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The Next Next Adventure | Almond Rye Cake

The Next Next Adventure | Almond Rye Cake
Almond Rye Cake

I’m here today with cake and big news: Ben and I are moving to Chicago! It’s bittersweet and exciting and many other things—I’m full of all the feelings, and have been for months. I’ve lived not just in California but the Bay Area, Oakland and THIS apartment by Lake Merritt for seven years, years that have been full of so much life, good and bad and everything in between. We moved here freshly married, and we never had a plan as to whether we’d stay forever or just a short season. It became clear in what was a really challenging first year that it wouldn’t be the latter: we were going to stick it out, and we were going to make this work. Maybe we’d leave, but we wouldn’t leave defeated. We were going to create a life.

And so we did.

Grand Lake Theatre | Delightful Crumb
Lake Merritt | Delightful Crumb

Last fall, it felt like a switch flipped and we could consider, for the first time, the idea of moving. We wish we were closer to our families in Michigan; we’d long said maybe Chicago when people asked if we’d stay in the Bay—or, alternately, whether we’d be going “back home”—if only to have something to say. It’s wildly expensive here, as everyone knows. And while we love it, there’s also a way in which it never quite clicked.

And so, we started exploring the possibility of Chicago and of a summer move, and the path was winding to say the least. It seemed good, and then it didn’t, and then it did again. All of my feelings about the Bay Area seemed to coalesce—just as we considered leaving! We reflected on past decisions and sought wisdom on this one. I made pro/con lists. Ultimately, the answer we got to all of that discerning was that we should, or at least could, try and see what might happen. And when we did, the doors opened. I work remotely and can keep my job, which was a factor in considering this in the first place, and Ben ended up with a compelling offer at a great school. As painful as it felt to leave everything here, there were no barriers to pulling up our roots.

Even so, we had to decide. I realized, literally when we sat down with dinner and a bottle of wine to hash it all out, that I didn’t want it to be a decision. I wanted it to be clear: this or that, right or wrong, here or there. And yet. I don’t actually want to live in a world like that, and I don’t believe we do. Sometimes there’s a right answer, but often there is not. Rarely are things clear and easy, even if we look back and tell the story that way. I’d been saying to people that we were really confident about our move out here from Michigan, but while packing up my books, I found an article I wrote in 2013 for Remedy Quarterly in which I state that we moved to the Bay Area with an average of 75% certainty between us. So much for that memory!

And so, here we go, on to the next adventure. It’s bittersweet, but I’m incredibly grateful to love these things—this place, my community, the life we built here—enough that it’s hard to leave.

Certain seasons of life, I’ve found, are essentially about one thing—one lesson or specific focus or set of experiences. But these seven years were not like that. This was time enough for several seasons, with plenty of ups and downs and twists and turns. I can’t tie an easy bow on what this time has meant, and I’m not interested in doing so. It’s hard to even describe why we’re moving in a succinct and straightforward way. I have far more to say on my time in the Bay and this decision and the topic of transition, but I’ll save it for later, once I’m on the other side.

San Francisco Skyline
Ocean Beach

For now: cake!

This cake, which I didn’t make with plans to post (hence my super casual stoop photos!), was the last thing I baked in my kitchen before boxing up my pots and pans two weekends ago. I made it primarily to use up a lingering box of almond paste, but I left out the wrong pan in my early round of packing up kitchen equipment and ran out of all-purpose flour. I tossed in some rye flour instead and used a lemon rather than an orange. All told, I made a bunch of modifications and worried that this last cake on Wayne Ave would be a flop that I’d take it way too seriously and/or as a metaphor. But it didn’t, not at all, and I’ll take that as a reminder that things don’t always go wrong. This cake would go splendidly with any summer fruit and a big spoonful of whipped cream, or stand alone with coffee or tea.

I can’t wait to make it in my next kitchen.

Almond Rye Cardamom Cake

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh’s Sweet

The original recipe calls for a 9-inch Bundt pan and baking for 50 to 55 minutes. As my Bundt pan was packed away, I’ve not yet tried this. I’m sure it’s lovely, but I’ll also say that an 8-inch round yields a satisfyingly tall little number. The cake emerges with a golden top that has a slight, pleasant crackle, and it’s even got that delightful crumb.

Almond Rye Cake

7 oz (200 g) almond paste, broken into pieces

1 cup (200 g) cane sugar

1 cup plus 1 1/2 tablespoons (250 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus additional

Zest of 1 lemon

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

6 large eggs

1/8 teaspoon almond extract

3/4 cup (90 g) all-purpose flour, plus additional

1/2 cup (50 g) rye flour

2 tablespoons cornstarch

1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Grease and flour an 8-inch round pan with at least 2-inch sides. Place the almond paste in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Add the sugar and beat on medium-low speed for about 3 minutes, or until the almond paste breaks up. Add the butter, lemon zest and cardamom and continue to beat. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the bowl from time to time. Add the almond extract and beat to combine.

In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, cornstarch, baking powder and salt. Add this to the creamed mixture slowly, beating on medium-low speed until the batter is just combined.

Scrape the mixture into the prepared pan, smooth the top and bake for about 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Keep an eye on the cake, and if it begins to brown, tent it with foil. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then tip the cake from the tin before letting it continue cooling.

Serve at room temperature, with fruit and/or cream if you like. The cake will keep well for several days, wrapped tightly with plastic, and also freezes well.

Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette for All Manner of Vegetables

Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette for All Manner of Vegetables
Zucchini with Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette | Delightful Crumb

I think a lot about vegetables and how to prepare them, which will surprise no one. When it comes to eating vegetables, I personally am pleased with many simple things: a handful of snap peas, a perfect green salad, a straightforward smoothie. But that’s only the beginning. While I don’t eat meat, I also don’t subsist on raw cucumbers and kale, as some people still assume. This is neither sufficient nutrients nor excitement enough for me or for you. And while we’re all much more accustomed to stunning veg dishes than we were only a decade ago, thank goodness, there’s more progress to be made. Vegetables still have some work to do to impress those raised on canned green beans or gently cooked Brussels sprouts or the sad restaurant salads of yore—and maybe the rest of us, too.

Some days, perfect produce prepared perfectly is sufficient. The green salad at Via Carota, which I have eaten at its source but have not yet made at home, is an excellent example. So too is the composed salad category, should you find you have some top summer produce on hand upon returning from the farmers market or, should you be so lucky, your backyard garden.

But some days, more pizzazz is in order. Enter this caper-raisin vinaigrette. It’s punchy, bright, packed with flavor and more than enough to convince a zucchini skeptic of the humble squash’s potential. The recipe comes from Six Seasons, a cookbook by Joshua McFadden of Ava Gene’s in Portland—absolutely a restaurant worth visiting next you’re in that fine city. This little condiment demonstrates why McFadden is known for his way with vegetables. It is delicious, and it elevates simply cooked vegetables to great new heights—ideal for these summer days when you want to minimize the time spent at the oven, and perhaps redirect that attention to the grill and conversation with friends, cold beer or lemonade or rosé in hand.

And so, if you are yet to be convinced that vegetables are exciting, I offer you this caper-raisin vinaigrette and a plea to try again. For all the rest of you, here’s one more for your collection!

Zucchini with Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette | Delightful Crumb

Zucchini with Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette

Adapted from Joshua McFadden’s Six Seasons

I use this vinaigrette most often with zucchini, as outlined below, but broccoli, turnips, eggplant, and potatoes would all be excellent foils. It’s also quite forgiving, so, for example, use the small-sized tin of anchovies you find at your grocery store, and don’t worry if you have black raisins rather than golden ones. If you are a vegetarian (not a pescatarian), I think this would still be delicious sans anchovies, if slightly less punchy.

As for the zucchini preparation, I don’t have a grill, but I’ve included those instructions as well—it’s summer, after all! I often forget to salt the zucchini beforehand, and it turns out just fine either way.

Zucchini with Caper-Raisin Vinaigrette | Delightful Crumb

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon balsamic vin.

1/3 cup golden raisins

3 garlic cloves, peeled

3 tablespoons capers, rinsed and drained

One 1.6- to 2-ounce tin anchovies, drained

About 3/4 cup lightly packed flat-leaf parsley, plus more for serving

1/3 cup olive oil, plus more for serving

Kosher salt, plus more for serving

For the zucchini:

Zucchini (about 1/2 pound per person is generous)

Big handful of cherry tomatoes

Red pepper flakes

Fresh lemon juice

Dried breadcrumbs, optional

Freshly ground black pepper

To make the caper-raisin vinaigrette, put the vinegar and raisins in a small bowl to let the raisins plump for about 30 minutes.

Put the garlic in a food processor and pulse until finely minced, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Add the capers and anchovies and pulse until you have a coarse paste. Add the parsley and pulse until completely chopped, again scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary.

Add the raisins and vinegar and pulse until the mixture is blended but still slightly coarse. Scrape the mixture from the processor into a bowl and whisk in the olive oil to make a slightly chunky dressing. Taste and adjust with more salt or oil, if needed. Store in the fridge for up to 3 weeks.

To serve over zucchini, begin by preparing the squash. Trim the ends and halve lengthwise. Generously salt the squash on their cut faces and leave to drain for at least 1 hour and up to 24 hours (transfer to the refrigerator if leaving for more than 2 hours). If you forget this step, don’t worry—it will still be delicious.

When ready to prepare the squash, blot it with paper towel to remove moisture and excess salt.

Heat a grill or the broiler to high. Cook the squash (without oil) until both sides are lightly browned and it is just tender.

Pile the squash into a bowl, tumble in the tomatoes and drizzle with a glug of olive oil, a pinch of red pepper flakes, several twists of black pepper and a generous amount of lemon juice. Toss gently. Add a couple of big spoonfuls of the caper-raisin vinaigrette and toss again. Taste and adjust the flavors with more vinaigrette, salt, black pepper, red pepper flakes and/or lemon.

Arrange on a plate and shower with breadcrumbs, if using, and a few leaves of parsley.

Mostly in the Moment | Strawberry Tart

Mostly in the Moment | Strawberry Tart
Strawberry Tart | Delightful Crumb

Holiday weekend! It’s the “unofficial start to summer”! I’m here, therefore, with strawberries, dessert and a reminder to chill.

I recently listened to this fantastic story on an old episode of The Moth, in which the writer Dan Kennedy recounts his experience going on assignment to Indonesia with scientists on the hunt for a giant snake (I repeat: GIANT SNAKE). Despite his fear of snakes, he says yes to the opportunity in part because of a conversation he’d overheard not long before between two women in a coffee shop, one of them talking about her effort to live in the moment. I won’t give it all away, but the snake-hunting doesn’t go all that well, resulting in no loss of life but new terrifying nightmares, etc., and the story is in part a critique of the pressure we put on ourselves when we idealize the living-in-the-moment concept—or, at least, understand it to mean something beyond the bounds of our everyday lives. I found it quite on point.

It’s not that we shouldn’t do our best to live in the moment, to be present to our lives. We should! In fact, I think it’s tremendously important. We are far too distracted, by far too many unessential things. It’s unconscious; it’s conscious. It’s the reality of our so-called modern lives, and it’s a problem. And yet, these days, the very concept of being fully present—the way we ought to be—seems like one more thing to feel stressed out about, one more thing to feel guilty about if we can’t do it well all of the time. It’s hard enough to be calm and present, to be our most! authentic! selves!, without all the pressure we have added to these lofty goals.

And the truth is, I find that the moments in which I’m truly, deeply present come unexpectedly. Like it or not, there’s no formula. Yesterday, for example, on a blustery spring day in San Francisco, Ben and I were walking on the trail at Lands End, which begins at the Sutro Baths and curves along the coast, flanked by wildflowers and green grasses, emerging in an insanely opulent neighborhood that butts right up against all that nature (classic Bay Area…!). We came around a corner, and suddenly, there was a gorgeous view of the Pacific, extending out from the Bay, over the tops of the trees and bushes that run from the edges of the trail way down to the water. There are plenty of great views on this hike and I’ve walked it enough that they’re all familiar. But the light was hitting the water just so, making the waves sparkle in bright patches. A little bit of sunlight was peeking through the clouds, and we could hear the waves crashing in the distance. I wasn’t trying to be present, but I was, not thinking about the uncertainties of my life or the conversation we’d been having or what would happen if there was an earthquake at that very moment or my obligations in the week ahead. For just that moment, I was.

Like the rest of the natural world, food is a vehicle that often brings us to this place. When something is delicious, it can stop us in our tracks. The seasons, too, encourage it. When berries appear at the market, we must snap them up; their season is fleeting. Sure, you can pick up the imported option any time of the year, but we know the truth: it actually won’t be the same. I am so grateful for this. I don’t slow down easy, but the sudden appearance of my favorite produce does the trick.

And so, in an effort to encourage more calm in all our lives, here’s an extremely simple way with strawberries. It is lovely to close out a dinner party or on a Sunday afternoon. You can prepare most of the tart’s components in advance and assemble it easily before serving. It lets the berries shine, as they should. And while it’s certainly best on the first day, I am perfectly happy to eat it on the second or third. Living in the moment, you know.

The Simplest Strawberry Tart

Adapted from Yossy Arefi’s Sweeter Off the Vine

Makes one 15×6-inch tart, about 8 generous servings

Think about how sweet your strawberries are and the sweetness you’d like in the finished tart when considering whether to use the jam and the quantity of sugar. I forgot the jam the first time I made this, but it was delicious anyway, and simpler and purer in flavor. I also like the jam rendition, however, for something slightly sweeter and less austere. Yossy suggests that this recipe would also work well with blackberries, raspberries, peaches, or nectarines, using apricot rather than strawberry jam. I haven’t tried any of these versions but am sure this is true.

The tart dough makes twice as much as you’ll need, but I’m including the full recipe because who doesn’t want extra pie/cookie/tart dough at the ready?

While you should try to eat this on the first day, leftovers keep well for a day or so in a tightly sealed container in the fridge. I’d recommend leftovers for family consumption, though, and not guests!

Strawberry Tart | Delightful Crumb

1/2 recipe rye pie crust (recipe follows)

1 egg, lightly beaten

About 1 pound (450 g) strawberries

1 cup (225 g) mascarpone

2–3 tablespoons sugar

2–3 tablespoons strawberry jam (optional)

For the crust:

1 1/3 cups (170 g) all-purpose flour

1 1/3 cups (170 g) rye flour (or substitute more all-purpose)

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 g) unsalted butter, very cold

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

8 tablespoons (120 ml) ice water

To make the crust:

In a large bowl, whisk the flours and salt together. Cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes. Add the apple cider to the ice water.

Working quickly, add the butter to the flour and toss to coat. Use your fingers or the palms of your hands to press each cube of butter into a flat sheet. Keep tossing the butter in the flour to make sure that each piece is coated. You are aiming to create flat, thin shards of butter from the size of a dime to the size of a quarter. If at any point the butter seems to be getting soft, refrigerate the bowl.

Sprinkle about 6 tablespoons of the cold vinegar-water mixture over the flour mixture. Use a wooden spoon or your hand to stir until just combined. If the dough seems dry, add more cold water a couple of teaspoons at a time. The dough is ready when you can pick up a handful and squeeze it together without it falling apart.

Press the dough together, then split it in half. Form each half into a disk, and wrap each in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 2 hours and preferably overnight before using. You can keep the dough for up to three months in the freezer, wrapped very tightly in plastic and in a plastic bag or airtight container. Thaw in the refrigerator before using. You need just half of the recipe for the tart that follows.

To make the tart:

Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll out the pie crust disk into an oval approximately 15 by 6 inches and just under 1/4-inch thick. But note that this is meant to be easy and rustic, so don’t worry too much about the exact dimensions of the tart. I like to leave the edges as they are, but you can trim them with a paring knife or pastry cutter for a neater finish. Move the parchment and crust to a baking sheet.

Dock the crust with a fork to prevent it from puffing up in the oven. Brush the surface of the crust with the egg wash, going all the way to the edges.

Bake the crust until deep golden brown, about 25 to 30 minutes. Check halfway through. If any bubbles have appeared, use a spatula to press them flat, and if your oven bakes at all unevenly, turn the pan 180 degrees. When the crust is finished, cool completely on the pan.

While the crust cools, combine the mascarpone and 2 tablespoons of the sugar. Hull the strawberries and slice them into 1/4-inch slices.

Move the cooled pie crust to a serving platter or cutting board. Spread the sweetened mascarpone over the top in an even layer, leaving a bit of the edges exposed. Dot with the jam, if using. Arrange the sliced strawberries in a single, slightly overlapping layer. You can go for a more decorative pattern if you like, but I think a haphazard arrangement looks equally lovely.

Sprinkle the tart with another 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of sugar unless the strawberries are particularly sweet. Slice and serve, preferably within a couple hours of assembling.

Sunflower Scones & Other Sleepers

Sunflower Scones & Other Sleepers
Sunflower Seed Scones | Delightful Crumb

One of my most important baked good theories concerns what I call sleeper pastries. Do you know them? I’m talking about the not-so-flashy options in the bakery case. The non-Instagrammable ones. The more understated treats looked over in the pursuit of their brighter, trendier neighbors. Things like rustic scones and flaky biscuits; everyday cakes unadorned by frosting swirls and lacking stunning layers; jammy fruit bars with crumble topping; simple biscotti hiding from the masses in a jar by the register. I can spot these quite successfully in cookbooks and bakeries alike, behind the sticky bun embellished with thick toffee and the laminated pastry with this week’s most surprising filling and the chocolate-drenched something-or-other and the towering layer cake. These humble options tend to be my favorites. To a certain degree, this is a matter of taste, but I also believe there is something objectively special about them as well. I am not saying that these are necessarily the very best items on offer (though they might be!). But I think we all know that while flashiness generally gets the most attention, the flashy things of life are rarely the best things.

Lest you think I haven’t thought this through, let me give you some examples. Beginning locally, the oat scone and the chocolate thing at Arizmendi locations across the Bay, Tartine Bakery’s lemon loaf, the cardamom walnut scone at Berkeley’s Fournée Bakery, the apple cake and quaresimale at Crixa Cakes. Back in Grand Rapids, Michigan, my list included the breakfast cookie at the now-shuttered Marie Catrib’s and the trail mix bar and health muffin (health muffin, I know!) from Nantucket Bakery. The whole wheat scone I recently ate at Cellar Door Provisions in Chicago fits the bill, as does the fruit-studded cornmeal cake at Santa Monica’s Huckleberry Cafe. Helen Goh, co-author of Sweet with Yotam Ottolenghi, clearly understands what I’m championing here. She calls the lemon and poppyseed cake in that book the one she’d choose—of all her remarkable creations—if she could take just one cake to a desert island. It is, indeed, a truly fantastic cake that I’d have posted on this blog already if not for the fact that I’ve arguably shared well over my Ottolenghi quota. Despite their fame, Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace Cookies are an excellent candidate. Who knew a little chocolate cookie could be so exquisite?! This almond cake is a sleeper, consistently surprising my dinner guests with its deliciousness, as is the first everyday cake I ever met, which remains a favorite.

Look, I won’t push the analogy, but remember how nice it feels to look past the shiny stuff for simple goodness? We’ve maxed out on more, and now all I want is a little less—less noise, less clutter, fewer expectations, quality not quantity. There are reasons why Marie Kondo has exploded (or rather, leapt like a sparkly garden fairy…?) into our public consciousness not once but twice. I’m certainly not the only one tired of feeling that we’re all chasing a series of things we can never have in full—the ideal job, the perfect home, work/life balance, the kids you long for, the partner you need before you can get to that, the right wardrobe not just for you but also for said children, the life you thought you’d have, some elusive idea of happiness or ease. How many times do I need to remind myself that everyone’s life is hard and weird and nuanced? How many times do I need to remind myself that the complication of my own life is okay—human, necessary, interesting, even good? We went on a mini-vacation to LA last week, and I didn’t check either work or personal email and didn’t text people back and it felt amazing. Remember how that used to just be life?

So, yeah, the simple pastries strike a chord.

And all of this brings me to today’s recipe, another sleeper that shouldn’t be overlooked: the sunflower seed scone from Lisa Ludwinski’s Sister Pie. As is obvious, this cookbook, like the bakery of the same name in Detroit, is first and foremost about pie. But there are also recipes for cookies and breakfast pastries and even paczki in its pages. Among the several scones are a jasmine crème fraîche number and one bursting with blueberries and a savory option with cream cheese and dill and radishes. But if you’ve stuck with me thus far, you’ll already have guessed that not only did I look past the pies but also that I chose the least-flamboyant scone to fall in love with: a humble, crumbly, fantastically delicious little number made just tender enough by sour cream, topped with almost too many sunflower seeds and lovely paired with jam.

I’ve not yet made it to Sister Pie but hope to eventually. When I do, I will make it a point to eat some stunning pie, of course, but I’ll be looking for the sleeper to add to my order as well. And as usual, I doubt I’ll be disappointed.

Sunflower Seed Scones

Minimally adapted from Lisa Ludwinski’s Sister Pie

Makes 8 scones

The original recipe calls for spelt flour and all-purpose flour. Finding myself without spelt, I also had good luck with a combination of whole wheat and all-purpose flour. To do the same, substitute 2 cups of all-purpose flour and 3/4 cup of whole wheat for the all-purpose and spelt flours called for below.

Sunflower Seed Scones | Delightful Crumb

3/4 cup sour cream

1/2 cup heavy cream

1 egg

1 cup sunflower seeds

1 cup spelt flour

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons kosher salt, plus additional

2 tablespoons cane sugar

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cold

Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

In a dry skillet over medium-low heat, toast the sunflower seeds until light brown and fragrant. Season with a pinch of kosher salt, toss well and set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, gently whisk together the sour cream, 1/4 cup of the heavy cream and the egg.

In a large bowl, combine the flours, baking powder, salt, sugar and 1/2 cup of the sunflower seeds. Place the butter in the bowl and coat it with flour. Use a bench scraper to cut the butter into 1/2-inch cubes, then break up the cubes until they are lightly coated with flour. Cut the cubes into smaller pieces with the bench scraper. Switch to a pastry blender (or use your hands and work quickly to keep the butter cold) and blend the butter, turning the bowl, until most of it is incorporated but you still have quite a few larger chunks.

Pour the cream mixture into the dry ingredients and mix with a spatula until there are no pools of liquid remaining. With your hands, turn the dough over and press it back into itself a few times, incorporating any floury bits at the bottom of the bowl. Continue until the dough has formed one cohesive mass.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Pat it into an 8-inch circle, and use the bench scraper to divide it into 8 wedges.

At this point, you can freeze the scones for up to 3 months (I particularly like to make half the batch and freeze the rest!). To do so, place the unbaked scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze for at least 1 hour, until frozen solid. Then, wrap them tightly in plastic, put them into an airtight box or bag and return to the freezer.

When you are ready to bake, transfer the scones to the baking sheet, leaving at least 2 inches between them. Brush the tops and sides liberally with the remaining 1/4 cup heavy cream. Generously pile on the remaining 1/2 cup of sunflower seeds and finish with a few flakes of sea salt. (You might have some seeds left—they’re great on salads or with fruit and yogurt.)

Bake the scones for 18 to 25 minutes, until evenly golden brown and nearly doubled in size. (If baking from frozen, decrease the oven temperature to 400 degrees and bake for 25 to 35 minutes.) Remove the baking sheet from the oven and transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool.

Enjoy the scones warm or at room temperature, slathered with jam and/or butter. They are also more than adequate warmed in a toaster oven on day two.

Another Jam Tart for Springtime

Another Jam Tart for Springtime
Fregolotta | Delightful Crumb

Many years ago, early in this blog’s life, I wrote a series of posts that I called the in betweencalling out the peculiarity of this time between winter and spring. I hold to my evaluation (though I’m embarrassed as anyone to look back at old writing, my youth laid bare on the page for all to read!). These intermediary weeks are strange not just for the ways that the weather can swing back and forth but also for the fact that we arrive at this moment EXTREMELY READY for spring: for rhubarb and berries and bare legs and vacation and all of the glorious green produce. And it’s here—kind of. Momentarily. Maybe.

Life, too, no? I am certainly in some kind of season myself right now, which may or may not be an in-between time—that, of course, depends on what’s next—but at the least, it has been a season of waiting and of listening, trying to discern through the haze, and most assuredly not doing. Perhaps the pause‚ whether seasonal or in life, reminds us to reflect. There’s a line I love in Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion in which the central character captures how reflection itself can be cyclical: “It’s weird,” she said, “the way sometimes you’re in your life, but other times you’re looking back at it like a spectator. It kind of goes back and forth, back and forth.”

We don’t like uncertainty, of course. A recent episode of Invisibilia offers the reminder that this is no fluke. We’re biologically predisposed to be uncomfortable with uncertainty; otherwise, we’d never make any decisions! So at least it’s natural. And while I feel quite ready for some answers, perhaps their refusal to emerge means this particular in-between season isn’t quite over.

And so, pending answers and snap peas and strawberries, I wait—and I bake. Yet in the absence of berries and with the scarcity of rhubarb in these parts, what are we to do? There’s chocolate, yes, and citrus, too. But we’ve been relying on these all winter long. Jam is the answer, my friends!

I posted about a different jam tart in the aforementioned seven-year-old post, compliments of the great David Lebovitz, which remains an excellent choice. I made it at just this time last year, in fact. That jam tart is positively stuffed with jam, with a cornmeal crumb and the option for fancy latticework. But today, I have another tart. And in case you think a person doesn’t need two jam tarts, I am here to tell you that a person does. Or, at least, I do. This one has just a swipe of jam, is fantastically easy to pull together and yields something more akin to a cookie, in the best of ways. It makes a lovely weekend pick-me-up and would be right at home at a dinner party, too. Make the whipped cream—because really, why not?—and have patience. Spring will come. It always does.

Fregolotta – Italian Jam Shortbread Tart

Minimally adapted from Kristen Miglore and Food52’s Genius Desserts (recipe from Cindy Mushet)

Serves 8 to 10

In the tart pictured here, I used apricot jam and chopped almonds. But the template is flexible—use any preserve you like, preferably something not too sweet, and whatever type of nut you have on hand. The original recipe says that you can also freeze the unbaked tart for up to one month. Bake from frozen and note that it might take a couple of extra minutes in the oven.

Fregolotta | Delightful Crumb

3/4 cup (170 g) unsalted butter, softened

1/2 cup (100 g) cane sugar

1/4 teaspoon almond extract

1 1/2 (190 g) all-purpose flour

1/8 teaspoon sea salt

1/4 cup (80 g) jam

1/3 cup (30 g) chopped or sliced raw almonds

For yogurt whipped cream (optional):

1 cup (235 g) cold heavy cream

1/2 cup (115 g) plain yogurt (Greek or not, any fat content)

Pinch of sugar

Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit with a rack in the center. If you plan to make whipped cream, put the bowl and whisk(s) in the freezer until you need them.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed until the mixture is pale and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the almond extract and mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds more. (You can also do this with a handheld mixer, which will just take a bit more time.)

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Add this to the butter-sugar mixture and mix on low speed until the dough is well combined, about 30 seconds. Measure out 1/2 cup (130 g) of the dough and pat it flat on a small plate; put this in the freezer to chill while you complete the next steps.

Using your fingers, press the remaining dough into a 9- or 9 1/2-inch tart pan in an even layer, pressing it slightly up the sides at the edges. Use a small offset spatula or the back of a spoon to spread the jam in an even layer over the surface of the dough, leaving a 1-inch border uncovered around the edges.

Remove the reserved dough from the freezer and crumble it into small pieces over the layer of jam. Sprinkle the almonds over top.

Bake on a rimmed baking sheet until the topping is evenly golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes.

While the cake is baking, make the whipped cream. Go for your usual version, or add yogurt for a fun variation. Combine the cream and yogurt in the bowl of a stand mixer with a big pinch of sugar. Beat until the cream just begins to thicken, then finish by hand, stopping when you have soft peaks.

Remove from the oven and cool completely on a rack before serving—preferably with whipped cream. Store the tart covered in plastic wrap at room temperature.