One of my Christmas presents from Matt was a collection of Virginia Woolf’s letters, which I’m really enjoying, and to which, the introduction reads: “In turn-of-the-century handbooks on how to write a proper letter, women were advised to be self-effacing. Ladies, they were told, do not begin a letter with ‘I’. They begin instead with something that will interest their correspondents, chiefly themselves.” Therefore, “The proper female letter writer was simply another version of the hostess.”
Maybe because I was sick on New Year’s Eve, spending it with a crazy headache and no champagne, Matt and I didn’t feel forced into a discussion about resolutions. And maybe because, in a bit of a turn-of-the-century-inspired change of pace for this usually non-self-effacing writer, I haven’t felt compelled to publicly (or privately) set a single resolution for 2012.
I—here ‘I’ go again!—think it’s because I’m a bit tired of setting goals. Even when my dear friend broached the topic with me and told me about how her resolution for 2011 had been to have more fun, and I instantly wanted to steal it for myself, the more I thought about it, the more I wondered: what does it mean—to have “more fun”? Does that mean I should watch more TV? Does that mean I should throw a Downton-Abbey inspired cocktail party? Does it mean I should meditate more so that I can become less stressed and more open for a good time in general? Or, does it mean I should go to amusement parks with friends and ride the roller coasters with no hands? Do you see what I’m saying? It started becoming goal-oriented. So, alas, here I sit, one week into 2012 and very much resolution-less.
But hey, I don’t want to rain on your 2012-resolutions parade. In fact, please tell me: how’s it going for you? Are you doing the Gwyneth/Goop cleanse? Are you making macaroni and cheese? What about cake? Surely, you can fit in one slice of heavenly orange cake, no?
What if I told you that when you pull this cake out of the oven, you have to wait until it’s cooled down a bit before brushing the orange glaze on top, and that during this interim period, I nearly pressed my face into the cake’s surface as the smell was that intoxicating? It was floral but orangey, and sweet. So, naturally, I hovered over it with my nose only one centimeter from the top for at least thirty seconds, if not a full minute.
This is a beauty of a cake—perfect for a winter dinner party or, just for yourself. In fact, while I was eating a slice, I had the thought that if it weren’t for Bon Appetémpt, I wonder if I would have made such a pretty, fairly involved cake. Perhaps, but probably not midweek with only Matt and I to eat it, which is really a shame because it made an ordinarily drab Wednesday so much better.
Isn’t that funny? That while we may no longer approach letters, or emails, with a hostess mentality, or any real sense of etiquette for that matter, (I know I use a lot of emoticons.) we still do when it comes to actual hosting, over 100-years later. The editor of this collection, Joanne Trautmann Banks, writes: “The successful Victorian hostess devoted herself to her guests and appeared to deny herself.” And isn’t that the same for the successful present-day hostess? We vacuum the whole apartment, make special cakes, wash a million pans, and then wave off any compliments with, “Oh, it was nothing! Thank you for coming!” I’m not complaining, I promise—I’m not at all ready to say goodbye to this tradition. There’s nothing I love more than being invited to dinner, to being hosted.
Maybe that could be my resolution—to treat myself like I would my guests? Oh, but I’ve strayed. Back to you! Would you be interested in having me for dinner? Thanks in advance!Cooking in the Moment
Oranges and Glaze
5 satsuma oranges
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1/3 cup semolina flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon table salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 10-inch round pan. (I used a 9-inch and, plain as the eye can see, it worked out great.)
Finely grate the zest of one of the oranges, and reserve the zest for the cake batter. Cut the orange in half, juice it, and strain the juice; you should have 1/3 cup juice. Slice the remaining 4 oranges into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and orange slices in a medium saucepan, and bring to a slow simmer over low heat. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until the centers of the orange slices are starting to become tender and translucent but are not falling apart. Carefully transfer the orange slices to a plate with a slotted spoon, and continue to simmer the syrup until it has reduced to 1/2 cup, 5 to 8 minutes. Set the glaze aside. (I did this step and then went to yoga class, came back an hour and a half later and finished everything up. Just in case, you need to break up this baking session.)
To make the cake, combine the butter and sugar in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until fluffy. While the mixer is running, add an egg and wait for it to be incorporated before adding the other. Add the reserved grated orange zest. In a bowl, sift together the semolina flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the batter mixture and mix until all of it is incorporated. Pour the batter into the pan and arrange the orange slices in one layer on top of the batter. Bake for 15 minutes.
Reduce the oven temperature to 350 and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the cake is an even golden brown and baked through; a toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Let the cake cool on a wire rack until it is warm. Then, using a wooden skewer, poke holes all over the surface of the cake. Brush the glaze over the top, using a pastry brush. Allow the cake to cool to room temperature, and then unmold.