1.13.2011

This next part

So.



We’re moving.



But just a little. Same city, same neighborhood, same building, same floor. We’re moving to the unit right next door. Apparently, this brings out the Dr. Seuss in me.

The new place doesn’t feel all that much bigger than our current apartment, but it does have a second bedroom, which means that now, we’ll be able to offer our guests a mattress and a door. We are very grown up. It also has a slightly larger kitchen, eastern-facing windows (good morning!), and a tree outside of one of them that turns bright orange every fall. If you look closely at the top photo, you’ll see it there.

Eli and I call our new apartment “Davis’s apartment,” even though our sweet neighbor Davis moved out last spring. He lived in that apartment for decades, so our building management decided to completely renovate it before renting it again. The key word in that last sentence is “renting.” It’s what makes this next part so unbelievable: When it was more or less settled that Eli and I would be moving in when the unit was done, the building manager asked us if we might have any particular preferences for the renovations. For the apartment that we do not own. And never will. (The units in our building are rental only.) Crazy, right? And incredibly cool. There is no guarantee, of course, that every wish on our list will come true. Why should it? We’re renters! But words like butcher block and soapstone have been tossed around, and they did let Eli get in there before they closed up the ceiling so that he could wire the kitchen for speakers, and – drum roll please – half of the wall between the kitchen and the dining room is now quite gone.



There will be a breakfast bar where that wall used to be. Though I think we’ll use it most often as a visit-the-cook-in-the-kitchen bar. A step up from having to wedge yourself in the doorway, for sure.

Eli and I are fixer-upper kind of people. We’ve loved researching materials and thinking about our new space. It’s the next best thing to getting in there and doing the work ourselves. Thanks to a building manager with a heart of gold, and a contractor who is every bit an artist and a craftsman, we’re having so much fun. I try to sneak over there every now and then with my camera. Are you interested in seeing some photos of the kitchen as it comes along? If so, I think that can be arranged. We don’t have a set move-in date yet, but we’re hoping for sometime next month. We’ll see.



When Davis moved out, his niece came to pack up his belongings. I had just – literally just – gotten back from a week of pastry-making at the CIA, and I hadn’t yet changed out of my chef’s whites when she rang our bell. We got to talking, and I explained that, no, I am not a cook, but that yes (a thousand times yes!) I like to cook, and then she told me to hold on. She’d be right back. A minute later, she was handing me a first-edition copy of Craig Claiborne’s The New York Times Cook Book with Davis’s full name inscribed on the inside cover. We didn’t yet know that we’d be moving in to Davis’s apartment. Now, I can’t flip through the pages of his book without my heart thumping a little louder in my chest. Soon, I'll be cooking from Davis’s old book in Davis's old kitchen.

Unlike Amanda Hesser’s recent masterpiece, Craig Claiborne’s volume includes recipes from a single decade, only: 1950 to 1960. (In other words, you need both books on your shelf.) I had been eyeing a walnut cake recipe in Davis’s book for a while, and on Sunday, out of the blue, I decided that it was time. The impulse to bake this cake must have been some kind of premonition, because friends, it’s been a long week. I’ve needed this cake. And maybe a few extra hours for sleeping, too. Pass the cake, please.



This recipe is a cross between a quick bread and a pound cake. It’s a bread in the sense that banana bread, or pumpkin bread, or lemon poppy seed bread are breads, and I almost went so far as to change the name of the recipe to “walnut bread.” A few things stopped me. The first is the stick and a half of butter. It’s not so much the quantity of butter in the recipe – though most of the quick breads that I bake call for oil – as the quality of its presence in the finished loaf. I’m afraid that sounds kind of new age-y, but I don’t know how else to put it. The butter is there. Not quite as there as in a full-fledged, classic pound cake, but there, nonetheless. The vanilla is, too, in a way that’s usually reserved for ice creams, custards, and the occasional cookie. This cake is also sturdier than the quick breads I know. Its crumb is tighter, encased in a crisp, golden crust, which makes for a cake that stands up to serious toasting. It’s not every day that you meet a cake like that.

Cheers to the old, and cheers to the new, friends. Speaking of new, after two years, I thought it was about time to push the windows open and shine things up for us here. I hope you like what I've done with the place.

Walnut Cake
Adapted from The New York Times Cook Book by Craig Claiborne

A quick note on not toasting the walnuts: The recipe doesn’t say to toast the walnuts, so I didn't. The whole time that the cake was in the oven, I regretted it. Then, I tried a piece, and I felt much better. The walnuts work beautifully just as they are. I noticed that they were more firmly secured inside of the cake than they usually are in my nut-packed cakes and breads. It was as if they were nut-like continuations of the crumb itself. I wonder if this is because you mix them in with the dry ingredients, instead of adding them into the batter at the very end. Thoughts?

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour (which means that you sift first, then measure)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
¾ cup chopped walnuts (again, chop first, then measure)
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
¾ cup granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
¼ cup whole milk

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Butter a 9½ x 5¼ x 2¾-inch loaf pan, line with parchment paper, and butter the paper.

Combine the sifted flour, baking powder, salt, and chopped walnuts in a bowl, and mix.

In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip the butter until soft. Add the sugar gradually and whip until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, waiting until each egg has fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and the milk alternately to the butter mixture, stirring only until all the flour is dampened.

Turn the batter into the prepared pan and bake about one and one quarter hours, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan for ten minutes before turning out onto a rack.

28 comments:

rivka said...

Congrats on the big move and the beautiful redesign (of the site and the apt)....enjoy the excitement of new beginnings!

Andrea [bella eats] said...

What a sweet story, and what luck the two of you have! I'm sure the apartment will be gorgeous, and I'd love to see photos of the finished kitchen!

And, did I miss a week of your training at the CIA? How did that happen?

Lovely redesign of the site, Jess!

megan said...

Jess, I started crying after the second paragraph, I have no idea why... Maybe because of my vivid memories of wedding stuff strewn about an apartment with no furniture? Maybe because I miss you?

CONGRATS and let's talk soon -

xx
megan

Katie said...

Wow - amazing new redesign, so excited about your move... and I agree with Andrea. More details on that week of training at CIA please! I had no idea. Hope you're well

A Plum By Any Other Name said...

I am so jealous of your new place! Where in the world did you find landlords like that?! I LOVE my studio apartment, but that said, it's still a studio and so it's awkward when there are more than 2 people in it. Be sure to keep us posted!

I am thinking I might have to try the walnut cake with toasted nuts ... and report back!

Rosiecat said...

Oh, Jess! There is so much good stuff in this post. Congratulations on your new home, new cookbook, and fresh start. The cake sounds seriously scrumptious, as I am a serious walnut-lover.

Happiness abounds!

Adrienne said...

Oh my goodness, what a great opportunity! You clearly have the best landlords in Cambridge. Congrats on the new digs, and I love the re-design!

Rogue Unicorn said...

You know what this means- a new Chanukkah party chart :)
Congrats on the move and renovation (physical and digital)

linda said...

this post was chock loaded with info!!
change is exciting & it is so amazing that your landlord is asking for your input! love the new look of SA! please... do share CIA week with us…& i think that i will toast the walnuts as well (as"plum by…" commented) & i will definitely bake mini loaves (as i am "of the moment" into baking petite cakes!)
THANKS for a great post, great new look & good luck w/new apt. renovations…we all look forward to seeing the results!!

Lisa said...

There's all kinds of renovation happening over here! Love the new header and congratulations on the new place! So exciting!

I received the new Amanda Hesser edition for Christmas, but haven't tried any recipes yet. It looks like an amazing cookbook though and I like how she has so much history in it. Have fun cooking from Davis's old book in his old and your new kitchen. The mixing of the old and new seems quite fitting. : )

Michele Napoli said...

Having input into the renovation is so exciting. Enjoy your new space.

Denise said...

What a neat story, and how very exciting for you!! Doesn't seem this kind of stuff happens everyday. Have you pinched yourself yet?

Can't wait to see photos of the finished apartment, but equally fun will be pics along the way. Thanks for inviting us in to celebrate with you!

Denise @ Creative Kitchen

molly said...

My Nana used to make a walnut cake whenever I'd visit. I know this isn't hers (hers was Duncan Hines mixed with walnuts), but oh, this might be just the thing to bring back those fine memories.

Happy new digs, for you and Eli. And for us? I do so like the new digs, right here.

Elishag said...

I love the new look here Jess - and those pictures of you on your Jess page - wow! I'm sure glad to be your neighbor.

Justeen @ Blissful Baking said...

This walnut cake sounds delightful! It'd be perfect with a big cup of tea or coffee :)

Jess said...

Thanks, Rivka. I love beginnings!

Andrea and others: I shipped out to the CIA for a week last April at the start of that weird and unintended break from this site. I mentioned it when I finally resurfaced in July, but somehow I never got around to telling you all about it! I will. I promise.

Megan. Hi, friend. I was thinking about that very thing when I was writing this post. This apartment has seen a lot over these last five years. But I know why you're really crying. It's the thought of your very own room, with your very own door the next time you come to visit us, right? xo.

Katie! Can't wait for you to see the place in person. Come visit. (And wait, I never mentioned the CIA thing? I am weird. I guess we've had other, more important things to discuss!)

A Plum By Any Other Name - Yes, we are very, very lucky. I have no idea how we got so lucky. I would love to hear how this cake turns out with toasted walnuts. Please do report back!

Thanks, Rosiecat. It's true! Happiness does abound.

Adrienne - Yes, I think we do. I'm so glad you like the redesign.

Rogue Unicorn - Ha! I was thinking the same thing. I can't wait.

Linda - I love the idea of baking this cake in mini loaf pans. There's something about this recipe that makes me feel like miniature loaves would be particularly lovely. Do tell me how you like it with the toasted walnuts. I'll be happy to tell you about the CIA soon.

Lisa - I've heard such great things about Amanda's book. I don't yet have a copy of my own, but it's on my list, and I can't wait to sit down with it.

Thanks, Michele. (Yes, we're very excited.)

I'm in a constant state of pinch-me these days, Denise! I'll be sure to post some photos along the way as that empty space becomes a kitchen.

Molly, I think you'll really, really like this cake. If you try it, let me know how it stand's up to Nana's (and Mr. Hines's).

Thank you, Elisha! The feeling is mutual, of course.

Justeen - Yes, that's exactly how I enjoyed my multiple slices this week. (I drank a lot of tea.)

Nina said...

Fantastic post...I would have been fretting about the non-toasted walnuts also! Am sure it was divine...craig rarely disappoints!

linda said...

i just baked 3 mini loaves ( in 5 1/2 x 3- silicone @ 325 for 50 mins.) having toasted the nuts prior to chopping.

my husband & i just tasted a piece (loaf still warm) & i think the toasted walnuts truly intensified the flavor of the loaf…& yes, jess, i did like the way the walnuts cling to cake & i feel that they are more evenly distributed when mixed with dry ingredients…will you be using this method with other nut loaves?
now that i've baked this i totally understand your comments on the butter & vanilla!
we loved this cake & it just become a staple for me... great for AM as well as PM snacking!
THANKS so MUCH!

jvp2011 said...

I know that empty feeling. An empty room and moving is a tough assignment. But big and better things lie ahead! we will try this bread for sure. Go here for another bread worthwhile
http://orangemadeleines.blogspot.com/

Clarice said...

Congratulations! Your changes here seem to reflect your growth, and yet keep that cozy feel. I'm an Alison Krauss fan, too!

redmenace said...

The cake looks amazing and the cookbook story warmed my heat. The best part, however, is your new digs. Yes! I'm very interested in seeing the progress. I'm excited for you. There is something really invigorating about moving into a new space-- even if it's right next door. A fresh palate, so to speak. Enjoy. xoxo

Jess said...

Thanks, Nina. It sounds like Linda (right below you) tested out the toasted walnuts for us. I'll be giving it a go the next time around, for sure.

Hi, Linda. Thank you, thank you for trying this cake with the toasted walnuts and for reporting back! Next time, I know what to do. Yes, I think I will try mixing in the nuts with the dry ingredients in other recipes, too. This one comes to mind. I am so glad that you enjoyed this cake, and I'm with you: It's an all-day, anytime cake. Absolutely. (Have you tried toasting the cake itself yet?)

Thanks for the link to your beautiful new blog, jvp2011! Congratulations, and welcome to this weird and wonderful world o' food blogs.

Thank you so much, Clarice. I was hoping to keep the space warm, while cleaning it up a bit. Alison Krauss: She's amazing, isn't she?

redmenace - Hi there, Robin! I'll try to keep you posted as our new home shapes up. Sometimes when I walk over there to poke around, I feel positively giddy. Speaking of new, I hope you're enjoying every last minute of all that's new and wonderful in your neck of the woods.

Anonymous said...

Found your site today and this is the first recipe I am making. I had picked up a book at the library last week that had a recipe for a Pecan, Coffee and Maple cake I wanted to try but it is a 2 layer cake and I didn't want to end up being the only one eating it. I'm going to glaze this loaf with the icing. I think it will be perfect!

Jess said...

Hi, Anonymous, and welcome! An iced walnut cake sounds lovely. I like the way you think.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely cake! It was almost a shame to ice it....doesnt need it at all. Definately a "KEEPER"

Jess said...

Thanks so much for reporting back, Anonymous. I'm so happy that you like the cake! I agree that the cake stands on its own. Don't forget to toast slabs of the leftover loaf when it's a few days old. (If it lasts that long, that is.) It's really wonderful.

Juana Olga Barrios said...

I've just stumbled onto you via Orangette and am FLOORED by every single word, your infectious joy over the little stuff, the stunning story about your brain, and sweet baby Mia. I am getting on the train and looking forward to the rid. THANK YOU for your sharing.

Jess said...

Thank you so much, Juana. You're very kind! I'm glad you're here, and grateful to Molly for sending you my way.