Friday, November 6, 2009

Taste memory

Why do certain memories stand out so sharply, even when you yourself can't figure out what is particularly significant about them?
I've already written about one vivid food memory I've been carrying around for several years. Another one comes from one of my periods of "perching" in the US between stints of overseas living. This one, from 2003, was when I was living in Boston but commuting to Providence for work. (For anyone not familiar with southern New England, that's 40+ miles/64+ km of driving each way. About an hour, door to door, five days a week.)

Despite the grinding commute, and the pressures of the job (including one stretch of several months where I was covering the responsibilities of three full-time positions), in many ways I really enjoyed that year. The work atmosphere was pretty intense, and it created some strong relationships; I still keep in touch with a lot of the people I worked with, even though we have all moved on. There were a lot of good eaters among us, so I managed to eat in almost every restaurant on Thayer Street and the surrounding area of College Hill (a significant number); and also to sample a lot of home-cooked food and other goodies that my co-workers and I brought to the office to share.
Among all of those varied eating experiences, my single strongest food memory is the berry-yogurt cake our director brought in one Friday from her favorite local bakery. (I still haven't been able to figure out why.) I do remember that I had to physically restrain myself from eating the whole thing, and I've been searching for a recipe ever since that would allow me to replicate that particular texture.

Do you have taste memories haunting you? What are yours?

Gateau yaourt internationale
Adapted from Fig Jam and Lime Cordial
Thanks to the wonders of the internet, I think my six-year quest for my perfect yogurt cake may be over. I found this on an Australian food blog, adapted from an American cookbook, documenting a classic French recipe. It is a cinch to make, and all the ingredients are things you are likely to have on hand. I had to fiddle with it a little to accommodate what was stored in my cabinets and my brain cells, and, unintentionally but fittingly, produced a French cake with an American/Australian twist.
1 cup plain/all-purpose flour
½ cup almond meal (or extra ½ cup flour)*
2 tsp baking powder
pinch salt
1 cup sugar
1 tsp lemon zest
½ cup Greek yogurt
3 large eggs
½ tsp vanilla extract
½ cup flavorless oil**
1 cup mixed berries***
½ cup jam or marmalade, to glaze****
Thoroughly grease a loaf tin or other baking pan of choice (I made mine in a muffin tin). Preheat oven to 350F/175C.
Combine flour, almond meal (if using), baking powder, and salt in a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
In a large bowl, whisk together the sugar, lemon zest, yogurt, eggs, and vanilla until completely combined.
Slowly add the dry ingredients, whisking to incorporate, then fold in the oil with a spatula until you have a smooth, shiny batter. Fold in berries, then scoop or scrape into prepared pan(s).
Bake for 25-55 minutes, depending upon pan chosen (muffin-pan cakes will be done closer to the 25-minute mark), until a tester comes out clean (berries notwithstanding). Cool the pan on a rack for about five minutes, then loosen cake(s) around the edges with a knife and remove. Allow to cool completely on rack.
To make glaze, melt jam or marmalade in a pan over low heat. Add a few tablespoons of water if necessary to achieve the desired consistency. Brush glaze all over cake(s) with a pastry brush, and leave to set.
Makes 12 muffin-pan cakes, with a bit left over.
* Since I didn't have almond meal, I used more flour. But I liked the idea of a nutty undertone, so…
** …I used macadamia oil instead of a flavorless vegetable oil. It worked very well, providing a very subtle (and Australian) note of nuttiness.
*** I added a mixture of blueberries and raspberries, since that's how I remember the Providence version.
**** To complement the choice of berries in the cake, I used a "fruits des bois" jam which contained (among other berries) blueberries and raspberries.


Simply Life said... Best Blogger Tips

Yum! Those look great!

Velva said... Best Blogger Tips

This looks like an absolutely delightful yogurt cake muffin! Thanks for sahring.

Janis said... Best Blogger Tips

I have tons of food memories. Most of them are from where I spent most of my life. California! I think my most recent memory is having dinner at a friends house and being served the most simple salad made of local fresh vegetables. I don't know why it tasted special but it did.

I am in Boston now and haven't had such fond memories of the food other than what I cook at home.

Pam said... Best Blogger Tips

Congrats on the foodie blogroll!


Kitchen Butterfly said... Best Blogger Tips

I am addicted to yoghurt cakes, in fact those are the only cakes I bake.....chocolate, plain, with apple,pears, plums endless list really

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Simply Life - Thanks! Take 15 minutes and enjoy them yourself!

Velva - Hope you try them!

Janis - That's how I feel about Boston, but then, that's *my* home. But California is certainly ahead of us in the local fresh vegetables department.

Pam - Thanks! What a nice surprise to wake up to on Saturday morning!

Kitchen Butterfly - Fascinating! I've started adding yogurt to lots of baking recipes, as it adds such a great dimension to the flavor & texture.

Celia said... Best Blogger Tips

They look wonderful, RL! I'm glad Dorie's recipe worked so well for you - I always have trouble adding inclusions to this recipe, because I find everything sinks through to the bottom in a loaf cake. Good to know the muffin size works better! The macadamia nut oil sounds like a great addition - Dorie does an EVOO version as well, which might also be interesting.

I guess the question close did it come to your memories? :)

Best, Celia

Roving Lemon said... Best Blogger Tips

Celia - so close that I might actually stop looking--although I won't promise not to hunt down the bakery in Providence next time I'm in town....

SarahKate said... Best Blogger Tips

What a lovely post. Thanks for sharing your food memories... and your delicious recipes. I love yogurt cake!

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