Breton Butter Cake with Black Pepper Strawberry Compote

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Lately, I’ve been in an in-between state of mind. 

The weather keeps see-sawing between gorgeous sunny days and brooding spring skies. We’re settled into our new house, but I’m taking a break from renovating and decorating to preserve my sanity. I’ve got culinary tours and classes and dinners planned for the summer. But I’m trying to simply place one foot in front of the other and move towards my goals rather than burning myself out with my usual unbridled desire to do EVERYTHING NOW.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Which has left me feeling sort of… bored. I know that a little boredom does not spell the end of the world. But I haven’t been bored since I was about four years old. I’m an only child and a confirmed introvert, so I learned to entertain myself early on. Boredom is a strange, uncomfortable feeling. Also, I’ve always felt there are so many interesting things to do in the world. Too many, even. How am I supposed to become a master gardener, learn film photography, improve my tennis game, write a cookbook and teach myself to speak Portuguese with only 24 hours in a day? 

You see my point, obviously.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com
butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

As I’ve shared here recently, I’m trying to pace myself a little better. Leave room throughout each day to chart my course rather than just react to an endless to-do list. However, my productivity-addicted brain doesn’t know what to do with the in-between spaces. My hope is that the boredom and discomfort will morph into a sense of calm and clarity. (That’s totally a thing, right? I have no idea, but I’m going with it for now.) If any of you have experienced something similar while trying to live a more mindful life, I’d love to hear your stories!

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

In the meantime, I’ve been turning to the kitchen for the reliable sense of calm I find there. After my recent cake disaster, I decided I needed a win in the baking department. I dug up the recipe for this classic French butter cake, which I’ve been making for years. The only thing better than eating this crumbly, buttery cake accompanied by a strong cup of coffee, is topping it with black pepper strawberry compote. 

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

My friend Stephanie developed the compote recipe and it’s a winner. Roasting the berries intensifies their flavor and transforms their juices into a bright syrup. The kick of black pepper heightens the tartness of the berries and balances the buttery cake.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

There’s a quote from Henry David Thoreau I keep at the top of my to-do list: The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it. I try to keep this in mind as I move through each day. I try to remember that doing is not the same thing as living. I wish I could say I’m half as good at living as I am at doing. I get a little better at it every day though, which is what really matters, it seems. And my in-between days are made a whole lot sweeter with time spent in the kitchen and a slice of this cake at hand.

butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Breton Butter Cake with Black Pepper Strawberry Compote

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 6 large egg yolks
  • 2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large whole egg
  • 1 recipe Black Pepper Strawberry Compote (see below)
butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Preheat your oven to 350° F. In the bowl of electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. (A hand mixer would work to, it will just take longer.) Add the vanilla and then the yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour and salt and beat just until combined. Take care not to overwork your batter.

Transfer the batter to an 8- or 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Use a small offset spatula or knife to spread the batter and smooth top. You want the top as flat and smooth as possible. If the batter is too warm to get a smooth top, chill it for 10 minutes or so and then try smoothing it again. Place the pan in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Remove the pan from the refrigerator. Beat the egg with a tablespoon of water and brush it over the top of the cake. Use a fork to mark a criss-cross pattern across the top.. Brush the criss-crosses with the egg wash. Bake until the cake is deep golden brown and the edges pull away from the sides of pan, about 40 minutes.

Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool slightly. Remove the cake from the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature with Black Pepper Strawberry Compote.

Makes 8-10 servings.

Recipe via Martha Stewart


butter cake with black pepper strawberry compote on millys-kitchen.com

Black Pepper Strawberry Compote

  • 2 pints ripe strawberries (about 1 lb), rinsed and patted dry
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Cut the tops off the strawberries and slice them into halves or quarters (depending on their size). In a medium bowl, mix the berries with the sugar and pepper. Set aside to macerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400ºF. 

After the berries have sat for 30 minutes  and released their juices, transfer them to a parchment- or foil-lined sheet pan. Roast for about 30 minutes, stirring the berries after about 15 minutes. When they are done, they should be soft but not shriveled; their juices should have thickened slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Recipe adapted from Stephanie Lock

Recipe adapted from Stephanie Lock

grilled hanger steaks with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish

grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com
grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com

If you’ve been following along here for a while, you know I’m someone who loves to make unrealistically grandiose plans. I’ve got list upon list brimming with big ideas for improving the house, the yard, this blog, my photography skills, my wardrobe and my general person (among other projects).

I’m itching to completely tear up the yard of our new house and transform it into the just-unkempt-enough cottage garden I’ve been dreaming of for over a decade. I want to rip out the kitchen floor, teach myself to lay tile and put down handmade hex tile from Morocco. I want to browse Pinterest from top to bottom until I finally find THE haircut for my unruly curls. I want to get up at dawn every morning to catch the day’s first rays with my film camera. I want to string lights from the trees in our backyard and host large, raucous dinner parties every weekend.

grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com
grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com
grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com

A past version of me would be spending the evening mapping out my plan of attack for all these summer projects rather than writing this blog post. There would be lots of lists and diagrams. Maybe even a full-on crazy wall like the ones you see in the movies with maps and mysterious photos and lots of zig-zagging red string.

But I’ve got a different plan this year. My plan is something called Operation Summer Simplicity. It involves letting the yard and garden do their thing for a season to see what’s what. It involves living with the perfectly fine kitchen floor I have until I decide what I really want. It involves occasionally getting up early to shoot with my film camera. Operation Summer Simplicity is all about leaving enough space in my days that I can actually enjoy the one truly phenomenal season we get here in Seattle. 

grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com
grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com

While I’m pretty sure there won’t be a weekly dinner club happening in my back yard, having friends over for an al fresco meal is one of the highlights of summer for me. To that end, I’ve decided I need an uncomplicated approach to hosting dinners here at the house. That’s where my trusty Weber grill comes into play. Fire it up, throw on a beautiful cut of meat and some seasonal vegetables, uncork a bottle of wine and you’re doing summer right. 

So know this, friends: if the weather is warm and you come to my house for dinner, you will very likely be eating something from the grill. Something like this Hanger Steak with Asparagus, Spring Onions and Preserved Lemon Relish, for example.

grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com

I had a chance to test this recipe out a couple weeks ago when our friends Alex, Kelsey, Carlos and Susanna came over for dinner on an unseasonably warm evening and I have to say it was perhaps the easiest, breeziest dinner party I’ve ever thrown. Of course that's partly because we had invited some of our chillest friends. But I'm going to give the Weber credit for the rest. Score victory number one for Operation Summer Simplicity. 


Grilled Hanger Steaks with Asparagus, Spring Onions and Preserved Lemon Relish

  • 2 hanger steaks, about one lb. each, patted dry with paper towels
  • Coarse sea salt
  • 1 ½ lbs asparagus (buy the fatests stalks you can find so they don't fall through the grill grate)
  • 6-8 thin spring onions
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 recipe Preserved Lemon Relish (see below)
  • Special equipment: a corded instant-read thermometer

*Notes: Ideally you want to salt the steaks at least 4 hours before you intend to grill them. If you forget or don’t have enough time, it’s not the end of the world, but salting the steaks in advance helps to season and tenderize them, so it’s worth the extra step. The steaks can be salted up to 24 hours in advance. 

- A corded instant-read thermometer may seem fussy, but unless you’re a professional, it’s really the only way to cook your steak perfectly every time. Bonus: you won’t have to open the oven door or grill lid a gazillion times and let all the heat escape while you’re cooking.

- Here's a great list of tips for grilling. Here's another.

grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com


At least 4 hours before you intend to grill the steaks, sprinkle them very generously with about 2 teaspoons of salt each. Lay the steaks on a plate and place them, uncovered, in the refrigerator. If you think of it, turn them over once or twice while they're hanging out in the fridge. This allows the surface to dry out more, which leads to better browning on the grill. Remove the steaks from the refrigerator about an hour before you intend to grill them and let them sit at room temperature.

Snap the woody ends off the asparagus and place them on a rimmed sheet pan. Trim any wilted ends from the onion greens. If they're long cut the green tops off the onions along with a bit of the pale green or white part to hold them together. Cut the hairs from the root-end of the onions, but leave enough of the root to hold the onions together. Cut the bulb end in half lengthwise if it's thick. Place the onion tops and bulbs on the sheet pan with the asparagus, keeping them separate. Pour enough olive oil on the asparagus and onions to coat them well and use your hands to rub the oil onto the vegetables, especially the tips of the asparagus. Generously sprinkle with salt.

Use your hands or a silicone pastry brush to generously coat the steaks with oil. Insert the thermometer into the center of one of the steaks. Take care not to angle it up or down or you'll get a false reading.

grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com

If you are using a gas grill: Light your grill. Turn all the burners to high and preheat the grill with the lid down until it is very hot, 10-15 minutes. 

Place your onions on the grill and cook without turning until they have nice char marks on one side and are starting to soften, 3-5 minutes depending on how hot your grill is. Turn the onions over then place your steaks and asparagus on the grill. Cook the asparagus, turning as needed until they are lightly charred and cooked through. The cook time for your asparagus will vary depending on their thickness. Check them often and take care not to let them get soggy, the goal is bright green, crisp-tender stalks. Remove the asparagus to the sheet pan when they’re done. Continue to cook the onions, turning as needed until they are soft and cooked through then place them on the sheet pan with the asparagus.

Cook your steaks until they are nicely browned and char marks appear on one side, about 2-4 minutes. Turn the steaks and cook until char marks appear on the other side, about 2-4 minutes more. Turn all the burners to medium-low, close the lid on the grill and continue to cook until the steaks reach 115° for rare, 120-125° for medium-rare or 130°-135° for medium. (The steaks will continue to rise in temperature as they rest.) Remove the steaks from the grill and rest for 5 minutes. Slice steaks and serve with grilled vegetables and Preserved Lemon Relish.

If you are using a charcoal grill: Build a 2-level fire in your grill like this (scroll down to number 5). Once your coals are hot and covered in ash, set the grill rack in place, cover the grill and let the rack heat for about 5 minutes.

When the grill rack is hot, grill your veggies as above. When they are almost done, move them to the cooler side of the grill to finish cooking, then place your steaks on the hotter side of the grill. Remove the vegetables to the sheet pan when done. Cook the steaks, uncovered, until they are nicely browned and char marks appear on one side, about 2-3 minutes. Turn the steaks and cook until char marks appear on the other side, about 2-3 minutes more. Move the steaks to the cooler half of the grill and continue to cook to desired doneness (see temperatures above). Remove the steaks from the grill and rest for 5 minutes. Slice steaks and serve with grilled vegetables and Preserved Lemon Relish.

Makes 4 servings.


Preserved Lemon Relish

  • 2 preserved lemons
  • 4 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
  • ¼ cup cilantro leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup mint leaves, chopped
  • ¼ cup parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon chile flakes, or to taste
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Sea salt, to taste
grilled hanger steak with asparagus, spring onions and preserved lemon relish via millys-kitchen.com

Run the lemons under cold water to remove excess brine then quarter them. Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and discard. Finely chop the preserved lemon skin and place in a small bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients except the salt and stir well to combine. Taste and add salt if necessary. (Some preserved lemons are salty enough you won't need to add salt.)

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

the almond and rhubarb cake that wasn't

rhubarb via millys-kitchen.com

Hello, friends!

I do not have a new recipe for you today. I spent a lot of time this week testing, tweaking and re-baking what I thought was going to be the world’s most amazing flourless almond and olive oil cake with rhubarb compote. I thought this one was going to be a #gamechanger. Ahem.

I had my last version of the cake in the oven. I’d already shot the ingredients and prep. I had a yogurt glaze waiting in the wings. I took the cake out of the oven, waited patiently for it to cool and cut myself a slice. 

It was horrible.

rhubarb via millys-kitchen.com

Heavy as a brick. Dry on the outside with a sort of wet swamp of fruit in the middle. The intensely red rhubarb had turned rather brown during the long bake time necessary to cook the cake all the way through. This was by far the worst of the three versions of the cake I’d made this week. My first impulse was to throw it on the floor in frustration. My second was to cry. I’ve been having a rather crap week and this felt like the icing on the metaphorical cake. 

I did not smash my cake on the kitchen floor. I instead slid it into the compost, to be forgotten if not forevermore, at least for the time being. There were some tears though, later in the evening when I picked a fight with Beau about nothing at all. (Does anyone else do this? It’s the worst. But sometimes I can’t seem to help myself. Luckily, I have an amazing husband who loves me despite my foibles and tendency to sometimes instigate arguments when I’m overtired or down.)

OlaiyaLand_20160414_9087-2.jpg

After the cake disaster, I briefly thought about heading out to the grocery store for another round of ingredients, then staying up late to test another version, then getting up early to shoot it. But it only took me about two seconds to realize that was not one of my better ideas. The truth is, it kind of felt good to fail and to be ok with it. It feels good to tell you about my cake failure here. In this age of highly curated social media accounts and gorgeous food blogs with über-professional-looking photography and design, it feels nice to let you know that most of the time I feel like I have no idea what I’m doing and that even after over 20 years of working in restaurants and avid home cooking, I still sometimes bomb out in the kitchen.

So there you have it. I now wish I’d taken a picture of my horrible little cake for you to see how truly bad it was. You’ll have to take my word for it.

In the meantime, I want to leave you with a recipe or two for the weekend in case you’ve got the itch to bake. For those of you new to the blog, here’s a tried-and-true recipe for an orange-hazelnut bundt cake with rum glaze. It’s one of my favorites.

For those of you in the mood for rhubarb, I thought these raspberry and rhubarb meringues with pistachio crumble looked delicious. I haven’t tried them yet, but intend to give them a go this spring. I have a list of tips for foolproof meringue in this post should you need a few pointers.

Happy Sunday and XO!

Olaiya

P.S. There are a few spots left in some of the classes I’m teaching at Book Larder this month. I’m especially excited about the French class I’m teaching next week and the homemade tacos class I’m teaching the week before Cinco de Mayo. If you’re in Seattle, sign up and come cook with me! There won’t be any crappy cakes--I promise. :)