a day off

Ah, Mother's Day. That loveliest of days when moms everywhere are treated to a day of pampering as thanks for all of the hard, never-ending work we do. And which, inevitably, leads first to feelings of discombobulation, as your whole balance is thrown off when you aren't responsible for or in charge of every little thing throughout the day, but which invariably turns quickly into feelings of appreciation and longing for every day to be Mother's Day. Oh, how nice that would be. Unproductive, but nice.

My Sunday was no different. Things happened to me that day that never happen in my real life. I was showered with handmade presents. I was not responsible for the day's housework. I got to go running, by myself - which is a whole different game when you're not pushing a double stroller, let me tell you! - and then I got to take a nap! (Really, that nap was probably the most out-of-the-norm happening of the whole day.) And to cap the day off in true festive form, we went out to dinner. During which time I was allowed to eat my entire meal in one sitting, without having to be the one to race after an errant child. A truly remarkable day, clearly. Thank you, Josh, Kalen, and Wylie, for making me feel so special and loved.

The following are some shots of our dinner out - feel free to scroll quickly if what you're after is a recipe. It's down at the bottom, I promise, and it's a good one. But please indulge me for a moment, as I just couldn't keep to myself the proof of the rare act of all four of us eating together in public. We went to our neighborhood French-inspired bistro . . .

. . . where we snacked on house-made pate, local fiddleheads, and frites with aioli.

Pommes frites with aioli are a family favorite. It's always fun when, at most restaurants, Kalen asks for mayonnaise to go with his fries, and gets odd, questioning looks. But here, they understand completely.

We moved on to halibut with yellow-eyed peas and house-made chorizo,

scallops with a spring pea risotto,

and duck with local rhubarb.

It was all wonderful. Equally wonderful was the treat of knowing that, when dinner was over, someone else would be in charge of dish duty! The magic of restaurants on Mother's Day. So, so nice.

Here is Kalen, who has apparently decided not to smile for photos any more, as every shot I got of him that day was in this same spirit:

And Wylie, whose "smile for the camera!" face is always his goofiest:

My, how I love being those boys' Mom. Sometimes it's hard to believe all my good luck. Which is why, I suppose, it's good to have a day to reflect on it.

We left the restaurant without getting dessert, which I never do, but we were secure in our decision. Because waiting at home for us was:

A chocolate-orange cake I had made earlier in the day! Gluten-free chocolate genoise soaked in a vanilla-kumquat syrup, layered with Mandarin orange cream, coated with a bittersweet chocolate glaze, and garnished with candied kumquats. A pretty spectacular chocolate-orange cake, if I do say so myself.

This cake has a lot of components, yes. But don't worry, most of them are do-aheads. On Mother's Day itself, the only job I had was to make the chocolate glaze and assemble the whole thing. I'd already done the rest in advance, which made even spectacular-cake-making feel relaxing.

My inspiration for this cake actually came from Pierre Herme's amazing lemon cream, which I've already gushed about here. I haven't been able to stop thinking about it, and when I was at the grocery store recently I spotted some Mandarin oranges and impulsively grabbed a handful, determined to adapt the lemon recipe for them. I halved the recipe and decreased the sugar, but other than that the recipe is still pretty much all Pierre.

I wasn't sure if I liked it, at first. It tasted like a Creamsicle to me, which was never one of my top ice cream truck treats, and after my amazing, intense love affair with the lemon version, I felt a bit let down. I certainly didn't feel like eating spoonfuls of it straight from the bowl, as I had eagerly done with its tart sibling.

But my eyes were opened to the possibilities once I paired it with bitter chocolate. The sweetness and light-yet-creamy texture were the perfect foil for the intense chocolate, and it was so fluffy and spreadable that using it for a cake filling didn't seem at all unconventional.

The rest of the cake just fell into place around it. I already had the candied kumquats (and their poaching syrup) leftover from an earlier dessert, and the chocolate glaze, as opposed to a buttercream, seemed like a much more dignified (and quicker!) coating for such a special confection.

So here we are, early Thursday, and there's still a little bit of cake in the fridge. I don't know if I should be proud, for our great resolve in not quickly gobbling up the whole thing, or embarrassed, for having no qualms about letting my family eat five-day-old cake. (Well, it has been refrigerated!) Either way, at least I can tell you absolutely that this cake keeps well. Unless you have more than two AAEs (adult-appetite-equivalents) in your house - in that case, you'll be lucky if this cake lasts more than two days.

Chocolate-Orange Layer Cake
yields one 8-inch layer cake

The candied kumquats are great with this cake, but certainly not necessary. I had them leftover from a buttermilk panna cotta dessert and so it was quick and easy to incorporate them here. I used the poaching syrup, thinned out with a bit of water, to brush over the cake layers, but you could just make a simple syrup with a splash of orange juice to moisten your cake.

 Mandarin Orange Cream
adapted from Pierre Herme's Lemon Cream

108 grams eggs
30 grams sugar
108 grams Mandarin orange juice
zest of 2 Mandarin oranges
150 grams unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and at room temperature

In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together all but the butter. Place the bowl over a pot of just-simmering water (or use a double-boiler), and cook, whisking constantly, until the custard thickens. (You want your whisk to leave tracks through the custard.)

Immediately strain the custard through a fine sieve, then allow it to around 140 degrees (warm to the touch). Begin slowly adding the butter, using an immersion blender to blend the cream. Continue blending and adding butter until all the butter is incorporated and the cream is light and airy. (Alternately, if you don't have an immersion blender, strain the custard into a blender, and blend the cream that way while adding the butter.)

Press plastic wrap on the surface of the cream to prevent a skin from forming and chill for at least four hours before using.

Mandarin orange cream keeps 6 days refrigerated, and up to 2 months if frozen.

Gluten-Free Chocolate Genoise
adapted from bittersweet, by Alice Medrich
yields one 8-inch round layer

Ms. Medrich says, "Before you begin, remember that when you make a genoise, all of the details matter. Yes, please sift the flour and cocoa before measuring, and again and again and again afterward as instructed. Take no shortcuts." I agree.

4 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/3 cup sifted (before measuring) Tara's gf pastry flour mix (found here)
1/4 tsp xanthan gum
1/3 cup sifted (before measuring) unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder
4 large eggs
2/3 cup granulated sugar

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan with parchment paper.

To clarify the butter: In a very small saucepan, or in a narrow glass jar in the microwave, heat the butter, without stirring, until it is melted and very hot. The butter will separate into foam on top, clear yellow oil beneath, and water plus some milk solids on the bottom. Simply spoon off and discard the foam on the surface (tilt the pan if necessary). Transfer 3 Tbsp of the clear yellow butter (avoid the watery liquid on the bottom) to a medium heatproof bowl. Add the vanilla to the bowl and set aside.

Sift the flour, xanthan gum, and cocoa together three times; return to the sifter and set aside.

In a large heatproof bowl, preferably the bowl of your electric mixer, use a whisk to combine the eggs and sugar thoroughly. Place the bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water. Whisking constantly, heat the eggs to lukewarm (about 105 degrees). Remove the bowl from the pan; leave the skillet on the stove but turn off the heat. With an electric mixer, beat the egg mixture at high speed until it has cooled, is tripled in volume, and resembles softly whipped cream.

Meanwhile, set the bowl of butter and vanilla in the skillet of hot water, with the burner off, to keep it warm.

Sift about one-third of the flour and cocoa over the whipped eggs. Use your largest rubber spatula to fold in the mixture - quickly but gently - until combined. Fold in half the remaining flour and cocoa, then fold in the rest. Remove the warm butter mixture from the skillet. Scoop about 1 cup of the batter into the bowl and fold together with a small rubber spatula until completely combined. Use the large spatula to fold the butter mixture completely into the remaining batter. Turn the batter into the prepared pan and tilt to level.

Bake until the cake begins to shrink slightly around the edges and the top springs back when pressed with your finger, 35-45 minutes. Cool the cake completely in the pan on a rack.

To unmold, run a small knife or spatula around the inner edges of the pan to release the cake. Invert it onto a rack and remove the parchment liner. Turn the cake right side up, so that the "skin" on top of the cake does not stick to the rack. The genoise can be wrapped and refrigerated for up to 2 days, or frozen for up to 3 months.

Glace a L'Eau
from bittersweet, by Alice Medrich
yields about 1 3/4 cups

8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 Tbsp (1 stick, 1/4 pound) unsalted butter, cut into several pieces
1/2 cup water
pinch of salt

Combine all the ingredients in a small heatproof bowl set in a wide skillet of just-simmering water; stir frequently until all the chocolate and butter are almost completely melted. Remove from heat and stir gently until completely melted and smooth. Let cool to 90 degrees (Fahrenheit) before using as a glaze.

The glaze can be kept, covered, at room temperature for several days or refrigerated for up to 2 weeks; freeze it in a sealed container for up to 6 months. (Soften or defrost in a pan of just-simmering water or the microwave before using.) 

To assemble cake:

Cut the genoise into two even layers. Place the bottom half on a cardboard cake round. Brush your syrup of choice over the bottom layer to moisten well. Spread Mandarin orange cream evenly over the surface, right to the edge of the cake. Top with the other layer of genoise, cut side up, and brush more syrup over this layer. Use a spatula to smooth any orange cream that may have seeped out between the layers. At this point, the cake can be chilled while you make the chocolate glaze. Once the glaze has cooled to 90 degrees, pour it over the cake (which you should set on a rack over a piece of parchment, to catch all the drips) and gently spread it over the sides. The chocolate will set quickly, especially on cold cake, so work fast. Garnish with candied kumquats, if desired. Transfer the cake to a serving platter and cover. Cake keeps, refrigerated, for up to 5 days.


  1. Oh, YUM! I want that cake now! Glad you had such a wonderful Mother's Day, and dinner looks like it was lovely. The picture of Wylie is SO cute- he is growing so much! Miss you guys, and wish we were able to connect more often... We'll have to make it happen!

  2. It really was delicious. Too bad you weren't here with Shane yesterday - I forced a piece on him! Hope to see you tomorrow!

  3. Pierre Hermé's lemon cream recipe is one of the greatest gifts to the baking world! That's a recipe I use all the time--I am guilty of using half of it for a recipe, and eating the 2nd half slowly with a spoon. Your Mandarin version sounds absolutely incredible, and your cake is beautiful! I can't imagine how delicious it tasted.

  4. Lorna - you eat the 2nd half SLOWLY??? What incredible self-control you must have! :) Thanks for visiting and the kind words!


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