Chocolate Stout Cake for a friend’s birthday

This past weekend was my dear friend Shandy’s birthday. The week prior she had asked me if I would make her birthday cake. It has become a tradition that I make this chocolate stout cake for a couple friends’ birthdays, including Shandy, and she swears it’s her favorite cake in the world. A week later her husband also sent me a text asking if I would make her favorite cake. What an honor because I simply have to follow a recipe and it can mean so much to a friend.

I first discovered this recipe in Gourmet magazine when I was in college. I was captivated by the photo of the big slice of chocolate cake sitting alongside a chilly glass of stout. Being in college and just beginning my relationship with beer—my relationship with chocolate has been lifelong—my curiosity was piqued. I was living in Del Mar at the time and working at a gourmet chocolate shop where we carried—and paired to chocolate—several beers by the local Stone Brewery. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to explore and expand my understand of chocolate and beer pairings. I lived in what my roommate and I called the beach shack, it was one block from the beach, we never locked the door and the house always seemed to be buzzing with people, the only two constants being my roommate Diana and myself. Our other semi-permanent roommate Kate was a Biochemistry post-doc at UCSD and we transformed the back of the house into a crash pad for post-docs, surfers, friends, etc. I often cooked big pots of curry or baked something and left it out for whoever was around to eat. I made this cake regularly and we always had beer in the fridge to go along. It seemed to be the perfect post-surf or post-run snack for us twenty-somethings who could never get enough to eat and always had room for a cold beer.

A word of warning, this cake is heavy so it is not for the faint of eater or heart. Also, the original recipe suggested you eat it alongside a stout beer. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will become the favorite of someone in your life’s.

Chocolate Stout Cake

  • 3 oz unsweetened chocolate
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 1 1/4 cup + 3 tbsp. sugar (for 2 separate things)
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 14 tbsp unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 3/4 cup stout, I use Boatswain chocolate stout from Trader Joes
  • 2/3 cup freshly brewed strong coffee, cooled to room temperature


  • 1 lb bittersweet chocolate, I use Trader Joe’s 70% pound plus chocolate
  • 1 pint heavy whipping cream
  • 1 tsp instant espresso powder, optional

Heat oven to 350˚F. In a double boiler, melt the chocolate.

Butter two round nine-inch cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper, butter and flour the parchment paper. Set aside. In a medium bowl, mix flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a standup mixer beat the butter and 1 1/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy and pale yellow, about two minutes. Add yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add lukewarm chocolate and mix until well-incorporated. Next add the coffee and stout and mix until incorporated. Beat in flour mixture in two additions until it is just incorporated.

Using clean, dry beaters, in a separate bowl beat the egg whites and remaining three tablespoons of sugar until they form stiff peaks. Fold one-third of the whites into the cake to lighten it. Then fold the remaining egg whites in in two additions. Pour batter distributing evenly in the two cake pans and bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool in pans for 20 minutes, then invert on a cooling rack, remove the parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.

For frosting:

Chop the chocolate and place in a medium, heatproof bowl. Set aside. In a saucepan over low heat, heat the whipping cream with the instant espresso, if you so choose. Bring the cream to a simmer stirring occasionally. Once it’s reached a simmer, pour it over the chocolate and let it sit for two minutes then whisk until all of the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth. Chill until slightly thickened and spreadable, stirring occasionally, about two hours. But not much longer because otherwise you can’t spread it.

I use all of the frosting to stuff and frost the cake. Serve with coffee or stout or a coffee stout and enjoy!

Happy New Year with layered Syrian Orange Blossom Water Pudding

In my family we always eat white foods on New Year’s Day. This is a tradition carried on by my mom; it is how she was brought up in Damascus and it’s part of the existence she pieced together here in Pacific Grove for her family. White symbolizes newness or a clean, fresh start so you eat white foods on New Year’s Day, putting the old year behind you and focusing on the blank page that is the New Year. Growing up we had a spread of white dishes on New Year’s Day and this year was no different.

One of the dishes that my mom always makes—that really has no name—is a layered pudding. She uses Maria biscuits and two flavors—chocolate and orange blossom water—of mhalabeeyay (a milk pudding) with the white (orange blossom water) on top. Every year it’s a little different, depending on her creativity and what’s around the house. This year it was topped with shredded coconut and it was perfect.

Growing up we had mhalabeeyay when we had sore throats. Every culture has opinions and recommendations for remedies when one is sick. I have heard in the US that you shouldn’t have dairy when you have a sore throat, that dairy makes the phlegm in your throat worse but Syrians eat warm milk pudding, saying it will soothe a sore throat. When I lived in Spain my advisor insisted on a cold beer on tap—it had to be on tap—to soothe a sore throat so maybe there’s more than one theory to cold remedies?  

Anyhow, my brother liked vanilla and I liked chocolate and my mom was very fair so she would make him vanilla and then gently stir in cacao powder into mine to suit both of our tastes. What I am saying is that this recipe is forgiving and my mom is amazing.

This is also the first dish I ever learned how to make. My mom would light the stovetop for me and I would stand on a stepstool. I learned from a young age how to dissolve cornstarch in water and add it delicately to sweetened warm milk—stirring constantly but gently enough to not splatter and get scolded—to create a pudding.

For New Year’s Day my mom makes this in a rectangular Pyrex. She puts a later of Maria biscuits then chocolate pudding then another layer of Maria biscuits then the orange blossom water, the “white” pudding layer on top. For a little bit of history, the Maria biscuit was created in London by the Peak Freans bakery in 1874 to commemorate the marriage of the Grand Duchess Maria Alexandrovna of Russia to the Duke of Edinburgh. Alternatively, you can use Graham crackers instead of Maria biscuits as my mom did many a time in our childhood.

Mhalabeeyay (Syrian milk pudding)


  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1-2 tbsp. sugar, to taste
  • 2 tbsp. cornstartch
  • 1/3 cup filtered water, at room temperature to dissolve the corntarch
  • 2 tsp. orange blossom water, you can find this at most grocery stores or at the International Market at 580 Lighthouse Ave. in Monterey


In a saucepan, dissolve the sugar in the milk over medium-low heat. Meanwhile, dissolve the cornstarch in a cup, I use the measuring cup I used to measure the water because it is simpler that way and has a spout for pouring and doesn’t make a mess.

When the milk just begins to boil, reduce the heat to low and slowly add the cornstarch slurry, stirring constantly to prevent clumping. When all of the cornstarch has been incorporated. Turn off the heat and stir in the orange blossom water.

While still warm, pour into dessert dishes. Typically this dish is served with shredded coconut or nuts on top. It can be served warm or cold. If you have children with sore throats, warm is better. I hope you enjoy this treat from my childhood as much as we always do.

Bûche de Noël

I know it’s after Christmas but Christmas is not a day but a season so why not a recipe three days late? I wanted to share this for the recipe-clippers and recipe-savers out there; it is pretty involved but well worth it as my family testified to.

A brief history: a yule log or bûche de Noël (in French) is a traditional dessert served on and around Christmas in Belgium, France, Switzerland, Quebec, and several former French colonies, one of which—Syria—yours truly happens to be from. The word “yule” actually means a festival observed during the winter solstice by the Germanic and Nordic peoples. The tradition of the yule log predates Christianity and is believed to be about luck. During the yuletide season (between November and January), families were to go into the forest and pick a hearty tree to cut down. They were then to return with the most robust log they could find and burn it in deference to various deities in celebration of life and prosperity. One old European belief says that the log had to catch fire on the first attempt to light it, otherwise the family was doomed to bad luck that year.

The yule log, the cake, is composed of a genoise—an Italian sponge cake—iced, rolled to form a cylinder, and iced again on the outside with chocolate buttercream decorated in such a way so as to resemble a log.

For the genoise (sponge cake). This recipe came from my mom’s tattered and batter-stained cookbook. She transcribed it long before I existed and got it from her childhood neighbor and mom’s dear friend Tante Viva—Tante meaning auntie, another remnant of French colonialism in Levantine Arabic.

100 g. all-purpose flour, sifted

125 g. powdered sugar, sifted

4 egg yolks

6 egg whites

The juice of half a lemon

The rind of a half a lemon

1 tsp baking powder

Heat the oven to 400˚F. Line a swiss role pan with parchment paper, leave some parchment as overhang.

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and baking powder, set aside. In a large bowl, beat the yolks, sugar, lemon juice, and lemon rind. The goal is to not have lumps, set aside. In a separate bowl beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Add one spoon of the flour mixture to the egg yolk mix and fold slowly and gently enough to not form lumps. Add one spoon of egg whites and fold gently. You want to incorporate the egg whites into the yolk mixture but maintain the fluffiness and airiness of their texture. Repeat this until all of the flour and egg whites are fully incorporated.

Spread evenly onto the prepared swiss role pan. Bake for exactly 10 minutes. Until the top of the cake begins to have a golden tinge—almost like the texture and color of the perfectly roasted marshmallow. Remove from the oven and let cool a few minutes. While cooling, dust a clean kitchen towel with powdered sugar and gently peel the cake onto the powdered sugar-dusted towel. Roll gently and set aside.

While the cake cools, prepare the buttercream, recipe pieced together from multiple verifiable sources:

3 egg yolks (how convenient, you have 2 leftover from step 1)

1 egg

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup water

1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature

1-2 tbsp. coffee extract or make a really strong coffee using 1 tbsp boiling water and half a tbsp instant coffee

In a standup mixture, beat the yolks and the egg until it has tripled in size. While it is beating away, prepare a syrup with the sugar and water in a heavy bottomed saucepan. You want the syrup to reach 225˚F, measure with a candy thermometer, and be patient because it may bubble over so you will want to do this over low heat and pay attention.

Once the syrup reaches 225˚, reduce the speed on the standup mixer, remove the syrup from the heat and add slowly and gently over the egg mixture. Once you’ve added all of the syrup beat for three more minutes.

Add the butter slowly, 1/4 stick at a time. You want the quarter stick to get at least half incorporated before adding the next quarter stick. Once all of the butter has been added, beat another ten minutes. Add the coffee extract, according to your preference.

Chocolate icing, from Paul Hollywood an English celebrity chef

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

200 g. powdered sugar, sifted

25 g. cacao, sifted

1 1/2 tbsp. milk

With a handheld mixer beat the butter until it’s soft. Sift sugar and cacao over the butter and mix well. Add the milk to soften the icing. Add it in increments because you may not use it all. Or you may need more, use your judgement, but you want it to be a somewhat stiff icing—soft enough to spread but stiff enough to hold the shape of “bark.”

To assemble the cake:

Spread buttercream over the sponge cake and even it out. I only used about half of the buttercream, the other half you can put on toast and enjoy post holidays but before the New Year’s resolution goes into effect. Gently roll it up and transfer to the platter on which you will be serving. Delicately spread the chocolate icing over the rolled cake. I say gently because you don’t want to tear the sponge cake. Some people use a fork to make the effect of a tree’s bark. You can dust powdered sugar over it to look like snow, or shave chocolate, and add decorations such as macaroon or marzipan mushrooms—the traditional bûche décor. I made my mushrooms (and ladybug) by dying marzipan and hand-shaping the figures. And lastly, enjoy!

My 2018 bûche de Noël, I took the photo from the side
so you could see the genois and buttercream

BBQd oysters to celebrate life

“What will survive of us is love.”

–Philip Larkin

Hello from Mill Valley, a small town in Marin County, just north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I came up for my California grandma’s Celebration of Life; she passed away in October. She had a great run in this world and loved to party. So naturally a huge party was the best way to celebrate her. Her daughter—my aunt—arranged for 20 lbs. of See’s chocolate arranged on beautiful platters and spread all over her house, over 40 bottles of sparkling wine, the mixings for vodka tonic—her drink of choice along with sparkling wine, and the party was also catered so people could have some food alongside their drinks. There were over 200 people present and I guess that is the love that survived Marlene as the epigraph above says.

One father and son pair made BBQ’d oysters. It’s their family’s tradition and it was a perfectly wonderful way to honor Marlene. I hovered around the BBQ—having never BBQ’d oysters I wanted to learn how. They explained. You put the oysters on the hot grill unopened. As they heat they will begin to pop open slightly. That’s when you use the oyster shucker to open them entirely. The oyster has a deep bowl looking shell and a flat one. It is growing a “foot” onto the flat shell and you want to slice that off (oyster meat off flat shell) and put it in the bowl-like shell. At this point you add a dollop of BBQ sauce or garlic butter and let it grill a few more minutes until it’s ready to eat. I noticed the guys were adding vodka…maybe that’s where oyster shots come from?

When events like this happen in our life it’s important to allow ourselves time to explore what we’re feeling. Losing a person we love—while it is not easy—is bound to happen. Everybody deals with grief differently and I’m no psychology expert but I’ll share my two cents. Of course, I cried and on occasion find myself brushing my teeth and thinking of a great story I want to tell Marlene only to realize I can’t pick up the phone and call her. Alfred Lord Tennyson said “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have never loved at all.” And I wholeheartedly embody that. This is what I get for loving someone and how beautiful and amazing is that?

I leave you with the ending of the poem “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver:

To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

So love people and spend time with them. Tell them you love them and shower them with gifts, even if it’s just a flower you pick on the side of the road, like my mom says. And when it’s time to let go, know to let go because what survives the mortal body is love.

Now go call up someone you love—your friend, neighbor, etc. and make them some BBQ sauce for your favorite meat…even oysters!

Vodka BBQ Sauce

  • 1 tbsp ground cumin
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 garlic clove, pressed
  • 1 1/4 c. ketchup
  • 1/4 c. soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 c. vodka

Toast cumin in small skillet over medium heat until it turns dark in color and begins to smoke, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

Heat the oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add ginger and garlic; sauté until very fragrant, 3-4 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients (ketchup, soy sauce, sugar, and toasted cumin) and bring to a boil, whisking gently to blend. Reduce heat to very low, add the vodka,  and simmer for about a minute, whisking constantly and carefully.

This BBQ sauce can be served on BBQ’d oysters or roasted vegetables, your favorite cut of meat, etc. Enjoy!

Cake aux olives (Olive loaf)

This recipe comes from a dear French friend of mine who is now a Californian. He just became a naturalized citizen a couple weeks ago…congratulations, Franck! He is one of the most kind-hearted, generous people I have the pleasure of calling my friend and he shared this recipe with me after I enjoyed the dish at he and his wife’s home in Monterey. It is an easy recipe to follow and will satisfy not only your friends, but your appetite, as well.

While it’s called “cake” in French, the word best translates to loaf. It is a savory, dense, egg-based loaf with ham and olives. I like to use manzanilla olives, I find them to be more flavorful.


  • 2 cups white wine, separated, one for you, one for the loaf; I used Chardonnay
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup ham, cooked, I used Trader Joe’s’ black forest ham
  • 1 cup pitted green olives
  • 2 cup grated gruyere
  • Butter to grease the pan


Heat oven to 350˚F. Pour yourself a glass of wine in your favorite glass. Mine happens to be a pink and green crystal wine glass from my late, adopted grandma. It’s 5 o’clock somewhere.

Cut the ham into small squares. Drain the olives and rinse them. Cut them in half crosswise (meaning cut at the fattest part of the olive). Eat an olive or two, they pair greatly with your Chardonnay.

Butter a 9” x 5” baking loaf pan, and set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add the other cup of wine. Do it a little at a time mixing constantly so that the flour doesn’t get clumpy. Then add the olive oil in a few additions and mix really well. The smell might encourage you to get yourself a nice piece of bread for yourself to dip in your own olive oil, go ahead, enjoy. Cooking is a culinary experience best enjoyed with all the senses. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Next add the mustard and stir in thoroughly. Sprinkle in the salt and mix it in well.

Add the ham, olives, and grated gruyere; mix well.

Put the mix into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60-65 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when the top is slightly golden and the loaf has risen. It may bubble up on the edges with oil and that’s OK. While it’s baking grab your wine, any remaining ham and cheese, get cozy on the couch, and relax. You can rest in anticipation of a delightful treat in the oven.

I actually like to eat this dish when it is cooled. And it’s great to make on the weekend to take along with me for breakfast at work. Or to pack in a picnic. You see what I’m saying.


Bon appétit!

Easiest Upside-down Apple Galette

I have said it before, I love fall. You may recall my column from a few weeks back where I was in Apple Hill and I wrote about apple cider donuts. Well now I’m writing you about an apple galette. You may be familiar with apple pie (top and bottom crust) or apple tart (bottom crust), however; an apple galette is a free form crusted pastry. This is a variation of a galette in that the crust is on the bottom but it’s unique in that it’s made in a skillet, baked upside down, and then flipped over when it’s done.

I got this delightfully simple recipe from Cedar Street Times’s very own cartoonist, Joan Skillman. I think it is my new go-to favorite for an easy to make, autumnal, delicious treat.

Upside-down Apple Galette

For crust:

  • 6 tbsp chilled unsalted butter, cut in 1/2 inch chunks
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3-4 tbsp. cold whole milk

For filling:

  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 3 apples, cored, peeled, and sliced

Heat oven to 400˚F.

Put the flour in a medium-sized bowl and add the butter on top. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour until it resembles a coarse meal. Add three of the tablespoons of milk and quickly knead in until the dough sticks together as a ball. You may need the fourth tablespoon or not, you don’t want a soft dough, you just want it to hold itself together. You also don’t want to play with it too much because the heat of your hands will melt the butter and you don’t want that. Press the dough into a disk on wax paper and place in the refrigerator until ready for use.

In a cast iron skillet or a Dutch oven, make the filling. Over medium heat, melt the butter and make sure you get it on the edges of the skillet. Gently sprinkle the sugar over in a uniform layer. Let it sit for a few minutes. You don’t want the sugar to burn but you want to heat it up just so. The caramelization adds a delicious taste.  Meanwhile, core, peel, and slice your apples. I have a handy dandy apple corer, peeler, and slicer—the coolest kitchen contraption and best gift I have ever received, I might add. With just the crank of a lever the device cores, peels, and slices (uniformly!) my apples. Amazing.

Place the apples in the skillet starting from the outside and working in, with each apple slice slightly over the one prior. I like a lot of apples in my galettes so once I have the bottom all filled up, I fill in the spaces with the remaining apple slices. Now don’t touch them. Let them sit over the heat for a good 5-10 minutes or until they are just about translucent.

Meanwhile, on a gently floured surface, roll out the crust to approximately the diameter of the skillet. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Don’t touch it too much because you don’t want to melt the butter with the heat of your hands. When the apples are ready, you’ll know they’re just translucent, turn the stovetop off and quickly throw the crust on. At this point I pull the overhanging edges in a bit with my fingers.  Finally, put the skillet in the oven and bake for 25 minutes or until the crust is just golden.

Take out of the oven and being very careful, flip onto a platter or a cutting board. It should come out quickly and easily but some of the apples might stick to the skillet if you stirred them or didn’t coat the sides of the skillet with butter, like the first time I made it. The second time I tried, it came out perfectly.  Lesson: don’t stir the apples in the skillet. This is delicious with vanilla bean ice cream on top and will be devoured in minutes if you serve it all when it is still warm. Thank you, Joan!

Upside-down Apple Galette

**this story was originally published in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 26 October 2018 

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze

Do you have a food that you love to make? Or maybe a food someone you love makes? You know, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without Aunt Sally’s casserole. To me, that’s this Strawberry Tart during strawberry season.

For my 20th birthday, a friend had bought me a subscription to the late Gourmet magazine, that is unfortunately no longer with us. The day it came in the mail, I would sit in my seat at the coffee table in my apartment and read it. I would dog ear the recipes that sounded fun to make and ask my roommate and my brother what sounded good. (My brother lived in the same apartment complex in San Diego with his friends).

This became a favorite for the group and if you make it, it will probably become a favorite of your family’s, too. I decided to make it for a BBQ I was going to at a friend’s house. I had texted my friend with two options “stout brownies or strawberry mascarpone tart.” She said it was a tough call but chose the strawberry dessert. It was a hit at the BBQ which just warms my heart…I love feeding people and I especially love when they like the food.

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart with Port Glaze

For the tart shell:

  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 7 tbsp unsalted butter, chilled
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 tbsp cold water


  • 1 1/2 lb. fresh strawberries, washed, topped, and cut in half lengthwise
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ruby Port
  • 1 lb. mascarpone cheese
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 tsp lemon zest
  • 3/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • Pinch of salt

You will need a 10-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Heat oven to 375˚F.

First, make the tart shell. Blend together flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a bowl with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some roughly pea-size butter lumps. Beat together yolk, vanilla, lemon juice, and water with a fork, then drizzle over the flour mixture and stir with a fork until mixture comes together.

Gently knead with floured hands on a lightly floured surface until a dough forms. The idea is to get the dough homogenized but not melt the butter. Press into a 5-inch disk. Place in the center of a tart pan and cover with plastic wrap. Using your fingers and bottom of a flat-bottomed measuring cup, spread and push dough to evenly cover bottom and side of pan.

Prick bottom of tart shell all over with a fork and freeze until firm, about 10 minutes.

Line tart shell with foil and fill with pie weights, I use dry beans or barley. Bake for 20 minutes. Carefully remove foil and weights and continue to bake until shell is deep golden all over, about 20 minutes more. Cool in the pan until tart shell is cool to touch (and won’t melt the filling).

While the shell cools:

Stir together strawberries and granulated sugar in a bowl and let stand 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Strain berry juice in a sieve over a small saucepan, reserving berries. Add Port to liquid in saucepan and boil until reduced to about 1/4 cup, this takes a good 15-20 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl to cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together mascarpone, powdered sugar, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and a pinch of salt until thoroughly mixed.

When the shell and glaze are cooled, assemble the tart by spreading the mascarpone mixture evenly in cooled tart shell, then top with strawberries. Drizzle Port glaze over tart. And enjoy!

Strawberry Mascarpone Tart as the sun sets

We sat out on the deck of my friend’s house and enjoyed our dinner. The weather was perfect and the sun was slowly setting. While my friend BBQ’d, I spotted an orange tree full of ripe oranges and asked if I could pick. They laughed and told me to have at it. Apparently the only thing they use the oranges for is making manhattans!

An orange tree out in the valley

**This recipe and a shorter version of this story originally appeared in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 28 September 2018

When Life gives you lemons, make a cake

A Meyer lemon coffee cake to be precise. I like letting life happen to me. This is not to say I don’t have ambitions or make plans, I do. But I like to leave space for spontaneity and what the world might bring me. Last week my boss brought me a bag of Meyer lemons from her tree. I gave about half to my parents and still had over twenty lemons so I had to make one of my favorite cakes, Meyer lemon coffee cake. It’s dense but soft, has a lovely streusel layer on the bottom, and gets drizzled with a sweet lemony glaze.


For streusel:

  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 3/4 cup unsalted butter, chilled

For cake:

  • 5 Meyer lemons cut into thin slices
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Meyer lemon zest
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup sour cream

For glaze:

  • 1 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 3-4 tablespoons Meyer lemon juice

First make the streusel: mix flour, brown sugar, and salt together. Using a pastry cutter, cut the butter into the flour mixture until small to medium clumps form. Cover, and refrigerate until ready to use (no more than 3 days).

Next, make the cake: boil the lemon slices in a medium saucepan of simmering water for 1 minute. Drain, and repeat. Since you will be putting the lemon slices in the cake, this takes away the bitterness. Arrange the lemon slices in a single layer on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let cool. At this point I go through with a spoon and pick out all of the seeds because crunching into a lemon seed in the midst of enjoying coffee cake is quite undesirable.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch angel food cake pan. Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt then set aside. Beat butter, granulated sugar, and lemon zest with a mixer on medium speed in a large bowl until light and fluffy, about one minute. With the mixer running, add eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Reduce speed to low. Add the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with sour cream.

Spoon 1/2 of the batter evenly into cake pan. Arrange 1/2 of the lemon slices in a single layer over the batter. Spread remaining batter evenly over the top. Cover with the remaining lemon slices in a single layer. Sprinkle the chilled streusel evenly over the batter.

Bake until cake is golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 55 minutes, this took me more like 65-70 minutes but my oven likes to take its time.

Transfer pan to a wire rack, and let cool in pan for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and the center tube. Carefully wiggle the cake out of the pan paying attention to not break or damage the cake. Let cool completely on rack.

Make the glaze: Just before serving, stir together confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice in a medium bowl. Drizzle over cooled cake, letting excess drip down the sides. Let glaze set before slicing, about 5 minutes.


What a beauty


Meyer lemon coffee cake

**This story originally appeared in my column Postcards from the Kitchen in the Cedar Street Times on 21 September 2018

Sally’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies

My high school biology teacher Mr. Bliss (that was really his name) used to make us write down one nice thing we had done for society every Monday before we got on with our biology lesson. He called this a random act of kindness and he indeed was one of the most kind-hearted people I have met. Sometimes people would struggle—they couldn’t remember anything nice they had done—and dear old Mr. Bliss would scold, in the sweetest way, “well get out there and put some goodness in the world!”

My favorite variety of random acts is in the form of freshly baked chocolate chunk cookies. It’s amazing how much more pleasant flights are when you give the flight attendants cookies or a bar of chocolate. This started when I was quite young, because of the culture I was raised in, I can’t eat in front of another person without offering them what I’m eating. I come from a long line of feeders. So I was on a flight from Madrid to Berlin with my brother. I was living in Spain at the time and he had come to visit me; his good friend was living in Prague and we decided to meet in Berlin. It was one of those cheap flights where they don’t offer snacks and charge you for everything, I’m convinced they’re going to start charging you to breathe soon. Consequently, I had packed snacks (read: chocolate). I gave some to my brother who was seated next to me and then the flight attendant who happened to be walking by. He was somewhat surprised but I guess I didn’t look like the type of person who would poison him, so he took a piece and I encouraged him to take more, he did and with a smile went about his duties. He came back a few minutes later with a whole platter of goodies—chips, candies, drinks—and deposited them on my seatback table. My brother looked at the pile of food and then at me and up to him and then back to me. “Of course,” he said with a roll of his eyes. (This has always been his response to me when somebody does something nice to me and not to him.)

“Aww, thank you!” I said, beaming. The flight attendant made some comment about how most people have attitudes while flying and I had made his day. Well how easy was that? I decided then that I would make this practice, in preparation for a trip—in addition to making sure I have single dollar bills to tip all the people that help me along the way—I would buy a few bars of chocolate for sharing. Or bake cookies!

The recipe below is for chocolate chunk cookies. A friend of a friend is a pastry chef in San Diego and shared a similar recipe with me. I have, over the years, made some adjustments making it mine and am sharing it with you.

Sally’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Sally’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Heat oven to 350°F.

  • 3/4 cup Trader Joe’s Organic sugar
  • 3/4 cup Trader Joe’s Organic dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 egg
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 12 oz. bag Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chunks

Cream sugars and butter until light and fluffy. I do this in a standup mixer, if you don’t have one, a hand mixer will do just fine.

Add egg and yolks, one by one. Add vanilla and mix well.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.

Add half of the flour mixture to sugar/butter/egg mixture. Mix until incorporated. Then add the remaining flour and mix really well.

Stir in the chocolate chunks.

Bake on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Portion in tablespoonfuls and bake for 15 minutes. DO NOT OVERBAKE!

Let sit on cookie sheet for 1-2 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack.

*note: it helps to let dough chill for 30 minutes before baking

Carrot Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

My family emigrated from Syria when I was not walking yet, we landed in Atlanta, Georgia of all places. When I was almost four, we found ourselves in America’s last home town. I have no biological family in the area besides my mom, dad, and brother. But that is not to say I do not have family in the area, I have adopted people to be my family. The couple across the street from us when we lived on Junipero seemed fun, they were instantly aunt and uncle. Her parents—who lived in Mill Valley—visited often and they quickly became grandparents.

I was fortunate enough to have these relationships stick and last through to adulthood and cherish them just as much as my blood relatives.

This recipe for carrot cake is from the aunt (biological) of my California grandma, as I like to call her. It’s handwritten on personalized stationary and signed, “with love” from her late husband.  I found it in the recipe collection of my California aunt.  It always makes me laugh when I introduce her to people as my aunt and they look at her: five-generation-Californian-whose-ancestors-came-from-England features and my dark, Syrian features. “She married your mother’s brother?” I get inquisitively and have to explain that she didn’t have to marry anyone to get me as her niece, I chose her.

Don’t be startled by the amount of carrots it calls for, it is, as my friend calls it, a bugs bunny cake.

Nita’s Carrot Cake (I don’t know Nita)

Makes two 9” cakes.

  • 3 cups grated carrots (1 3/4 lbs)
  • 1 1/4 cups oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. cloves
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
  • 3/4 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup walnuts

Heat oven to 375°F. Oil and flour two 9” round cake tins.

Beat together oil and sugar. Add eggs 2 by 2.

Dump in carrots and beat. Sift and add together: flour, soda, salt, and baking powder. Mix nuts with 1/2 cup flour and add.

If you are confused, call your mama. She will confuse you more. (This was in the original recipe!)

Let cake cool entirely before frosting.

Cream Cheese frosting

  • 11 tbsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
  • Two 8 oz. packages of cream cheese, chilled
  • 1 1/3 cup powdered sugar, sifted
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla extract

In a standup mixer or with a handheld mixer, mix all the ingredients until smooth and homogeneous.

Frost one of the cakes with about a third of the frosting. Then add the second cake on top and finish frosting. It’s best to do a thin “crumb coat” first so any of the crumbs that may come off with the first layer of frosting don’t show up in the final product. After the crumb coat, apply the remainder of the frosting with a clean spoon or knife.  Enjoy!