Baumkuchen
Photo by Ben Rhau

One night last week, I sat at home wondering about wedding presents. It was the night before two of my friends were to be married at City Hall and I had no good ideas. The wedding was to be minimal and casual (both the bride and groom are from Germany and they are planning to have a more elaborate celebration back home later on), so good ol’ standbys like blenders and fancy plates just seemed wrong. In fact, the “reception” would just be a bunch of friends drinking at a bar, so imagine how out-of-place a gift of say, a giant silver serving platter would have been. Then suddenly, a brilliant idea!! I will bake them a cake!

Off I go, then, to search for some sort of German wedding cake recipe on the internet and that’s how I came upon Baumkuchen or to us Americans, “Tree Cake”. Apparently known as the “King of Cakes” (not to be confused with King Cake), this multi-layered cake is usually baked on this crazy, spit-like contraption that some professional bakeries have that result in a cylindrical cake with rings in it like a tree. While I might be an engineer, I’m also not about to fashion a spit in my kitchen and risk personal (and Nathan-al) injury. So thank goodness there’s a revised version where the layers are built vertically in a cake pan – even someone as clumsy as me can manage that!

This cake was so delicious and so much fun to make that I’m sure I’ll do it again sometime, for another special occasion. Except, next time, I won’t underestimate the amount of time this recipe takes and will start before 11pm. That is, unless I’m mentally prepared to stay up until 2am again.

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Cranberry Harvest Muffins

When I was in college, I never really ate breakfast. But nowadays, I can’t even leave the house until I munch on something, even if it’s something little. I have no idea when this change happened or why, but I think in general, I like it because I like breakfast foods. Honestly, how can anyone not like eggs and bacon and sausage?

However, most weekdays, I don’t really have time to make any sort of fancy eggy dishes before rushing off to work. So I like to make sure the house is stocked with a few easy and quick breakfast options. Muffins are great for this purpose – you spend a little time baking a batch on a weekend or weekday evening, let them cool for a bit, then throw them in a freezer bag. Then, whenever you feel the urge for a quick breakfast, you pop them in the microwave for a minute or so. Ding! And you’ve got a steamy-warm muffin, almost as if they just came out of the oven.

Since winter is not exactly the season of delicious fruits and we’re good little consumers who eat with the seasons, let’s turn to our favorite contessa, the Barefoot Contessa. On one of her shows, she gave a recipe for Harvest Muffins, loaded with tart cranberries and gooey dried figs. Mine’s basically the same, except I said no to hazelnuts and replaced them with almonds instead.

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