Friday, January 9, 2015

Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake with Pistachio and Chocolate

This is all about a loss of control. Can you do this? Lose control and let wild mind take over? It is the best way to write. To live, too. ~Natalie Goldberg

This morning I finally took down the paper snowflakes taped to the front window. We had the tree undressed and out of the house before New Years, but I had left the snowflakes. Some of the them are pure white and others almost beige, all are varying sizes and haphazard patterns. But as you can imagine, each has its own merit and meaning.

A few weeks before Christmas my poet/writer/teacher/friend came over to teach me about chestnuts and talk about a possible mentorship, and she saw the snowflakes. Her first book of poetry was long in coming, and the stack of rejection letters for individual poems numbered into ridiculous. Was it 150? 300? Sorry, Rae, I don't remember. But she saved them all, and for the release party she cut those letters into snowflakes and hung them all over the gallery where she read. Her book's title was Open Winter. Appropriate. And it went on, by the way, to receive a stellar string of recognitions and prizes. That's one transformative way to tell the negations to hang it. (She was way more eloquent when she told me the story.) I wish I had been around to see it and to take one home.


But now here we are. The snowflakes down. We're all over the holidays. Over rejection, too. Every other blog post I read is about citrus. We want to move on. And move on we have.

I feel like I really have fallen hard into this New Year. In a good way. I have made plans, joined Rae's master poetry workshop, signed a contract. I have a big project or two in the works. But what is just absolutely barbaric is that this time around my plans and doings aren't about huge page counts, or inconceivable goals. Instead, my goal is daily. I write. I read. I bake a cake after my hours of clicking or scrawling are done. This space remains a pleasure. A mind break. Even - ha! - a piece of cake. And the good work I do else-wise gives me the room to engage fully when I am not writing, instead of living distracted. What. A. Revelation.

I baked this cake a few days ago, after I did my work. Its original base is one of Deb Perelman's developments. Of course. This is a side-angled version of the classic lemon yogurt cake, minus the yogurt, minus the lemon. It has bitter chocolate shavings and pistachio cream and just a little overabundance of glaze.

The name, I am sorry, implies a bit of height and grandeur, but that just isn't it. And the pictures here suggest its essence is mostly humble and maybe even a little we've-done-this-before. I mean, it's a citrus-soaked olive oil cake, right? We have done this before. Well, ahem, no. This is the humblest Mr. Toad's Wild Ride of a cake I think we've done yet. It's all la-ti-daa, we're having an afternoon nibble, and then, pow-pow-pow! And then, pow-woo! It just keeps going. That's grapefruit for you. And, not to be completely over-dramatic, but: that is daily writing for you.

Here's to losing control.

Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake with Pistachio Cream and Chocolate

adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, by Deb Perelman

Two things: Maybe you noticed the photographs show a glaze that is mostly not on the cake. I got cavalier about my measurements, meaning, I added too much grapefruit juice. Follow the recipe. And, maybe you noticed the chocolate is not quite as dispersed as you'd expect. I used only 1 tablespoon of chocolate and I added it onto the layers with the pistachio cream. Not doing that next time. Adding more, and stirring it in. I've noted such directions in the recipe.

Cake Batter:
1 1/2 all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
scant teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons grapefruit zest
1 cup natural cane sugar
1/2 cup olive oil
2 eggs
3 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1/3 cup milk-ish substance: coconut, cow, goat, nut, or soy milks all work

 about 6 tablespoons pistachio cream*
1-2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped/shaved fine

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan, or its equivalent. (An 8-inch cake round will work, as will a small decorative vessel, like I used.)

In a larger bowl, rub together the zest and sugar, until it is fragrant. Stir in the oil. Stir in the eggs, one at a time, until completely incorporated.

Pour the milk-ish substance into a glass measure and then spoon in the juice. Set aside.

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add this flour mix to the sugar mix in two doses, alternately with the milk-juice. Stir until almost incorporated and then add the chocolate and stir until just smooth.

Pour a third of the batter into the prepared pan. Dollop in half of the pistachio cream. Pour over a third more of the batter. Dollop in more pistachio. Finish with the remaining batter.

Slide the cake into the preheated oven and bake for 45-60 minutes, or until a cake tester comes out clean and the top center springs back when pressed.

Let cool in the pan 10 minutes, then let cool on a wire rack. Have ready:

2 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1/3 cup grapefruit juice

Let the sugar and juice warm up and mingle in a saucepan set over low-ish heat. It doesn't need to boil. Just dissolve. Do this early enough in the baking time to let cool completely before it is time to:

Poke holes all over the cake. It really helps! And brush the syrup over the surface and sides until completely absorbed. 

1 cup confectioners sugar
2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
1 big two-finger pinch of sea salt

When the cake is completely cool, sift the confectioners sugar into a medium-sized bowl, add the salt and 1 tablespoon of the juice, and whisk like mad until smooth, adding more juice a wee bit at a time until it reaches the desired consistency: thick, smooth, and lava-like.Pour this over the cake, and allow it to drip down the sides.

Serve sometime in the next few days. It ages well. I prefer mine at least a day old, maybe two, so that a nice crust forms on the glaze and the flavors can mingle. Enjoy!

*To make pistachio cream:
Blanch 2 cups raw pistachios for 2 minutes in boiling water. Let cool a bit and pinch out of their skins. In the bowl of a food processor or with a hand blender, whiz the pistachios with 1/2 cup hot water until smooth. (There will always be a bit of texture, but the cream should look thick and pasty, almost voluminous.) Add in 3/4 cup natural cane sugar and a scant 1/4 teaspoon salt. Whiz well. Store leftovers in the refrigerator well covered. For quite a while.


  1. This looks amazing. You are getting this fairly non-baker into baking, Amanda. I have a feeling 2015 is going to be a good year for you.

    1. So glad Emily! And, I hope your feeling for 2015 is right. I feel it, too. :)

  2. I am keen on finding out more about your master poetry class (how did I not know you also write poetry?) and that contract you signed. I'm guessing you'll speak more on both in future posts?

    1. I just posted about those new developments in the Coconut Cake post. Enjoy!