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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Baking Therapy

It feels like forever since I’ve written a post, although it’s only been a week-ish. This past week has been absolutely crazy for me because of school. As of last week I’m officially slotted to sit my Master’s Examine in May which has prompted an increased amount of work and stress as I begin writing 50 pages by the end of March, leaving me little time to comment and visit my usual weekly round of blogs. But such is life. What makes it worse I think is that I’ve become a computer hog as well, writing from the afternoon until the wee hours of the morning, leaving Daniel little time for blog surfing as well. I think he wrote is last post during two 15-minute window sessions in which I was searching for books or reading. He's resorted to outlining them during a break at work to type as quickly as possible when he can. Nevertheless, with the increase in my stress levels tends to come an increased amount in baked goods. 
I’m not sure why exactly it is, but baking something is the most rewarding way for me to take a break. Usually its quiet apart from the soft crack of a few eggs and the melodic scrape of the wooden spoon folding along the bowl.  Nothing that requires an electric mixer will do for this type of baking, just your basic cookies, cakes, muffins, brownies, etc. Just folding flour into brownies or a cake seems to zap the stress right out. After I put whatever sweet that strikes my fancy (and ingredient ability) into the oven, the warm aromas of vanilla and sweet baked goodness fill the kitchen and the living room, making the return to work easier with an anticipated reward within the next hour. A delightful combination of temporary breaks and aroma therapy. 
Having kicked myself into extra high stress mode, this week called for a powerful dose of taking a step back, and so I decided to employ a secret weapon: Lavender. I don’t know where it came from. I vaguely remember babysitting and the mom had purchased a ‘soothing lavender’ baby bath product because it supposedly helped the baby sleep better. Nonetheless, it seemed to fit perfectly. Daniel immensely enjoys reminiscing about his family over a pound cake, and I’d been wanting to try one highlight olive oil, and lavender seemed to me a perfect complement.  I was initially surprised (and wary) as I prepared the lavender honey-almond topping for the cake at the strong perfume scent of the lavender ground with the sugar. But, I’d read cautionary tales of the potential blandness of olive oil pound cakes, and although I think it would have been good on its own the mix of the warm cake smell and lavender were just what I needed to take a quick break and give me the slightest hint that this too shall pass.
Olive Oil Pound Cake
2-1/4 Cup Flour
1 Tsp Salt
1 Tsp Baking Powder
3/4 Cup Olive Oil
1-1/2 Cups Sugar
1 Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp Vanilla
3 Eggs
2/3 Cup Milk

Preheat oven to 325. Grease 2 small loaf pans (I used one to large and got a relatively short cake) with olive oil.
Combine flour, salt, baking powder in one bowl. In another bowl, add olive oil and begin beating in sugar, lemon juice, and vanilla until well blended. Add eggs one at a time mixing well after each. Add milk and mix for 1-2 minutes.
 Gradually add flour to olive oil mixture, folding until well blended. Divide equally.
Bake 45-50 minutes until toothpick inserted comes out clean. Cool at least 15 minutes remove from pan. If adding topping, place cake on baking sheet. Follow topping directions and then let cool completely.

Lavender Honey-Almond Topping (enough for 1)
1/2 Cup Slivered Almonds
1/4 Cup Honey
1 Tbsp Lavender Ground with 1 Tbsp Sugar using Mortar & Pestle
Preheat oven broiler.
In microwave safe bowl add honey, and lavender/sugar mixture. Warm in microwave in 20 second intervals until sugar dissolves and honey is thin and watery, stirring in between each interval.
Quickly add almonds and gently stir to coat.
Spread on top of cake.
Place under broiler for approximately 2 minutes until almonds have toasted and honey begins to caramelize.
Let cool before slicing cake.

I’ve tried other ways to relax with the recommended hourly breaks you should take when studying or working, but they all tend to have the opposite effect. Quiet time, a tv break, or reading my favorite blogs lose their enjoyment and seem to just remind me that I’m wasting time and cutting into to time with Daniel or time to sleep. But baking. With baking, even though I’m taking a break, I feel like I’ve accomplished something. A little reward for myself. Something to thank my husband with for putting up with the irritability that accompanies stress. And something to share later. 

Enjoy!

14 comments:

Divina Pe said...

The aroma in the kitchen must be heavenly as well as relaxing because of the lavender. I could imagine Daniel typing away through the keyboard but glad you were able to work things out effectively. If yours is baking, mine is making gnocchi. :)

Tracy (Amuse-bouche for Two) said...

I think baking is the perfect way to spend a break. It's quiet, creative and methodical. Refreshes the brain, I think.

Amber @ Native Food and Wine said...

Oh yum, olive oil cakes are such a good thing. Your recipe sounds great.

Fingers crossed for you in May.

Cinnamon-Girl♥ said...

Baking is the perfect antidote to stress! What a gorgeous pound cake! The topping sounds excellent. I have yet to bake with olive oil - can't wait to give it a try. Good luck with all your work.

my spatula said...

ohhh, that almond topping looks just perfect for an amazing looking loaf!

Anna said...

I love olive oil cakes, and with lavender must be yummy, it looks yummy.

Dinners and Dreams said...

A gorgeous loaf like this one is definitely therapeutic. It looks great.

Nisrine

Cocina Savant said...

thanks everyone! your comments are definetly helping to brighten my stressful week :)

Mardi @eatlivetravelwrite said...

When I was doing my MA and now with my PhD, baking and cooking provided welcome relief from the books. I totally understand! Good luck with the workload in the next couple of months.

5 Star Foodie said...

The cake looks amazing and I love the idea of Lavender Honey-Almond Topping, excellent!

Chef Aimee said...

I enjoy olive oil cakes, but wow that topping puts this in the upper echelon of any olive oil cake I have seen!

Abby said...

What a lovely cake! I've never really baked with olive oil, but I love how "adult" it makes a dessert. ;)

And thanks for stopping by!

Devon said...

Baking is one of my favorite stress relievers, too. It's the instant gratification of a job well done and the reward all wrapped up in one. Thanks for stopping by Traveling Taste Buds.

Stella said...

This cake looks wonderful. I thought it was semolina at first, which really caught my eye. The olive oil instead of butter is great. Some of the best cakes I've ever tasted are made this way-such a nice way to cut out some saturated fat and cholesterol and still end up with a delicious cake to have with coffee...I am going to make it and will comment later on how it turns out...

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