A dull, gray day. The kind where you pour a glass of wine at 5 in the afternoon and then decide to bake a cake. The kind where you want nothing to do with leaving your apartment, but know that walking home from the grocery store clutching a pot of basil to your nose is everything.
I don’t bake often, so when I feel the urge to turn on the oven, it’s a big deal. What it usually means is that there’s a funk coming on. I try to stave those off. No one likes a funk.
So I call my brother to come bake a cake with me and keep me company. I put on a pair of shoes and go to the grocery store. Please don’t ask what I was wearing. Just know that it involved things that should never be worn in public, much less worn in public together. I picked up some baking goods and a few things to make Thai curry, because there’s nothing that staves off a funk better than curry and cake. At home, I pour myself a glass of just-this-side-of-salad-dressing wine that’s been hanging out in the fridge for two weeks, throw some music on, and start to cook. I’m feeling better already.
My brother says, “Is this going to be a blog post?”
“Yes,” I reply.
“Are you going to write down all the witty things I say?”
“You’re going to write this conversation down aren’t you?”
There’s not much else to say, really. This isn’t a story about witty quips. It’s a story about how the physical act of cooking, of chopping vegetables and beating eggs, measuring, smelling, tasting – is the best way I know to stave off panic.
Perhaps our stress is stored inside our hands and not our heads. After all, they’re responsible for getting the work done – they write the emails, the essays, they dial the phone. Our stress might begin in our head, but it flows out through our hands, where little bits get stuck inside our fingertips.
So when our hands are busy with something else, julienning a carrot or grinding pepper with a pestle, the process is reversed. Impulses come in from our hands and flow into our heads, soothing whatever storm was starting to brew.
That’s why the cake you make is not as important as the process of making it. Though I don’t think anyone will deny that a moist grapefruit pound cake with sweet syrup and citrusy glaze makes most things better, too.
Grapefruit and Olive Oil Pound Cake
Adapted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook.
For the cake:
1 ½ cups flour
2 tbsp. freshly grated grapefruit zest
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup raw sugar
½ cup olive oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
3 tbsp. fresh grapefruit juice
½ cup plain yogurt
For the syrup:
2 tbsp. sugar
1/3 cup grapefruit juice
For the glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
1 ½ tbsp. grapefruit juice
Pinch of salt
Pre-heat oven to 350ºF. Butter and flour a pound cake pan.
Zest two large grapefruits and rub the zest and sugars together. Similar to the effect of muddling a cocktail, rubbing the sugars into the zest releases oils in the citrus’ skin, which in turn releases flavor and fragrance. Whisk in oil, then add eggs and whisk until smooth. Juice both grapefruits and set aside.
In a separate bowl, combine dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt). Set aside. In a second bowl, combine 3 tbsp. of your freshly pressed grapefruit juice with yogurt. Alternating between the flour mixture and yogurt mixture, add both bowls of ingredients to your oil and eggs. Whisk until smooth.
Pour batter into a pound cake pan, then tap the pan on the counter a few times to release any bubbles. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Take the cake out of the pan and place on a cooling rack.
As you wait for the cake to cool, make your syrup: Dissolve 2 tbsp. sugar in 1/3 cup grapefruit juice in a small saucepan over low heat. Poke holes into the cake with a fork (etc.), then drip the syrup over the cake. The holes allow the syrup to ooze into the center of your cake. Allow the cake to cool completely.
Make a glaze by combining powdered sugar, grapefruit juice and salt and whisking until smooth. Drizzle over the top of the pound cake.