May 7, 2010

Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake

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When one gets the crazy idea to become a mother, people come out of the woodwork with tales of joy and woe and generally way, way too much information. Everyone has an opinion, everyone seems to give unsolicited advice. I definitely found this to be the case while expecting Little C, and it made me all stabby on more than one occasion. But on the plus side, a few of those nuggets of wisdom did manage to cling to my already deteriorating memory, and by the time the tiny being who had set up camp in my body for the better part of a year became an outside baby, I felt pretty ready for this motherhood thing. After all, millions had gone into it before me and millions more have chosen to do it multiple times, God bless ’em. It couldn’t be altogether impossible, right? Right?

Well, it’s true–it’s certainly not impossible, though some days, especially early on, it absolutely felt that way. Never before had I ever had such an odd sensation, like laboriously wading through space, as though underwater, for weeks (months) on end. The long hours that my husband was at work and I was home alone with a strange newborn creature who was colicky, nursing on demand every 45 minutes and who refused to sleep at all, trying to keep her fed and clean and content on very little sleep myself were some of the most trying moments of my life. And I was more than a little depressed about the whole thing. Not. Awesome.

I’ve heard it said that you’re given the sort of child that you need in order to learn something from the experience. True. Even the very wee infant Baby C, so tiny and fragile, and yet so generally relentless, knocked my self-centered, poor time-managing behind so far down my personal totem pole, it took the better part of two years to even consider what I might like to do with the remainder of my life, outside of being a mother. This is something I’ve just started to mull in the past couple of months. And guys, it’s freaking me out.

Arriving at this point after so much time completely consumed with the day-to-day tasks of raising my baby has been sort of mind-blowing. I think about the next steps to move forward with personal goals and making long-held dreams come true and returning to projects I started before Little C, and I shake with anticipation, the thrill of doing something just for myself, and an incredible amount of fear. Because what if it’s too much? What if I drop the ball at home? Can I manage to shift focus without changing my priorities? And I feel such intense guilt, just thinking about focusing on something other than my family, before I’ve even done anything at all. I am convinced this is some kind of biological thing, because it’s a weight so heavy that it’s enough to hold a mother down in her nest, so that she’ll never go anywhere or see anything that might take her focus away from her brood. It’s a weight that is equal parts welcomed and wonderful, crazymaking and suffocating. The random well-wishers with all their fancy advice in the grocery checkout line never threw that one out at me while I was expecting. Would’ve been nice, randoms. Thanks.

But I keep returning to these ideas that I have brewing, these new opportunities I can create for myself, and think that maybe in the end, it would be about more than just me. If I can accomplish certain things on my Bucket List, even if they take me away from home here and there, I’m able to cross off the first thing on that list, which is to Be the Best Mother I Can Be. And I’m pretty sure part of that job description is to live by example. To show my little girl that anything worth having is worth working for, and that following dreams should be a lifelong journey. That the journey to realizing those dreams might slow down or get interrupted sometimes, but it should never stop altogether, no matter what circumstances come up. Even if those circumstances involve raising a beautiful, smart, funny, perfect baby girl who brings me more joy, more fulfillment on a level that I just can’t explain. The grocery store randoms did tell me about this bit, but I never could have imagined the depth of this love.

It’s a big deal, being a mother. I try to play it down sometimes to childless friends or other people I meet or even to my own mother, maybe to make it seem like I’ve Got This or to hide my own insecurities, but it’s a big, Biden-expletive deal. It’s why strangers feel like they can share war stories with pregnant people in grocery stores, why there’s a million blogs and books on motherhood, why we have our very own holiday and why you should make a beautiful, rustic, flavorful Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake for every mother you know, and then invite them for tea this Mothers’ Day. It’s so good, I made one for myself.

Raspberry-Pistachio Brown Butter Cake
Adapted from The Craft of Baking

To make 1 cup of pistachio flour, grind 1 cup unsalted pistachios with 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour in a food processor or clean coffee grinder until fine. Note that this recipe uses kosher salt, so for regular salt, halve the amount. The Demerara sugar is for sprinkling over the batter, and makes for the most delicious, slightly caramelized, crunchy layer that really makes this cake–so don’t skip it.

Serves 8-10

8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, plus more for the pan
2 3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 cup pistachio flour (see note)
3/4 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
7 large egg whites
1 cup fresh raspberries
2 tablespoons Demerara sugar

In a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan, melt and cook the butter over medium heat until it is browned and smells nutty, about 6 minutes. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar, pistachio flour, cake flour, and salt. Whisk in the egg whites to combine. In a slow and steady stream, gradually whisk in the browned butter. Cover and chill the batter until thickened, about 1 hour (or up to 1 week ahead).

When you’re ready to bake, position an oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the berries evenly over the top, leaving a 1/2 inch border around the edge. Sprinkle the Demerara sugar generously and evenly over the batter. Bake until the edges of the cake are golden and the cake springs back slightly when touched, about 35-40 minutes (I needed more time here, about 45 minutes).

Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool for a few minutes before removing the ring from the tart pan and letting it cool completely, or serve slightly warm. This cake is best eaten the day it is made, but can be wrapped tightly and stored for up to 2 days.

  • Beautiful thoughts and beautiful cake. It's hard enough trying to figure out your life without a baby – that much I know. Good luck!

  • Well you certainly nailed that one. There is nothing more crazymaking than motherhood.

    Your Little C. will thrive with a Mom who fills her own heart at the same time she pours everything she has into her girl. She will be stronger, reach farther and dream bigger if her Mom shows her how, not only with words and books and living her own life, but by taking risks and chances that might not always end up perfectly. We need to show our children that life isn't always rosy and perfect. Failure is there and part of growth. Not everything we touch will turn to gold, and it's ok that it doesn't but when shown through your eyes and experiences, she will learn to be stronger and stretch her own wings.

  • Love your post–makes me want to save it and reread it the day I'm ready to become a mother! The cake looks really delicious; my mother's day present to my mom is showing up in the US on Sunday afternoon!

  • So beautifully said. I couldn't believe more strongly what you said about teaching our children by example by being true to ourselves. My son is 2 1/2 and it is only the last 6 months that has felt possible, so I hope for you it just gets easier and easier.

    I wasn't going to bake anything for mother's day this year, but your cake is so beautiful it has inspired me. Thank you for this wonderful post

  • wow…thanks for the inspiring words for Mother's day!! You make me feel like a better mom, and you managed to put into words what I have vaguely been contemplating the last few days. Yes we must be a complete example to our children! Now to go make cake 🙂

  • Woah, that was heavy, and sweet, and tart, and nutty, and beautiful – much like that absolutely amazing cake. Thank you for sharing your experiences along with a stellar cake – delicious combo. You're wonderful. Happy Mother's Day to you!

  • inspiring post…..and such beautiful recipe!!!! I love it!

  • I enjoy reading your experiences with your child. As far as the cake goes, wow! and Yum!

  • beautiful cake and beautiful post!!

  • So gorgeous! I've been really into baking with pistachio lately so this is perfect. Hope you have a beautiful Mother's Day!

  • Gorgeous cake and I just love your post. So true. I love Mother's Day, and I love cake too!! 🙂

  • What a beautiful reflection on motherhood! I'm nowhere near ready for it, but I can't wait to have that experience. I think if anyone can reflect and worry and appreciate the way that you are, than you must be doing a wonderful job. Good luck with everything that you have ahead of you!

  • So well said, Shauna…I wanted to keep reading more. Happy Mother's Day!

  • This is the prettiest, girliest, perfect for mom day cake ever! I love it. Every picture just makes me want to be eating this cake more and more.

  • Thanks for tuning in for my musings, all. Your sweet notes really make my day! Here's to the all the mamas…

  • I'm not a mother, but I think you have nailed it right on the head. I can only hope to have as much clarity as you have right now when I reach a similar stage in life. And it definitely helps to have a delicious cake like this to help you in your journey 🙂

  • This is a beautiful post! Accompanied with a beautiful cake. Happy Mother's Day!

  • What a beautiful cake. I never knew it but, I believe this is the cake I've been searching for all my life. Thank you for sharing the recipe and your story, I can't wait to try it out myself!

  • hey there, i saw the picture of this cake and thought i must make it because it looks delicious!! But one small problem, do you mean to preheat your oven to 350 degrees? If so, do you mean Celsius or Fahrenheit? I live in Australia, so i use Celsius and my oven only goes up to 250!! If you mean Fahrenheit, what would that be in Celsius? Thanks

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