almond cake and tea

I got back from my trip to Taiwan a week before Thanksgiving, and time has just been barreling forward since.  Work, work, work, Thanksgiving, weekend of wedding scheming with my mom, radio appearance, work, work, work, work, work, Christmas Cookie Day, try recipes from a friend’s new cookbook, back to work. I’ve got a feeling we’ll be moving at this clip through the end of the year.

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But, somewhere in there, I did have time to make this cake. This slow down and savor the moment with a cup of tea cake. Neither Jordan or I are big fans of almond flavored desserts typically, but this cake is really perfection. The crumb is tight, but not too dense, and not at all dry. The almond flavor is just right. Not enough to taste fake, just enough to say, ‘yes sir, I am an almond cake. Pleased to be your breakfast’.

I love a cake that transitions effortlessly from dessert to breakfast. Some days mustering up the strength to get out of the door is tough. Cake helps with that. This cake is my breakfast cake ideal, and I’ve been thinking about it every breakfast since I made it a few weeks ago. It feels almost premature to say this one is being promoted to one of my go-to recipes, but I’m going to put it out there. It really is that good.


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In Taiwan we drank a lot of tea. It was on of my favorite parts of the trip. We’d slow down from the marathon eating and sightseeing (which also was an absolute treat), to sit down in a quiet place and share some tea. There’s a whole ritual associated with having tea in Taiwan, which the server would walk us through every time before passing the responsibility of tea-brewer onto someone in our group. Quite possibly this whole routine was just putting on a show for tourists, but I loved it nonetheless. Sitting in a quiet tea shop in a jet-lagged haze, misty air blowing in through the open windows, the business of the city moving along outside, drinking delicately brewed tea, letting the experiences of the trip wash over me. It was good.

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I tried to recreate the experience at home with Jordan, but it really wasn’t the same. I’m not quite as experienced a tea preparer as those tea house employees. Though Jordan did say that the tea tasted better out of the little tea set I brought back from Taiwan than out of our regular mugs. So that’s something. Plus, there was almond cake. Where there is tea, there should also be almond cake.

Almond Cake, from Orangette and adapted from Amanda Hesser’s Cooking for Mr. Latte
2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sour cream, at room temperature
1 tsp. baking soda
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 (7-ounce) tube almond paste, cut into small pieces
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/2 tsp. pure almond extract

Preheat your oven to 350° F. Butter and then line a 9″ springform pan with parchment paper, and then butter the paper. In a small bowl, mix together sour cream and baking soda. In another bowl, whisk together the flour and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the almond paste a few pieces at a time, and beat on medium speed for 8 minutes. Yes this is a long time, but want the almond paste to be nicely incorporated—no chunks.

Beat in the egg yolks one at a time, and mix until incorporated. Beat in the almond extract and the sour cream mixture. Reduce mixer speed to low, and gradually add the flour mixture, mixing just until combined. Using a rubber spatula, fold the batter a couple of times to make sure that all of your flour has been mixed in.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, and spread it evenly. Bake for about 1 hour – the cake will be a medium brown color and pull away from the sides of the pan. Transfer to a cooling rack, and cool the cake in its pan. Slice and serve with a dollop of whipped cream for dessert, or a cup of coffee or tea for breakfast.



meet kiwi kombucha

Let me introduce you to Kiwi, my first foray into fermenting. Kiwi is my kombucha starter, also know as a mother. I started brewing my first batch of kombucha about 3 weeks ago.

Kombucha is a fermented tea drink that supposedly has significant health benefits because of the live active cultures that it contains. I’d never tried it until my friend Noah introduced me to the beverage about a month ago. Noah is also a home-brewer. While I can’t say much about the health benefits, I can say that I find kombucha pretty tasty. It is bubbly, sour, a little vinegary and very refreshing. And since I am pretty into doing things from scratch, I decided why not brew my own.

The first step was aquiring a mother. My friend Noah said (and I’m paraphrasing here) that hippies all over Berkely just give their mothers away. Logically I turned to Craigslist. I found a girl in my neighborhood who was offering kombucha starters free to a good home. I hopped over to her house with my 1 gallon glass jar (purchased from Sur Le Table for $11 if you’re in the market) and she gave me a mother and about 12 oz of starter liquid from her previous batch.

Note: The kombucha mother is freaky looking creature. It is pinky orange and gelatinous. It is very similar to the washed-up jelly fish that you see when you’re walking on the beach. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

When I got back home, I brewed a large batch of strong tea. The ratio should be about 90% new tea to 10% kombucha starter liquid. To the tea I added 1 cup of white sugar. The kombucha bacteria feed on the sugar during the fermentation proccess. Then I let the tea cool overnight to room temperature.

The next morning I poured this sweetened tea mixture into my glass jar with the kombucha mother and starter liquid inside. Then I covered the jar with cheesecloth – it is important that the mother can breath – and put the jar in my hall closet to let my little bacteria cultures get down to business.

Kiwi had been hanging out in my dark closet for about a two and half weeks. After about one week, the brew started to smell less like tea and more like kombucha. Kiwi also seriously grew inside that jar. She now looks like a membrane tornado! (Wow, that sounds gross. But it is really cool, I swear).

It can take anywhere from 1 week to 3 weeks to brew a batch of kombucha. After about one week, I began dipping a spoon into the brew and tasting. I tried it every 3 days, until it had reached my desired kombucha strength and effervescence. Jordan was scared – the kombucha mother just got freakier looking as it grew – and he finally tried my brew for the first time last night. Once it reached the desired level of fermentyness, I poured most of the kombucha into bottles to refrigerate, leaving enough liquid to start another batch. I think my next batch will be a mixture of green and black tea.

My first experiment with fermentation was a success! Jordan says now it’s his turn to ferment – I think this means home-brewed beer is in our futures.

And a final note: this kombucha is strong in flavor – much stronger than the store-bought varieties. If you like the strong, natural flavor of kombucha, home-brewing is for you! And if you prefer a more mild flavor, cut the kombucha with some juice, soda water or ginger ale.