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.
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.
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?) If any of you have experienced something similar while trying to live a more mindful life, I’d love to hear your stories.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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
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.