tea time and a blackberry cake

when i spent a semester in australia, i loved that i found myself in a country that was part of the british commonwealth — and therefore took its snack time seriously. afternoon tea wasn’t just the cup of tea itself, but a chance to sit down for an allotted rest time, and have a bite of something light and sweet with it: maybe some lamingtons, like we had that first day at university orientation; or a small stack of biscuits, as they offered every afternoon at the hostels we traveled around to.

afternoon tea is not a ritual here in the states (our closest equivalent is something i believe is called “3 o’clock slump”), but i think it should be. 

i can’t change my country’s food culture, but there’s no reason i can’t pick a social custom to import into my own life. and this blackberry cake is a perfect way to induct afternoon teatime into my day-to-day. it’s a light, springy cake and not too sweet, but plenty fruity in flavor thanks to just a few drops of raspberry extract

our days — and life in general — have a tendency to go by so fast and furious. it’s nice to pick a time to pause, and enjoy a little something sweet and soothing.

Blackberry Buttermilk Tea Cake
Adapted from the Amateur Gourmet

1 c. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
¼ tsp. salt
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) unsalted butter, softened
2/3 c. sugar, divided
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
½ c. buttermilk, at room temperature
¼ tsp. raspberry extract
about 1 ¼ c. blackberries 

  1. Preheat the oven to 400° F. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper; then butter the paper.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.
  3. Reserve 1 ½ tablespoon of the sugar and set aside. In a large bowl, using a mixer, beat the butter with the remaining amount of sugar at medium-high speed until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla.
  4. At low speed, beat in the buttermilk and dry ingredients in 3 alternating batches, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients; do not overbeat. Scrape batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  5. Scatter the 1 ¼ cups of blackberries over the batter; lightly press them in. Sprinkle the reserved 1 ½ tablespoons of sugar over the cake. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.
  6. Transfer the cake to a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Turn out the cake and remove the paper. Turn the cake right side up and let cool completely. 

spicy tomato soup

i could have this soup year-round really, but it’s especially good for these balmy fall days we’ve been having around here.

i realize it’s the beginning of december now, and in most parts of the country the air isn’t so much “balmy” as it is biting, and it’d be silly to call this season fall. but down the lane where i live, the leaves on the trees have finally flared up in their most vivid reds and yellows and the leaves on the ground are crunchy as chips, all clustered in the gutters.

and except for the blustery currents of rain coming down yesterday, the wind these days is dry but soft – carrying with it a lingering warmth from our strong-armed california summers, i’d like to think.

so the scene is set for a no-fuss meal like this one: your traditional tomato soup, but tricked out with blue cheese and sriracha sauce. ladle some out on a brisk and golden afternoon, and you’ve got yourself a bowl of lunch that will keep your hands warm and leave some heat on your tongue. with a piece of crispy, butter-browned bread to sop up the smooth-as-velvet soup, nothing matches this weather better.

Spicy Tomato and Blue Cheese Soup
from Michael Symon’s Live to Cook by Michael Symon, via the Amateur Gourmet
(adapted slightly for the ingredients I had on hand)
Makes 4 to 6 servings

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium red onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced
1 28-oz. can whole plum tomatoes, with their juice
1 ½ cups chicken stock
¾ cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons sriracha sauce
½ cup creamy blue cheese {I used one from Trader Joe’s called Stagnola Blu}

  1. Heat the olive oil in a 4-quart pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and a pinch of salt and sweat for 2 minutes until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and continue to sweat for 2 more minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice and the stock and bring to a simmer. Add the cream and sriracha sauce and simmer for 45 minutes.
  2. Pour the soup into a blender, add the blue cheese, and blend until smooth, working in batches if needed.
  3. Strain through a fine-mesh strainer into a clean pot. (How smooth the soup’s final texture is will depend on how much of the solids you push through at this point.) Taste, adjust the seasoning if necessary (I added another ½ teaspoon of salt here), and reheat to serve. The soup will keep, covered in the refrigerator, for a few days.