Beautiful Paris. What else is there to say? We slipped over the Atlantic for just a few days and while the security line at Orly the morning we left was almost enough to make us question our judgment it was beyond worth it. On Saturday we walked all down the Champs Elysees, stopping to warm up with coffees every so often, and then spent Sunday in Montmartre just looking around and sitting in a lovely, quiet park that was so nice we got pastries and and yet another coffee and went back at the end of the day. Being there even if briefly rehydrated me: to walk for hours, to be able to drop into a cafe for a coffee whenever we pleased, to have a long lunch outside, to be able to wear a necklace without fear of it being ripped off of your neck, to have drivers actually stop their cars when you wait to cross the street — it’s the little things, no? I felt like myself, or at least the self I used to be in San Francisco.
It feels like such an awfully long time that I’ve written anything more than rather woebegone emails that I feel rusty. Dear sweet blog that I’ve neglected: I’ve missed you. I’ve wanted to write reams about Paris, about the ordinary wonder of it and how incredibly different it was to be there on my second trip now with a husband and a baby and a bit of disposable income rather than on my first, when everything was done on the ultra-cheap during a post-college summer trip. I’ve wanted to write about every little pastry or cookie from every little bakery dipped into near the Louvre or near Sacre Coeur or along the Seine and how each was so deliciously unfancy and just good. How a quick breakfast of croissants and fried eggs at a hole-in-the-wall restaurant near our hotel was fresh and more than decent because, Paris.
It’s true what you’ve heard: the food is good in Paris. Even the crepes from the friendly guy whipping them up on the street while you huddle into your winter coats are good – better than good, really. So is the coffee. They really do sell roasted marrons in paper bags and while I didn’t partake I seriously thought about it because it was cold and they smelled divine. People are nice and maybe it was because of the baby but probably they really are just nice. The parks are clean and cozy and perfect for children and I would do nearly anything to have just one of them in Casablanca. There really are macarons all over the place (I chose a palmier instead and I am still thinking about it).
But we came back to Morocco and promptly got sick, all three of us, and I feel like I’m only now emerging from the fog. I’ve tiptoed out of my little hibernatory cave and am blinking in the sunlight like … oh yes, I like coffee. Food tastes good again (and I can taste it). I want to eat things other than soup. I planted some vegetable seeds yesterday, the chard is sprouting up nicely, and I have a lead on procuring some tomato plants. I am planning to take surfing lessons in the not too distant future. I baked a cake (and pretty much ate it for dinner). And etc.
In other words: things are looking up.
And so, cake. This cake is not the cake I baked for dinner (side note: sometimes you just have to have cake for dinner) but it is a stellar cake, one which I made back in the extremely sleep-deprived days of mid-October. Look! There is the somewhat raggedy wooden floor of my old apartment! I miss it. I wonder who lives there now, if s/he appreciates the trees outside the window and how the inevitable strong gusts of spring San Francisco wind roughly toss the branches abaout. I wonder if the whale weather vane I could see from my dining room table – because we did have a little, sunfilled dining room where I took most of my food photos – still spins madly in the breeze. Sometimes I have such a visceral longing to be back there, tiny fridge and too-close neighbors and rattly windows and all, that it’s slightly stunning. There is nothing about my life these days that even remotely resembles what it was, except perhaps for the dishes.
But this cake: it is a version of a 1-2-3-4 cake, specifically Alice Waters’ 1-2-3-4 cake, which is my go-to, fall-back, standard, etc. cake when I want a good, sturdy, buttery vanilla cake that should be plain but simply isn’t. In this iteration I put in the frozen blueberries (yet another thing I miss here) I had kicking around the freezer and it was probably the best sleep-deprived idea I’d had in weeks.
It’s dense, lush, and sweet — just about everything you might wish for in a fruity cake. It’s not a coffee cake and it’s not for breakfast, though of course you may drink coffee and eat this cake for breakfast (or dinner) if you so choose. But it’s a standalone, good in its own right for dessert or Saturday afternoon noshing or really, yes, anytime that feels good. If I had a slice right now, at 12:09 p.m. Moroccan time of course I would be cramming it into my mouth nevermind that I’m hungry for lunch.
Maybe this summer when there may be blueberries available here I can make it again.
I like little(ish) cakes, so I baked this in smaller pans. I served one when a friend come for tea and the other I cannot remember what happened to. I think you could do this as a loaf, a small cake and a loaf, a larger sheet cake … whatever feels good to you.
Makes 2 7-inch cakes.
4 eggs, separated
1 cup milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1-2 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter the cake pans and line the bottom of each with parchment paper. Butter the paper and dust the pans with flour, tapping out the excess.
Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together.
In another bowl, beat butter and sugar until it is light and fluffy. Beat in the four egg yolks one at a time. Add the vanilla to the mixture.
Add the flour mixture and milk alternately, starting and ending with one third of the flour. Stir just until the flour is incorporated.
In another bowl, whisk egg whites to soft peaks. Stir one third of the egg whites into the batter, then gently fold in the rest. Very gently fold in the berries.
Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove cake from oven and let cool 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
* The recipe can be divided among three cake pans for a three-layer cake. It also makes 24 to 30 cupcakes or it can be baked in a 12 x 18-inch sheet cake pan. Bake cupcakes or sheet cake for about 20 minutes.