Quince, chocolate and hazelnut cake
On the way to school we passed a tree full of crows. When we startled them they took to the air, bright and noisy. More crows than would seem to fit in the tree, more crows than I’ve seen together at one time. Black and significant and beautiful. They flew over the rooftops and settled in a tree on the next block, and I scared them up again on the way home. I thought I might spend the day following a flock of crows and setting them off, into the cold clear air: a hoarse and raucous ruckus. What were the crows talking about? The weather, I expect. Like everyone else in this part of the world, they were discussing the cold. It’s cold. Not unseasonably, not unprecedentedly, not unexpectedly, to be true. But remarkably cold, and we’re all talking about it. I don’t mind it so much, because it feels clean and pure, it feels like a way to start anew when things come back to life. I don’t mind it so much because I’m lucky enough to have shelter and warmth, and I’m not sorry for an excuse to stay inside, sheltered and warm, baking and writing, if only for a day or two. And this brings us to your Ordinary phrase for the day. That phrase is “tuck in.” As you may recall, Isaac wanted to try taking care of somebody a week or two ago, and as part of the game he tucked me in with two pillows and two blankets. I’ve been thinking ever since about how good it is to be tucked in by gentle hands, how nice it is to be made warm and safe. Such a simple gesture, but such a rare feeling of comfort and happiness, such a memory of childhood, such a dreamy feeling that everything will be okay. Of course, “tuck in” has another meaning that appeals to me as well, especially in this weather, and that is to eat a meal. I always imagine it to be a big, hearty, warm, festive meal, in a scenario that involves tucking in. According to my beloved OED, “tuck” also describes the food itself, as well as the appetite one needs to eat it. You might find, “ten or twelve of these little bowls on the table, each with a different kind of ‘tuck’ in it.” You might have a friend who “being inclined for a tuck out, repaired where he was likely to meet with oysters.” We might “have a solid, staunch tuck-in,” all together. You might, “steal out at night from your dormitory and take tins of sardines from your tuck-box.” (I want a tuck-box!) And finally and best-of-all, you might aspire to the earn the label “tuck hunter,” so that it can be said of you that “Nothing can stop the mouth of a tuck-hunter.” And so it is my hope for all of my Ordinary friends, far and near, that however cold it may be outside, it is warm and cheerful inside, and that we all have some fine warm tuck to tuck into, or some gentle warm hands to tuck us in.
Quinces! I love them! The smell of them, the taste of them, the very idea of them. They’re quite rare around here, and a little pricey, so I always buy very few of them and then save them up till they’re almost past-it, while I wait to think of something special to do with them. This time I decided to make a cake. I cooked the quinces until they were soft. Then I cooked them with sugar, and a bit of clementine zest and juice and some vanilla extract. until they were thick and jammy. I used this, in concert with some bittersweet chocolate chips, as the central layer of a cake with hazelnuts and a bit of sherry. It’s almost like a gateau basque, except that the cake itself is a little different, a little thinner and softer.
Here’s Tom Waits with Cold Cold Ground. God I love this song.
2 t vanilla
juice and zest of 2 clementines
3/4 cup sugar
Peel and core the quinces and cut them into 1-inch chunks. Cover with water and cook for 20 – 30 minutes until quite soft. Drain. Combine with sugar, vanilla, and clementine zest & juice. Cook on low for about an hour until the quinces are deeper in color and falling apart and jammy. Set aside to cool.
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla
1 T sherry
1 cup toasted hazelnuts
1 cup flour
pinch salt, nutmeg, and cinnamon
1 stick of butter, softened (1/2 cup)
1/2 cup milk
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 and lightly butter a cake pan.
In a food processor whiz the eggs until they’re light and fluffy. Add the sugar, vanilla and sherry and whiz again until completely smooth. Add all of the dry ingredients, and process for a couple of minutes, until the batter is smooth again. A little texture from the hazelnuts is fine. Add the milk and butter, and once again, process till smooth. You should have a fairly thick batter.
Spread half the batter in the prepared pan. Cover with the quince and then the chocolate chips, leaving a margin of about 1 inch all the way around. Cover with the remainder of the batter. It’s easiest to drop it on in big dollops, and then use a knife or the back of a spoon to connect them. You can pull the edges of the batter all around the border over the top.
Bake until the cake is firm to the touch and golden brown…30 minutes or so.
Let cool, then slice.