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Celebrity cake

Try as I might to steel myself, I am a total sucker for celebrity gossip. It started early, with those candylike copies of People that my mother and I would sneak home from the grocery store. It was only every now and then, but it must have been too much, because today I am nearly helpless before each new display of Us Weekly. I’m the one holding up your checkout line while I eyeball Angelina’s belly or the slow train wreck that is Britney Spears. When I have an appointment with the doctor or dentist, I almost always go early, just so I can have a few moments alone with the office copy of Star. I once found an abandoned Life&Style Weekly in an airplane seat and nearly snarled at my neighbor, teeth bared, as I jumped to snatch it. The sex, the scandal, the honor betrayed: it’s sick, I know, but sometimes, I tell myself that it’s just like Shakespeare, without the messy encumbrance of rhyme and meter.

Plus, there’s the fact that celebrities eat, and that paparazzi photos sometimes include a stray coffee cup, cookie, hot dog, or half-eaten salad. This fact alone vindicates my voyeurism: it’s research, really, into another form of food journalism. So-and-So was seen at Sarabeth’s, where, according to the manager, she “really put away the strawberry-rhubarb jam.” Or, So-and-So keeps macrobiotic, but is rumored to have a weakness for Mike and Ike and Diet Coke. At So-and-So’s birthday party, waiters clad only in bronze paint passed Moroccan-spiced lamb lollypops with harissa foam, and revelers wore bracelets strung with couscous. It’s the mundane, but set in Malibu or Manhattan, and with more garden parties. Seattle doesn’t often generate that caliber of celebrity news, so a girl’s got to get it elsewhere, like Us Weekly.

Unless, of course, the president of China should happen to stop in for a visit at Microsoft, and our own homegrown, sweater-clad, sort-of celebrity, Mr. Bill Gates, decides to invite him over for an evening of hobnobbing and cake, creating quite a stir on the local scene. Politics and software preferences aside, people love a good, flashy motorcade, especially when it leads to a dinner party. Even The Seattle Times got in on the gossip—and got a recipe too.

It isn’t often that celebrity news—local or otherwise—inspires me into the kitchen, but when I read that dessert at the Gates residence was a brown butter – almond cake topped with rhubarb, I printed the recipe, fired up the oven, and reached for the mixing bowl. Soon, there was a pan of butter on the stove, burbling its way to brown, and not too long after came nearly a dozen little cakes, squatting atop the counter. Dotted with shards of rhubarb and sporting a homey, tousled top, they smelled unmistakably nutty and not too sweet—earthy and toasty, with a faint caramel edge. Inside, the crumb was classic torte: tight, tender, and very, very rich. Painted with a thin, shiny glaze of apricot jam, they would be worthy of any So-and-So, or even a Page Six mention—if, of course, Seattle had that sort of thing.

Brown Butter - Almond Cakelets with Rhubarb
Adapted from The Seattle Times and Pastry Chef David Jue

I know, I know. The amount of butter called for here sounds absolutely ungodly, and it is. If it’s any consolation, it shrinks as it browns, so it at least looks less scary, even if it’s just as fatty. Remember: all that sweetly browned fat contributes a lot of flavor to these little cakes. It’s worth it—every now and then, at least.

¾ lb. (3 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup almond flour (also sold as “almond meal”)
½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 2/3 cups powdered sugar
5 large egg whites
1/3 lb. rhubarb, finely chopped
Apricot jam, for glazing (optional)
Loosely whipped cream or ice cream, for serving (optional)

Put the butter in a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, and stir until it turns a dark amber color, similar to maple syrup, about 10-15 minutes. Remove the butter from the heat, and strain it through a cheesecloth-lined sieve into a small bowl to remove the foamy butter solids and any dark sediment. The butter should smell deeply caramelly. Set it aside to cool, but do not allow it to harden.

When the butter is cool, weigh it. You should have 6 ounces for this recipe, and 3 sticks, when browned, yields just a bit too much. Set a small bowl atop a scale, zero the scale, and pour exactly 6 ounces of browned butter into the bowl. This is what you will use for the recipe; any remaining butter can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for other uses.

In a large bowl, sift together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, and powdered sugar. Add the egg whites, and stir with a rubber spatula to combine. It will look a little odd and slimy. Add the brown butter, and fold until smooth. The batter will at first look strange and oily, but keep folding and stirring gently, and it will come together. Refrigerate, covered, for at least one hour and up to a day.

When you are ready to bake the cakes, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly butter or spray 10 (½-cup) muffin cups.

Scoop the batter by ¼-cupfuls into the prepared muffin cups. The batter should be thick and dense: you may want to spoon it into the measuring cup, and then scrape the contents into the muffin cup. Sprinkle about 1 ½ Tbs minced rhubarb on top, and lightly press the rhubarb into the batter. Bake the cakes for 25-30 minutes, or until the edges are lightly browned and the tops look dry. Allow them to cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges to release them, and remove them to a rack to cool completely.

If you want to glaze the cakes, warm two or three spoonfuls of apricot jam and a drizzle of water in a small saucepan over low heat. When the jam is loose and melted, brush and dab it lightly over each cake. Serve plain, or, if you like, with loosely whipped cream or a small scoop of slightly softened ice cream.

Yield: 10 cakelets


Anonymous jules said...

thanks for posting this recipe...I love rhubarb and I love brown butter..will have to give it a go...

You know that when the butter shrinks as you're browning it that it's the water part that you're loosing not the good buttery fat...but mabey it's better not to think about these things....

10:29 PM, May 01, 2006  
Blogger s'kat said...

3 sticks of butter! I'll have to let my knees finish healing, and work-outs re-commence, before tackling this little cake.

(Oh, and I'm so with you on clandestine trash reading. When I was at home, Mom could always be counted on for my weekly People fix. Now it's all check-out counters and PinkIsTheNewBlog. Sigh.)

6:04 AM, May 02, 2006  
Anonymous Luisa said...

These cakelets look and sound amazing. And if they're good enough for Bill, Hu, and you (har), they've got to be great! Three sticks of butter is wild.

7:03 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger iamchanelle said...

wowee - i think i gained a few pounds just reading that!

7:04 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger foodiechickie said...

I admit it I love the gossip rags. I am trying to cutback as some are pricey so I read them online now. LOL. Perezhilton.com and socialitelife.com

8:24 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Ruth said...

What a mouthwatering post! So glad I dropped by.

8:51 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Kitchen Queen said...

I've seen lovely ruby rhubarb at our local produce stand (up I-5 a good bit from Seattle) and have been meaning to find a nice change from strawberry rhubarb pie. Thanks for saving me the research - this sounds wonderful!

8:54 AM, May 02, 2006  
Anonymous Nicolette said...

Those look gorgeous! And I know what you mean about those gossip mags, there is always a stack of them at least 30 high in our break room at work. Lunch is really a feeding frenzy, for celebrity gossip that is!

9:40 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Dianka said...

Great post! I'm just like you with my US Weekly subscribtion, can't live without it! Anything with rhubarb looks and tastes suburb.


10:11 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Caroline said...

I saw the three sticks of butter and didn't think it was an obscene amount at all.

I'm always in favor of high-fat recipes; they're more satisfying and filling, so you don't need to eat as much and therefore end up consuming fewer calories. And they taste so much better.

10:27 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger wheresmymind said...

I find no problem with the amount of butter...mmmm...butter :)

11:10 AM, May 02, 2006  
Anonymous Emily said...

Hi! I just found your blog via 101 Cookbooks and - wow! I love it! For some reason I didn't think a food blog (I'm more familiar with crafty blogs) could be so colorful, well written and tasty (silly me) - anyway, I'm addicted!

11:25 AM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger kitchenmage said...

Ooooh! I got rhubarb in my CSA bag today and we're getting together with friends for a Pink Martini concert in a few days. Maybe we'll work off some of that butter dancing in the aisles.

7:54 PM, May 02, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

You're most welcome, jules! And as for the butter, thank you for clarifying that sneaky water vs. fat business! When I saw your comment, I realized that my wording must have been a little murky on that, so I have gone back and revised it. I wouldn't want anyone thinking that they're getting anything less than three sticks' worth of fat!

S'kat, I know, I know. Let that knee heal - or do as I do, and foist all but one or two cakes on other people. I like to think of it as spreading the wealth, and saving me and my arteries a little agony.

Luisa, my friend, you are the master of rhymes! And as for those three sticks of butter, that makes one for me, one for Bill, and one for Hu. Very convenient that way! (And just so you know, and for horror's sake, the original version of this recipe yielded only six cakes, rather than my ten. Just imagine.)

Iamchanelle, I know, I haven't been very friendly to the waistline lately. I owe you and your pants an apology. Next up: something non-buttery and non-fried, I promise.

Foodiechickie, those sites are like black holes, I tell you. And I know.

Thank you, Ruth!

Kitchen Queen, it's my pleasure! There are a few other rhubarb vehicles in my recipe index, too. I have a real weakness for the baked rhubarb recipe with fresh ricotta - very simple and very spring-y. Mmm.

Nicolette, we have a few copies of People in our lunch room, but they've been there for so long that I nearly have them memorized. And to think - I wonder why my brain feels so full sometimes.

Thank you, Dianka. I know - it's hard to have anything look less than beautiful when rhubarb is involved. That color!

Caroline, I know what you mean. I'm not sure that I'm in favor of high-fat recipes, per se, but I do find that I feel far more satisfied with a small piece of "real" cake than I do with a bigger hunk of the light stuff. It has taken me a while to learn that, since the general culture of eating in America runs quite to the contrary. I think that Europeans - the French in particular - are better about trusting their bodies that way than Americans are.

Good man, wheresmymind. You're a good man.

Welcome, Emily, and thank you! There are scads of beautiful food blogs out there - just you wait! If you have a moment or two, poke around in my links (to the right), or on the blogs of your fellow commenters...

Kitchenmage, a little cake freckled with pink rhubarb sounds only appropriate for a night of Pink Martini. Have fun!

11:28 PM, May 02, 2006  
Anonymous Tanna said...

Wow! My grandmother always grew rhubarb and made pies. My son is big into the rhubarb pie. Even with the butter, I think I'll have to do this one. Perhaps a little will satisfy and I can maintain moderation! Thanks much! Glorious pictures.

10:22 AM, May 03, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Check out last month's Saveur (the one with the cover story on Ireland)... looks like the chef got the recipe from there.

10:30 AM, May 03, 2006  
Blogger pomegranate said...

Oh to be your neighbor..

*sighing dramatically

11:04 AM, May 03, 2006  
Anonymous sianwu said...

Hey I was reading Gigi's blogroll and realized I met you at her TM viewing! Wow, didn't realize that you had such an awesome food blog! I'm sure President Hu was blown away by this dessert, because in my experience, fancy Chinese desserts usually consist of soup with beans, or pounded rice cake dumplings filled with sweet black sesame (which are quite good but totally alien to the French/American carby dessert culture). Looking forward to reading more, and seeing you at the TM finale?

3:05 PM, May 03, 2006  
Blogger Marilyn said...

"When I have an appointment with the doctor or dentist, I almost always go early, just so I can have a few moments alone with the office copy of Star."

I'm so glad i'm not the only one who does this.

7:53 PM, May 03, 2006  
Blogger Pille said...

I read about this cake at eGullet and was tempted to try it. After reading your post, Molly, I'm bound to try it:)

4:38 AM, May 04, 2006  
Anonymous robin said...

this looks very yummy! will have to try it!
To change the subject, I thought this newsletter topic would interest you (about cooking the perfect eggs, among other things!):


9:13 AM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger Nic said...

These little cakeletts look delicious, Molly. I printed out a copy of the recipe when I first saw it published. You'll never know when you want a dessert to impress, right?

9:29 AM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger T said...

I am sold on any cake that uses almond meal or brown butter, and these have both! Sounds like pure heaven. Already been bookmarked.

You know, I live in LA and have seen my fair share of celebrities, and I still am fascinated by celebrity gossip. I cannot resist US Weekly- ever.

10:11 PM, May 04, 2006  
Blogger kickpleat said...

This recipe looks lovely and my birthday is coming up in a few days, so I think the amount of butter can be forgiven on special days like birthdays! As for trash reading, I'm all for it! This week I had my first ever pedicure and my friend and I ransacked the magazine pile beside us, and grabbed all the USWeekly's first. Sometimes even Vanity Fair has to wait.

9:23 AM, May 05, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Tanna, you're welcome! And by the way, your family - in all its generations - has very good taste.

Good eye, Anonymous! I went and looked up that article, and you're right - their "rhubarb financier" is very similar, both in spirit and in ingredients. Hmmmm...

Pomegranate, I would offer to mail one of these, but it could get awfully messy. Maybe there's some availability in my building?

Well, hello there, Sian! So glad that you made the trip over from Top Novel. I would offer to whip up a batch of these little puppies for the ANTM finale, but sadly, I don't know if there will be a finale party! Gigi is out of town and won't be back until nearly the end of the month. We'll have to wait and see...sniffle, sniffle.

Oh, Marilyn, rest assured, you are not the only one. Just yesterday, actually, I was terribly disappointed when I got stuck in traffic on the way to the dentist's and lost my precious trashy magazine time while I sat in my car on I-5. Harumph.

Pille, I just went over to eGullet and found the thread, and wow - word travels fast! People and their gossip, I tell you.

Robin, that newsletter topic sounds right up my alley - thank you! - but unfortunately, I couldn't get the link to work. It took me to the main Earthlink webmail page. Can I have a second try?

Nic, you are on top of it! I think you'll find, as I did, that the directions in the original recipe are a bit general and imprecise. I tried to tighten them up here, and I hope it helps.

Tanvi, you're a woman of excellent taste. Almond meal, brown butter, the occasional trashy magazine - hip hip!

Kickpleat, almost anything than be forgiven on birthdays. I say, work it! And happy early birthday. [P.S. I love pedicures. Can't remember the last time I had one, but they're dreamy - and especially with a bad magazine or two.]

4:46 PM, May 05, 2006  
Anonymous Julie said...

Well, you know how I feel about browned butter...I've revised several cake and cookie recipes to include its delectable nutty savor. And with almond meal, rhubarb AND an apricot glaze, it's a dessert composed of favorites as far as I'm concerned. BTW, I'm going to be in Seattle at the end of June...perhaps we can find a hook-up time, and I can take you out for a little something-something to celebrate the impending nuptials!

11:13 AM, May 07, 2006  
Blogger Catherine said...

browned butter...shards of rhubarb...inside like a classic torte!

*mouth waters* Someone grab a bucket!

Thanks for sharing :)

11:06 PM, May 07, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Julie, my dear, by all means, let's do a little something-something! Definitely. Keep your eyes on your inbox...

And Cat, you're very welcome! I hope all that drool didn't make too much of a mess.

1:30 PM, May 10, 2006  
Blogger Anne said...

So, I made up some cakelets last weekend, and really, they were a bit too buttery. I never thought I would ever say such a thing, but it's true.

Besides that, though, they were de-li-cious, and I will definitely make them again, though cutting some of the butter out.

Thanks for a great recipe.

11:06 AM, May 15, 2006  
Blogger SweetSarahJ said...

Great site! The cakes look delish- I'll have to try them one day. If you love celeb gossip, try my two favorite sites:

9:40 AM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

You're welcome, Anne! I suppose it's true - sometimes, and sadly, there is such a thing as too much butter. These cakes didn't quite reach that point for me, but if they pushed a little too far for your taste, I think you would be just fine to trim away some of the butter. Please do report back on the results...

Thank you, Sarah. And as for those gossip sites, oh no! Two more to add to my list? It's like a black hole, and I can't help being drawn in...

1:42 PM, May 16, 2006  
Blogger cyn the win said...

Ah, the mere mention of Sarabeth's restaurant in NYC makes me drool. Their apple sausages are to die for!

4:26 PM, May 19, 2006  
Anonymous Bill Belew said...

I love that these are called cakelets! Although you probably could have shown me one giant cake and I would have wanted to eat the whole thing anyway.

9:11 AM, May 22, 2006  
Blogger Alice Q said...

Another thing we have in common (besides the format of our food blogs!) I love the word "cakelet." I will have to figure out a way to work that in somewhere. :-)

11:23 AM, June 04, 2006  
Anonymous jillian said...

I've been reading your blog for about amonth and a half now-- religiously! This is the first story/recipe i read (and salivated over)-- and so every time I returned to your site these pastweeks, , i pulled up this recipe, and promised myself I'd make these cakelets. It took me a week and 4 grocery stores to find rhubarb and almond meal (which i finally found but was attrociously expensive-- so i made my own with sliced almonds and a food processor)... but I have made them! and i'm overjoyed by how delicious they are! thank you for everything orangette is. you rock!

5:03 PM, June 19, 2006  
Blogger Molly said...

Awww, jillian, that makes me so happy! Thank you, m'dear.

10:02 PM, June 20, 2006  
Blogger Ngoc said...

I was afraid the plain rhubarb would be a little too tart, but it was the perfect complement to the divinely buttery cake. I may go attack the leftovers now. :)

9:05 PM, April 13, 2010  
Anonymous anna said...

made these today ~ and they were great. thanks!

9:04 PM, April 24, 2011  

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