Dumplings are different in each area of China, though all over China, the vast majority are filled with pork. In Shanghai, you can get dumplings that are also filled with a little broth in the bottom, though I’m never patient enough to wait for them to cool and I always end up scorching all of the inside of my mouth and breathing like I’m practicing Lamaze. It’s a pretty cute routine actually.

But by far my absolute favorites are ones we get on the street here. They’re the authentic version of what Chinese restaurants in the States call pot-stickers. As in, you know… they stick to the pot.  They’re browned on the bottom as opposed to just being steamed, which is the more often seen way to prepare dumplings.

I ran into trouble though earlier this year when I decided I wanted to stop eating so much meat. By in large, I haven’t missed it one bit. I eat vegetarian meals more than 2/3 of the time and I love it. But as I’ve mentioned before, China’s not really a great place to try to be a vegetarian. Meat gets added to everything as a way of showing hospitality or wealth. Why would you not want to eat meat? That would be like being poor.

Unfortunately, the heavenly scent of these dumplings waft a full block in every direction as you pass the open air shops. As I walk the dog, that smell is just almost too much for me to bear with those browning skins, and Walker almost always gives in, so it makes standing my ground about my meat consumption a little tough.

Well I found an alternative. Make my own, and instead of using pork, fill it with great vegetables. So pick your favorite filling and stock your freezer with some fantastic dumplings for many quick and easy dinners during the week! And just for the record, the vegetarian option satisfies Walker too, so it’s hardly girly rabbit food!

Carrot Filling

Ingredients

1 leek, sliced
1 tablespoon minced ginger
1 cup white cabbage, shredded
1 cup carrot, shredded
1/2 cup chopped garlic sprouts or chives
1 teaspoon white pepper
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
salt and white pepper

Preparation

1. Toss all the ingredients together and press together, straining excess moisture from the mixture. Checks for seasoning and add salt and white pepper to taste. Refrigerate until ready to wrap dumplings.

Mushroom Filling

Ingredients

1 cup diced mushrooms – I used shitake because its what I had on hand
1/2 cup shredded Napa cabbage
2 tablespoons finely chopped red pepper
2 tablespoons finely chopped scallions
2 teaspoons finely minced pickled ginger
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro leaves
3 minced cloves garlic
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon hoisin sauce
2 teaspoons toasted sesame oil
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preparation

1. Saute the diced mushrooms in a hot wok until they start to soften. Toss in the red pepper and the cabbage and let wilt. Turn the heat down and add in the scallions, ginger, cilantro, soy sauce, hoisin, sesame oil, salt, and pepper,  stirring to combine. Remove from heat and set aside to cool

2. Once cool, add the light beaten egg, and with your fingers, work into the filling. Press out excess moisture and refridgerate until ready to fill your dumplings.

Making the Dumplings

Ingredients

Two packages of store bought dumpling skins
Water
Sesame seeds (optional)

Preparation

1. Lay down plastic over a plate, and dust with flour. Set aside.

2. To form the dumplings, remove one wrapper from the package, and hold in the palm of your left hand. Take a scant tablespoon of whichever filling you like and put in the middle of the wrapper. Dip your right pinky finger in water, and trace the water around half of the circumference of the wrapper.

3. Bring the two sides together, first pinching at the very middle, and then working your way to the edges. However, leave the very ends open. At both ends, push the very tip in, until it meets the crease made by the center line you’ve just folded. At this point it will look like a “T.” Fold one of the arms of the “T” up to meet the top of the center line. Repeat on the other side, folding the arm of the T the opposite way, so that your dumpling will be shaped like a crescent.

4.  Place each dumpling down on the plate and freeze, even if you’re going to use them that day. I promise they’ll be three hundred times easier to work with. You won’t regret it.

5. Once you have filled what will feel like three thousand dumplings, and they’re all frozen, you’re ready to get cooking. Put a cold pan on the eye of the stove, and coat with a little oil. Place frozen dumplings, bottom side down, on the cold pan. It doesn’t really matter if they touch to be honest, just as long as they’re not stacked on top of one another.

6. When the bottoms begin to brown, add 1/4 cup of water and immediately cover, steaming the dumplings. Watch the dumplings and completely evaporate the water so that the bottom crisps up and sticks to the pan just a bit. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and let them toast a bit.

7. Serve hot with dipping sauce, a simple recipe follows.

Simplest Dumpling Dipping Sauce

1/4 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup rice vinegar
1 tablespoon dark sesame oil or 1/2 tablespoon dark, 1/2 tablespoon hot sesame oil
1 small clove garlic, grated with a microplane
raw ginger root, grated with a microplane into the sauce, to taste

Whisk everything together with a fork, and serve. And take my measurements with a grain of salt. Really. Because if I’m being honest, I make this sauce with like a full inch of raw ginger and maybe 3 or 4 cloves of garlic. What can I say, I like mine spicy. But if you’re looking for something less potent, add each ingredient sparingly and figure out the best ratio for you.

Wow typing out these recipes were a bunch of work. I didn’t remember this process being so hands on, but I guess it kind of is. The best part about it though is that you freeze them. In fact, you’re supposed to freeze them, and you won’t get the same crispy bottom and perfect steaming if you don’t. So if you’ve got a lazy afternoon, and you want to save yourself a lot of time during the week, while having a fun project that everyone can help out with (okay maybe the dog shouldn’t help), this is the project for you.

When I first moved out to China, I soon discovered that practically every Chinese banquet meal ends with a huge plate of watermelon. Scared that what they’ve served you is bullfrog? It’s okay. Wait it out until dessert and then gorge yourself on watermelon. Don’t know if that dish is vegetarian or not? Ha, who are we kidding, this is China, so it’s not. Save it for the watermelon.

While I was studying abroad, my roommate and I would often seek out fruit stands. We would go buy a whole watermelon, and ask the vendor to split it in half. He’d do so with what looked like a giant steel machete which emanated a satisfying thwack, and we each carry one half of our watermelon back to our dorm room.

We’d spread out a ratty old towel on the cold tile floor and whip out two spoons that we’ve bought from the local market that constitute our only silverware in China, and we each would go to town on our own half. But something was always missing from those feasts of watermelon: salt.

My grandfather taught me to put salt on my watermelon, and it’s the only time I ever really splurge on it. Watermelon to me needs salt. It makes it both sweeter and slightly tangy and it keeps you hydrated on those days when the idea of having one more glass of water makes you want to explode.

This salad is a tribute to that savory watermelon: the watermelon and the onions and basil all meet halfway, and the flavors blend wonderfully. Walker had a few bites and then just ate the toppings, but he doesn’t like watermelon, and in this case, his opinion cannot be trusted. Both our dinner guest and I went back for seconds and thirds, and I suspect you will too.

Savory Watermelon Salad
Adapted from Sunday Suppers

Ingredients

1 small watermelon, sliced into thin rounds
1 medium onion, sliced thin
100g sheep’s milk feta cheese
Handful of basil
Half a lemon
1 tablespoon butter
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

1. About 30 minutes before you want to assemble the salad, star t the onions. Melt butter in a sauce pan, and add the onion slices. Using a spoon, break apart the rings, coating each in the butter. Cook until translucent. Add the balsamic vinegar and toss with the onions to coat. Reduce the vinegar until it glazes the onions, and then remove from heat and refrigerate while you prep the other ingredients.

2. Using a  biscuit cutter, cut circles out of your rounds of watermelon, putting the circles in a bowl. Sprinkle 1/2 a teaspoon of salt over the rounds, and gently toss together so that the salt touches each piece evenly. Add the juice of half a lemon and toss again gently. Refrigerate to keep cool.

3. Meanwhile, slice the goats cheese in to thin strips. Roll up the basil leaves, and using scissors, cut small slices out of the roll across the width. As you cut, you’ll see that the basil will unroll, giving you pretty strips to garnish your salad with.

4. Assemble the salad by layering each element with one another, in the style of a caprese salad. Sprinkle with pepper and serve chilled.

Critic’s Comments

Since we’re not trusting Walker this time, I have asked my ayi what she thinks. She says (translated from Chinese) “That looks like a delicious hamburger!” Ayi, it’s not a hamburger, it’s watermelon. “Why would you put cheese on watermelon! Watermelon isn’t yellow!” Whatever. My genius is  so unappreciated. In all fairness, she never tasted it. It was delicious. And in retrospect, maybe it did look a little like a hamburger.

I’ve been really bad about posting lately, and I’m sorry. I could tell you that we had guests, and while we cooked a lot, we didn’t get around to photographing much of it or I just haven’t had time to write about it.

Or I could tell you that we just got home from a whirlwind trip to Taiwan, where one of my bridesmaids family took us in, stuffed us full of street food, and showed us the sights – Walker even ended up on several TV channels and in several newspapers after we stumbled upon a hoard of reporters doing a story on a changed bus stop sign – for the bus we just happened to be taking. He gave the interviews in Chinese but one of them has been translated into English here.

But instead I’ll just give you all a recipe for something quick, simple, and healthy that is good both the day of, and for left overs, cold and straight out of the fridge.

If there’s anything that a weekend full of street food will leave you craving, its something simpler, and un-fried. This is exactly that, and filling, with many different interesting flavors and textures that play well off of one another.

Please note that I’ve used an odd type of rice here – it’s not wild rice as we think of it in the US – several different types of grains all together including these long and thin dark brown grains. This box which I found at the Wulumuqi Lu store just has those long dark brown grains, and it plays up the nutty taste. But use whichever long grained rice you like best.

Zucchini Pilaf With Almonds
Adapted from the NY Times, adapted from Louise Beylerian

Ingredients

1/2 cup slivered almonds
1/2 tablespoon butter
1/2 cup long grain rice – I used wild rice, which requires about double the cooking time
1 cup vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 pound zucchini , cut into rounds and then halved or quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sultana raisins
3 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Greek yogurt, or strained non-Greek yogurt
2 garlic cloves, grated with a microplane
1 tablespoon fresh mint
Pinch of cayenne
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Preparation

1. For the rice: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place almonds on a baking sheet, and bake until lightly toasted, about 10 minutes. Remove, and set aside to cool.

2. In a small pan over medium heat, add butter and rice. Stir until the rice is lightly toasted, 5 to 8 minutes. Add vegetable broth and salt. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to very low so the broth barely simmers. Cover and cook for 30-40 minutes if using wild rice – 15-20 if using any other kind. I kept coming back to it and tasting tasting tasting, thinking it would be ready, so just pull it off when you’re almost happy with the texture – you’ll be cooking it again. Meanwhile, prepare the zucchini.

3. Place a large sauté pan over medium heat, and add olive oil. Add onion, and cook, stirring, until translucent and lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Add garlic, and cook for 2 minutes. Add the zucchini, coriander, cumin, cayenne and salt. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes. Add rice and sultanas, and mix well. If the rice looks dry, add two tablespoons water. Cover, and cook until the zucchini and rice are tender, about 15 minutes. The rice mixture may be uncovered and quickly stirred once or twice, covering it immediately after.

4. For the yogurt garlic sauce: In a small bowl, combine the yogurt, garlic, mint and a pinch of cayenne. Mix well, and season with salt and pepper to taste.

5. When the rice and zucchini are ready, top with cilantro, toasted almonds and fresh black pepper. Serve immediately, with yogurt-garlic sauce passed separately.

When I first came out to Beijing to study abroad, I was absolutely terrified about what I’d eat. My Chinese wasn’t very good then (still isn’t, who am I kidding?), and ordering anything in a restaurant seemed like a daunting task.

I arrived at my school’s campus and slowly began to find my way around. Every morning before classes started at 8, a woman and her husband would push a little trolley cart to the gate of the university, and set up shop for the morning.

They sold jidanbing – a crepe-like pancake made mainly of egg with scallions and crunchy, crumbly bits laced with a dark sauce – and while for the first few mornings I dove in with excitement, I soon started missing breakfast foods that I had come to know and love. Cheerios, most notably. I have always had a thing for Honey Nut Cheerios, and being away from breakfast cereals started to get old fast when I discovered what exactly people meant by “Beijing Belly.” (Google it if you must, but I don’t recommend it.)

After I started dating Walker, he introduced me to the world of Carrefour and Jenny Lou’s, where, for upwards of $12 US, I could buy a box of Western cereal to munch on in the dorm rooms. I think that accounted for a lot of my initial attraction to Walker, to be honest – he held the key to cereal.

I started to feel silly though, spending $12 for what was essentially 4.5 bowls of cereal. Surely there were better fast breakfast options.

Though removed from student life now (but only just barely – and boy do I miss it), spending that much money on cereal still feels absurd to me. Do we still by Honey Nut Cheerios? You betcha. But it’s really a once a month thing, if that. More often, we pull together a breakfast ourselves – albeit without any corporate mascots or games on the back of the box.

And that’s better, isn’t it? You know exactly what you’re eating, even if what you’re eating is chocolate.


Dark Chocolate, Almond and Cranberry Biscotti
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
2 ounces dark chocolate, chopped roughly
1/3 cup dried cranberries

1/3 cup toasted almonds

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and arrange a rack in the center of the oven. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Whisk together flour, ground almonds, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt in a medium bowl.

3. Beat egg and sugar with a handheld or standing mixer on medium-high speed until pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Beat in vanilla and almond extracts. Reduce speed to low, and gradually add flour mixture. Beat until no traces of flour remain. Stir in cranberries. The dough will be very wet and sticky.

4. Scrape the dough onto the prepared baking sheet, forming a thick line in the center. Wet your hands and pat dough into a 9-x-3-inch rectangle. Bake until puffed and dry to the touch, about 25 minutes. Cool on pan for 15 minutes; keep oven on. Peel off parchment and carefully transfer rectangle to a cutting board. Cut crosswise into 1/3-inch-thick slices.

5. Lay slices flat on unlined baking sheet, and bake until dry, about 10 minutes. Flip slices and bake for 10 minutes more. Let cool completely. Cookies will crisp as they cool.

6. Drizzle with melted chocolate if desired.

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Getting dinner on the table when you’re working seems like a feat to me. To all of you that have it down… how?

I get home and the last thing I want to do is chop and assemble and then wait as something becomes ready to eat. I might microwave something. Maybe. Or I might just eat a bowl of cereal, and half a raw zucchini. No really. That was dinner the other night. And it managed to use up the last zucchini as it was beginning to look tired and I had no other inspiration for using only half a zucchini without buying more.

But I think about real dinners that made it to the table as I was growing up. There was always a main and two sides, usually vegetables, one maybe a starch. How does that happen?

Unless you count cereal and a zucchini as anything more than… well, odds and ends – something Walker calls “eating around the house,” it hardly fits the bill for a tasty nutritious meal made after a day at work.

The only thing I’ve been able to come up with for those weeknight meals is to spend Sunday making far too much of something that will freeze well, and reheating throughout the week. Well these fit the bill wonderfully. And you may be thinking to yourself – really? With bananas? But you’ll have to trust me on this – it’s unexpectedly fantastic. The sweetness of the banana is well balanced with the heat the spices bring. And if you par bake them, and then finish the baking on the night you want to eat them, you’ll have something healthy, and nutritious and out of the ordinary to make those weeknight meals seem less of a chore and infinitely more enjoyable.

A side note: sorry about the single photo. Believe it or not, this is the best of the batch. I was hungry and we were pressed for time that night. But yum, plus look! Two sides! The corn had just been baked in its husk with butter with a little lime, and the mango and avocado salad is pretty phenomenal along side those empanadas. So I’m sorry for the bad photography, but don’t take it out on this lovely dish. It’s sure to win you over.

Any ideas about how to handle weeknight dinners? Please give me some tips! And I’m always open to hearing about more dishes that make it in and out of the freezer tasting nice all the while!


Black Bean and Bananas Empanadas
adapted from Bon Appetit, November 2004

Ingredients

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 firm medium-size banana, diced
3/4 cup chopped onion
1 15-ounce can black beans, drained
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 recipe for empanada dough (see below) or 1 17.3-ounce package frozen puff pastry (2 sheets), thawed
1 cup coarsely grated Monterey Jack cheese
1 egg, beaten to blend (to brush over empanadas)

Preparation

1. Heat oil in heavy medium skillet over high heat. Add banana and sauté until mushy and golden, about 1 1/2 minutes. Using slotted spoon, transfer banana to paper towels to drain.

2. Add onion to skillet; sauté 3 minutes. Add beans, cilantro, cumin, and cayenne; cook until mixture is hot, about 3 minutes. Using back of fork, mash bean filling to coarse paste; season with salt and cool.

3. Preheat oven to 425°F. Roll out each puff pastry sheet or pastry dough (see below for recipe). Place 3 heaping tablespoons of filling in center of 10 circles of dough. The puff pastry can be rolled and cut into squares instead if you’re using puff pastry. Sprinkle each mound of filling with cheese, then top with bananas, dividing equally. Brush edges of half the dough with glaze – in a semi circle, or on two adjacent sides of the square. Gently fold one side over the other, forming a  semi circle with the dough or a triangle with the puff pastry. Press the tines of a fork into the edges of the pastry to seal the edges.  Arrange on rimmed baking sheet; brush with glaze, and sprinkle with a little more cheese.  Bake empanadas until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Serve hot.

Empanada Dough
from Smitten Kitchen

Ingredients

4 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 teaspoons salt
1 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large eggs
2/3 cup ice water
2 tablespoons distilled white vinegar

Preparation

1. Sift flour with salt into a large bowl and blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal with some (roughly pea-size) butter lumps. Beat together egg, water, and vinegar in a small bowl with a fork. Add to flour mixture, stirring with fork until just incorporated.

2. Turn out mixture onto a lightly floured surface and gather together, then knead gently with heel of your hand once or twice, just enough to bring dough together. Wrap and chill the dough for anywhere from one to six hours.

3. Divide Dough into 10 balls, and roll each out individually into a small circle – perfect for empanada filling.

The expat population in China tends to be very transient – many people come to say that they’ve lived here, and after a year or two, they return to their homes. China never becomes home to them. They’ve gotten the stamp on their passport, the work visas, and now they can prove to themselves and their friends and family that they overcame a cultural and language barrier to live in China.

This phenomenon might exist in other expat communities, but here I find it especially pronounced. Being able to live here becomes a source of price. And you know what? In a lot of ways I’m proud that I’ve been able to learn Chinese, find and hold good jobs, and make this place a home. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with living here to prove to yourself that you can.



But the problem with this ever-transient population of expats is that it makes finding friends incredibly tough. People are always cycling through, and so you find yourself having the same conversation over and over again. “How long have you been here? What brought you here? How do you like it?”

We have been really lucky though to meet a few people here who we love spending time with, but that I know we will keep up with for a long time to come, even if we leave China.

One of our dear friends left recently, and while we’ll miss him, we know he won’t be able to stay away long. He has gone back to help his family run their business for a while. So in expat tradition, we had a going-away dinner, and he requested chocolate cupcakes with vanilla icing for dessert.

And the silver lining? He emptied out his pantry by giving it to me. Hibiscus flowers, powdered buttermilk, tinned tomatoes and Shaanxi vinegar. It’s Christmas come early here. Not to mention everyone got some really good cupcakes out of the deal!



Ice Cream Sundae Cupcakes

inspiration from Joy the Baker
makes 12 cupcakes, with ganache to spare

Chocolate Cupcakes
Adapted slightly from Molly Wizenberg’s book, A Homemade Life
Makes 12 cupcakes

Ingredients

1 oz semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/4 cup coffee flavored liquor
1/4 cup milk
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 large egg
1/4 cup canola oil
1/2 cup whole milk yogurt
1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preparation

1.  Preheat the oven to 300F, and line a muffin tin with paper liners.

2. Simmer the milk and pour into a heatproof bowl. Add the semisweet chocolate to the milk and let stand, stirring occasionally. When the chocolate is melted, add the coffee liquor and stir until smooth and glossy.

3. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

4. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the egg on medium speed until it is pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add the oil, yogurt, and vanilla, beating well. Gradually pour in the melted chocolate mixture and beat thoroughly to combine.

5. Add the dry ingredience all at once and beat on low speed until the batter is just combined. Scrape down the sides and beat briefly again to make sure batter is homogeneous.

6. Spoon the batter into the wells of the muffin tin, making sure that it is evenly distributed. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the cupcakes come out clean. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let cook for 20 minutes before removing the cupcakes to the wire rack by themselves. Be careful when you lift them out – they’re very tender. Continue to let cool until they’re room temperature.

Cooked Vanilla Icing
from The Pioneer Woman

Note: If you always find that icings are too sweet, this is the icing for you. This icing has the consistency of whipped cream, and only uses a cup of sugar, as opposed to the 6 cups that many butter creams call for.

Ingredients

5 tablespoons of flour
1 cup milk
1 teaspoon of vanilla
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup butter

Preparation

1. Begin by whisking the flour into milk until well combined, then place the saucepan over medium heat. Whisk it as it heats up and thickens, and remove from heat when the mixture is very thick. Cool the mixture completely before proceeding – I put it in the fridge while I did a few dishes. As it cools, it will continue to thicken up.

2. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla to the cooled flour/milk mixture and stir to combine.

3. Add the sugar and butter in the bowl of a mixer and beat on high until it’s light and fluffy. You’ll need to stop to scrape the sides every once in a while. At this point the sugar will start to dissolve into the butter, but it will still be a bit grainy. Don’t worry. It will get there and it won’t be in the least bit grainy.

4. Add the cooled flour and milk mixture to the butter and whip it on medium-high until the mixture resembles whipped cream. Give it a taste. If you can still find a sugar granule, keep whipping. Once the sugar is dissolved into the icing, you’re ready to go!

5. Spread on cooled cupcakes with a spatula or a dinner knife and set aside.

Chocolate Ganache
from Joy the Baker

Ingredients

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 cup heavy cream

Preparation

1. Warm cream to a simmer in a small saucepan or a heatproof bowl. Remove cream from heat and add chopped chocolate to the bowl. Let stand for one minute to soften, then stir until smooth. If ganache is too loose to spread, let it sit at room temperature for 10 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The ganache will continue to thicken as it stands.

2. Using a fork, drizzle the slightly warm ganache over the top of the frosted cupcakes, to taste. After you have decorated a cupcake with frosting, place it in the freezer for a minute to set the ganache. If it weren’t summer, you could just leave it, but hey, it’s hot here.

Refrigerate cupcakes so that the ganache won’t slide right off in the summer heat. They’ll keep for quite a while, or at least until you can eat them all.


Today requires cake. There are some days which just need celebrating and for me, July 7 is one of them. So, pull up a chair, friends and I’ll cut you a slice.

This cake came together after a long night at work, when I was really too tired to be dealing with cakes or batter or finicky ovens. But with July 7 looming, and Chinese bakeries filled with slightly terrifying cakes filled with P-Ho-ey tasting gelatinous mousses, I reminded myself that I love to bake, changed into pajamas and cracked open some notes that I’d been scribbling in a notebook all week.

I had recently reread an article from the New York Times about the steps in recipes that make us turn the pages in our cookbooks with an exasperated sigh, resigned never to bother trying to recreate that recipe. For me one of those deal breakers is anything that says it requires a food processor. I’d originally assumed that when I read David Lebovitz’s recipe for almond cake, that wouldn’t be able to make it – he called for a food processor and I just don’t have one at this point.

I’d all but written almond cake off when I realized that even if I didn’t have one, I could probably work around it. It might not be perfect, but Walker would love me anyway. And it would be the perfect way to use up some left over ganache that I had sitting around from a cupcake project that only called for just the smallest touch of chocolate.

And you know what? It was fantastic. Lebovitz warned that the French find this cake very dry, but my version came out incredibly moist. We couldn’t be happier with it. It was breakfast this morning, I took a slice to work, and I bet we’ll have some for dessert tonight.

Today calls for cake, and we’re not about to skimp.

Almond Cake with Chocolate Ganache

Almond cake from David Lebovitz, with two slight adaptations

Ganache from Joy the Baker

Serves 12-14

Ingredients

1 1/3 cups (265g) sugar

8 ounces (225g) almond paste

3/4, plus 1/4 cup (140g total) flour

1 cup (8 ounces, 225g) unsalted butter, at room temperature*, cubed

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

6 large eggs, at room temperature

3/4 cup semisweet chocolate, chopped

1/4 cup heavy cream

Large handful of almonds (optional)

*It’s summer where I am, and Shanghai is known for its sweltering heats and choking humidity. Room temperature butter would be a liquid. In the winter, room temperature butter means just that, but in the summer, take your butter out of the fridge about ten minutes before you want to use it, and the consistency will be just right.

Preparation

1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF (162ºC). Grease a 9- or 10-inch spring form pan with butter, dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.

2. Using a pastry cutter or a stand mixer fitted with the whisk, combine the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup (35g) of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand, or is as fine as you can get it.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup (105g) of flour, baking powder, and salt.

4. Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla extract, then whip until the batter is very smooth and fluffy.

5. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating a bit before the next addition. You’ll want to stop mixing at some point if you’re using a stand mixer to scrape down the sides, to make sure everything is getting equal attention.

6. At this point if you’re using a stand mixer, switch to the normal paddle, or if you’re doing it by hand, grab what you normally use to mix batters. My implement of choice is a plain old fork, but everyone has their preferences. Add the flour mixture in two additions and mix until just incorporated, but don’t over mix. The goal is to get it done in as few stirs as possible.

7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top feels set when you press in the center.

8. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan.

9. While cake is cooking, warm cream to a simmer in a small saucepan or a heatproof bowl. Remove cream from heat and add chopped chocolate to the bowl. Let stand for one minute to soften, then stir until smooth. If ganache is too loose to spread, let it sit at room temperature for 10 to 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. The ganache will continue to thicken as it stands.

10. Once the cake has cooled, remove the cake from the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on the plate you plan to serve it on. Top cake with chocolate ganache, and dot the edges with almonds. Serve immediately.

This cake will keep for four days at room temperature, well-wrapped. It can also be frozen for up to two months.

Happy anniversary, Walker. I can’t wait to spend the rest of my life with you. Now eat your cake.

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