Tag Archives: butter

It’s a mistake to rush through this cake.

My friend Timothy told me yesterday that the only people he knows who can truly multi-task are mothers of young children. It’s true, when you are a mother, you often are solving their problems, teaching them, or nurturing their souls more generally even while sweeping the floor or cooking, etc.

But if like me you are often alone and can fully focus on one thing at a time, that is best. One of my favorite quotes on this subject has long been from St. Seraphim of Sarov: “Whatever you do, do it gently and unhurriedly, because virtue is not a pear to be eaten in one bite.” And this morning I read on Lisa’s blog this good word from Fr. Jacques Philippe:

“To live today well we also should remember that God only asks for one thing at a time, never two. It doesn’t matter whether the job we have in hand is sweeping the kitchen floor or giving a speech to forty thousand people. We must put our hearts into it, simply and calmly, and not try to solve more than one problem at a time. Even when what we’re doing is genuinely trifling, it’s a mistake to rush through it as though we felt we were wasting our time. If something, no matter how ordinary, needs to be done and is part of our lives, it’s worth doing for its own sake, and worth putting our hearts into.”

When I read that, I had just finished eating a piece of the most delectable cake — while reading at the computer. Everyone knows that is a bad thing for an overeater to do! But the other unfortunate thing is, I missed the full experience of this cake, which I don’t exactly want to put my heart into, but which I do want to receive “gently and unhurriedly,” in a way that promotes the greatest thankfulness and encourages virtue.

I’d been wanting to try this cake to make use of my fig harvest; I think of it as an autumn cake because it is now that the figs really come in. The recipe is from Martha Stewart, but I combined the figs with dried apricots instead of fresh plums, because I had just bought the wonderfully rich Blenheim apricots from Trader Joe’s, and did not have plums on hand. The apricots were both more flavorful and colorful than plums would have been. Also I cut down on the sugar.

I don’t think I’ve ever had a more buttery cake, but the flavor of butter was even lovelier — is that possible? — by being in combination with the almonds and fruit. As it turns out, the fruit and nuts and eggs are all products of California farms or gardens, and perhaps the butter as well? So mine is a California Cake, but yours might be otherwise.

You start with a cookie-like crust that gets pre-baked, an eggy almond-flour paste spread on top, then the fruit over all, before it goes in the oven again for a long time. I added a little water to the fruit to make up for the apricots being dried. I definitely had to give the whole process my full attention.


Trying to warm the butter a bit.

2 sticks unsalted butter, cool room temperature, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
1 pound fresh figs, halved or quartered
6 oz dried apricots, preferably Blenheim variety, sliced
1/4 cup water
1 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
Almost 1 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup finely ground almond flour
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch square cake pan; line with 2 wide pieces of parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Butter parchment. Toss fruit with 1/3 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt. If you are using dried fruit add the 1/4 cup water; set aside and stir occasionally.

In a food processor, pulse 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1/4 cup sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt to combine. Add half of butter and pulse until fine crumbs form. Transfer to prepared cake pan and use floured fingers to press dough evenly into bottom of pan. (If too soft to easily press in, refrigerate 10 minutes.)

Bake until crust is light golden in color, about 20 minutes; transfer to a wire rack and let cool 15 minutes.

In food processor, pulse remaining half of butter, 1/2 cup sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt with baking powder until combined. Add almond flour, remaining 1/4 cup all-purpose flour, eggs, and almond extract; process until smooth.

Spread batter evenly over crust. Gently stir fruit to reincorporate sugar mixture and arrange on top of batter (cut-side up). Bake until fruit is bubbling and filling is firm, about 1 hour and 5 minutes (Mine took 10 minutes longer). Let cool in pan 15 minutes, then use parchment overhang to lift cake out of pan and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool 1 hour and serve. Cake can be stored in an airtight container up to 2 days.

Wouldn’t the base of this cake be good with just about any fruit topping? I think it would.

Whatever you make of it, when you do partake,
I hope you can do it with attentive thanksgiving. 🙂

Days that glow with butter.

This poet’s experience was not my own, except perhaps during my brief visits to my Grandma, to whom I am forever grateful for not being a buyer or consumer of margarine. I can still see the giant pat of butter that she would lay on top of a baked potato that she had slit and pinched open to receive the gift.

That mystical event of the tiger spinning himself into a pool of butter on the ground was early etched in my memory, too. It’s a food with special powers.


My mother loves butter more than I do,
more than anyone. She pulls chunks off
the stick and eats it plain, explaining
cream spun around into butter! Growing up
we ate turkey cutlets sautéed in lemon
and butter, butter and cheese on green noodles,
butter melting in small pools in the hearts
of Yorkshire puddings, butter better
than gravy staining white rice yellow,
butter glazing corn in slipping squares,
butter the lava in white volcanoes
of hominy grits, butter softening
in a white bowl to be creamed with white
sugar, butter disappearing into
whipped sweet potatoes, with pineapple,
butter melted and curdy to pour
over pancakes, butter licked off the plate
with warm Alaga syrup. When I picture
the good old days I am grinning greasy
with my brother, having watched the tiger
chase his tail and turn to butter. We are
Mumbo and Jumbo’s children despite
historical revision, despite
our parents’ efforts, glowing from the inside
out, one hundred megawatts of butter.

–Elizabeth Alexander

butter art 97 crp

RFC for Butter Week

Please don’t try Roger Farrar Capon’s baklava recipe. He describes it as “french-fried,” and yes, it does involved a large quantity of oil ! which I declare a horrid perversion of the spirit of baklava. This is the first thing I have found in The Supper of the Lamb that has so disappointed and surprised me. I guess no one can be perfect.

But the perfect baklava recipe does exist, simplicity itself for method; and for taste, the divine melding of flavors, of which that of Butter is central. It is the one used in my parish to make umpteen sheet pans of baklava every year for festivals and celebratory meals, and I will eventually make it at home and share the recipe here.

As I write, we Orthodox Christians are in the midst of what is sometimes called Butter Week, the week before Lent properly begins, and the last in which we eat dairy products (but start fasting from meat). The perfect time to tell about Capon’s attitude toward butter, which I am very sympathetic to. For example, at the end of a section on sauces he shares:

One last secret. There is almost no sauce that will not be improved by having a lump of butter whisked into it the moment before it is served. In addition to what it does for the flavor, it provides the sauce itself with a patina, a sheen which delights the eye even before the palate begins to judge. It is an embellishment not lightly to be forgone. Dishes should come to the table vested, robed. Don Giovanni is marvelous any way you can get to hear it. But given a choice between seeing it performed full dress, or on a bare stage with the cast in T shirts and sneakers, no rational man would hesitate. A great sauce deserves a great finish. Whatever you do, therefore, don’t omit the final grace — the loving pat of butter.

Those last words remind me of my grandmother, who showed this kind of love in her kitchen and to those she fed, including herself, and she lived healthily and on her own past the age of 100. I can still picture her standing by the stove and tucking fat pats of butter into the slits she had made in our baked potatoes just before taking them to the dining table.

Capon considers bread and butter, or cheese, to be basic ferial (everyday) food for those meals that one is keeping simple and light, for the sake of being able to enjoy real feasting less often. I’ll write more on that principle later. In contrast to bread and butter, we have what RFC calls “the epitome of baking”: pastry. He gives a lot of time and great detail to teaching us how to make puff pastry and Danish pastry, which must be made with butter, of course. I personally am not interested in this kind of cooking at my stage of life, and am happy to eat my butter in a hundred places other than pastry. Capon explains further that butter

…is not, in any except the merely technical sense of the word, grease. It melts at the temperature of the tongue, and consequently goes down as easily as cream. (You do not like to drink cream? I am sorry. Let us agree to disagree and get on with it.) Any man who cannot tell the difference between butter and margarine has callouses on the inside of his mouth…Butter is a substance in its own right, justified by its own delectability, not by its contributory services. It is a unique and solid sauce; it is apt to more dishes than anything in the world, and it is, like all the greatest sauces, worthy of being eaten plain.

Besides pastry, there are many recipes at the back of the book that feature this blessed food, including what look to be very nice cakes and cookies. I think all of us have plenty of that kind of recipe already, and if you don’t, just look on my own Recipes and Vague Instructions page on this blog. I wholeheartedly agree with RFC that butter “glorifies almost everything it touches.”

Other posts in this series are:
RFC is the man we need.
RFC begins with the meat.
RFC considers blood and sacrifice.
RFC makes one of nature’s marvels.

Buttery Week with Cats

Springtime, and the cats are caterwauling. Jim has a cute little girlfriend. Last week they were sporting together on the patio as we ate dinner, but this week he ran away when she came to eat the food I put out for him. She was stalking him at the dish today, so I went to get my camera. When I came back it appeared he was sharing his food with her. How sweet!

I was cooking while they were eating. For Orthodox this is the week before Lent proper, and we start the Great Fast on Monday. But as we like to ease into things, we already are fasting from meat as of last Monday. Some call this Butter Week, and some say it is a fun time. Perhaps I’ve always been on a trip or otherwise distracted before, during Cheese-fare Week; this is the first year I have enjoyed it this much. But anytime you highlight butter, for me that is fun.

Oh! Jim lifted his head, and it wasn’t Jim at all. It looks like Girlfriend’s sister….maybe Jim has two girlfriends! I wonder if he ran away from fright or just to be gentlemanly. Mr. Glad doesn’t really want me feeding all the cats in the neighborhood, so after I took their picture I brought the food inside until Jim comes back. It was the second time today I tried to feed only Jim and he got chased off.

My husband is o.k. with butter, and even cookies. He just told me that if a cookie is really good, he will even eat two in one day. This moderation on his part doesn’t jive very well with my own Cookie Monsterish behavior and the fact that there are only the two of us here now. So I rarely bake cookies.

But, two of my friends revealed their Freezer Cookie Ball method. I thought it would be the perfect solution to the alternate problems of me eating up all the cookies before Mr. Glad could get to them, or the cookies going stale on him. I can bake one sheet full, and freeze the rest of the dough for baking later.

I forgot that I also like to eat the dough. I’m a little shy about admitting it to the world, because my husband thinks it is the most base behavior, something like eating cat food, maybe, only more repulsive.

My sisters and I ate cookie dough as children, but I consumed the most ever in one summer between college semesters, when all three of the girls in my apartment agreed on our favorite cookie: mint chocolate chip. And we all liked to eat half the batch before it went into the oven or was even dropped on the cookie sheet.

I know that in modern times, we are cautioned against this because of the raw egg in cookie dough, but as this is nearly the only risky behavior I indulge in, and that rarely, I hope you will allow me.

So I confess that just freezing the dough doesn’t ensure that my man will have a cookie when he needs it. Luckily I also had the bright idea of freezing already-baked cookies, one to a waxed paper bag, so when he is so inclined he can defrost one in a jiffy.

Butter Week is still here for now, so I made a fresh batch of these cookies. I baked nine and crowded the rest onto a sheet to quick-freeze. It’s an adaptation of the Oatmeal Scotchies on the Nestle butterscotch chips package. I think it might be improved by doubling the recipe except for the butterscotch chips. Even though I left out half the sugar, the cookies are plenty sweet because of the high density of chips.

Buttery Week Cookies
(Oatmeal Butterscotch)

1 1/2 cups spelt flour, white and/or whole-grain (if you use wheat, use only 1 1/4 cups, because wheat flour absorbs more moisture.)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 sticks salted butter, softened
3/4 cup brown sugar (I just left out the white sugar)
1 large or extra-large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
3 cups regular rolled oats
1 2/3 cups (1 package) butterscotch-flavored chips
about 1 cup chopped walnuts

Mix as usual for cookies, adding nuts and chips at the last. Bake about 10 minutes at 375°F.