers cake over rain.

Zarah, this probably won't surprise you, but I'm full of excuses for cake - both baking it and eating it! Speaking of which, the sun has been shining for a good hour or so this afternoon, and I'm thinking a celebratory sweet may be in order...

ACB, I sympathize with your kitchen woes! When I lived in Paris, the kitchen of my tiny studio apartment was literally built into the hallway between the bathroom and the main room. I had a two-burner stove and a small fridge beneath it, and a sink with cabinets mounted on the wall above and below. No counter space at all! I quickly cleared off the top of the nearby dresser / shelves and started using that as an auxiliary kitchen, a place to chop, to sit a toaster, to keep fruit for ripening, etc. When in doubt, recruit other furniture! When Brandon and I are cooking in his apartment, we wind up doing a lot of prep work on the dining room table. It isn't a great height for chopping, but it works. Also, when I was in Paris, I ran out and bought a couple of medium-grade knives, some big wooden spoons, a grater, and some decent salt, oil, and vinegar. There's nothing worse than not being able to properly cut up ingredients - except having them taste underseasoned! So if you can, pick up a few essential tools and seasonings. Try one of the restaurant supply stores in Chinatown, the upstairs of Zabar's, or even TJ Maxx for decently priced knives. When (or if?) you leave NYC, you can pack them in a homemade cardboard sheath and put them in your checked luggage. Hit Fairway or Trader Joe's for a great selection of reasonably priced oils, vinegars, salts, and spices. And then, my dear, do what you can. Go forth, and be brave.

TheBon, I'm sorry to hear that the rain has stretched far enough south to hit Eugene too! On the upside, it is nice and green here, so I assume the foliage is thriving prettily down by you too...

Ivonne, thank you!

Tana, it has almost come to that, I assure you. If it weren't for my sweet tooth, I'd be long gone.

Clare, "crazy" is definitely an appropriate word. It also accurately describes how I feel about the sun these days! And as for these cakes, yes, they are similar to friands, only a bit bigger...

Michele, thank you for your sympathies, cherie! I assure you, my hair has been suffering. But at least my tastebuds are doing well, right?

Nic, thank you for your generous weather offer! I am happy to report that - as of this very moment - the sun is shining! I actually saw a man wearing sunglasses a minute ago. If this keeps up, I'm going to start thinking I'm in southern California...

Shauna, I know. I struggled a bit in writing this, actually, not wanting to contribute to the hackneyed old "Rainy City" stereotype. But yes, this year, Seattle is living up to the old cliche. Better not tell anyone, though, how gorgeous the summers are. Shhhh!

Foodiechickie, you're right. It does "squirt"! Good description.

Luisa, my dear, I'm so glad to know we've been saving the same clippings. You're a woman of taste! I'll tell you what: I'll trade you almond cakes for home-cured bacon. What do you say?

Sher, thank you. Glad your rainy days are over, and here's hoping ours are too - or will be soon!

Brian, I wish I could send a little (or a lot) of our rain down to you. I hope you and yours haven't been in any of the areas affected by grass fires - very scary, very sad. I'd be lying, though, if I said I weren't jealous of your tropical temperatures. Grrr.

Briana, I dare say that you have chosen the right chocolate cake for a birthday! I hope you found the recipe as delicious as I do. Many thanks for your generous compliments!

Hag, I hope that Vancouver is getting a bit of the sun that Seattle is seeing this afternoon! And if not, hope the cakes are helping...

Becca, thank you! And three cheers, of course, for cake.

Anonymous, thank you for the book suggestion. I've never heard of Pastries, but I'll be sure to look into it...

Raina, you're very welcome! Your quiche, cake, and coffee sound like my kind of pick-me-up.

Jeanne, I hope you found them as tasty as I do...

Aww, Melissa, thank you! I should have known you'd be a financier fan, you wise woman, you.

Tania, thank you! If nothing else, rain is at least good for occasional inspiration...

From our kitchen, my thoughts exactly. May your 2006 bring much cake!

3:47 PM, January 17, 2006  
Blogger Katy said...

Yum. Those little goodies look fabulous I will have to try them out. Certainly no rain here, I miss the seattle rain no end!

12:51 PM, January 18, 2006  
Anonymous keiko said...

Oh Molly, I don't think I'd survive without seeing sun for 25 days... (even though I love your gorgeous picture of the rainy window) I think Zarah is right, I know you don't need an excuse for baking delicious cakes, but bake/cook 'even more' and let us share your beautiful creations. Keep warm, keiko

9:29 AM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger WebSorceress said...

The cake looks delicious. I agree with you about the rain and gray skies. This is my third winter in Seattle and I would give anything to have sunny days again, which is saying a lot from a fellow fair-skin redhead. I love Seattle though! Gray skies are just a reason to cook and bake some good food.

12:40 PM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Emmeya said...

These cakes are beautiful and god how I love almond sweets. Molly, I'm not sure how to tell you this, but I just got a fauncy new keyboard at work with programmable keys, and you, my dear, are #5. Right after the adobe suite and email.

3:16 PM, January 19, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Katy, if you would like to trade your sunny Argentinian weather for some of Seattle's wet stuff, I would be more than happy to arrange it! In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the cakes, rain or no.

Thank you, keiko. Today was a gray, gloomy, drippy Saturday, so I took your advice and stayed warm on the couch and in the kitchen, making an enormous pot of soup and a batch of Shuna's famous gingerbread. And you know, I might not mind a Sunday of the same...

Fellow Seattlite theWebSorceressCooks, you've got the right idea.

And Emmeya, I'm honored! I don't think I've ever had my own programmed key - and on a "fauncy" keyboard, to boot! [Excellent adjective.] Thank you!

11:20 PM, January 21, 2006  

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