tuesdays with dorie: brown butter and vanilla bean weekend cake

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I adore vanilla beans— wrinkly, unassuming pods opening to reveal moist, fragrant MAGIC. I buy vanilla beans in a three-pack glass tube at Penzeys spices, a Wisconsin-based company known for their progressive politics and their delicious herb and spice blends. They stock an impressive array of baking spices and extracts, too (and you can shop online if you don’t live near a store). I was running low on vanilla beans after a recent experiment making homemade vanilla almond milk, so G and I traveled to our nearest Penzeys on Saturday to stock up.

Dorie’s simple cake is a perfect treat on these grey winter afternoons and evenings in the Great Lakes region. I’ve sampled slices with cups of tea and mugs of cafe au lait, and I prefer the tea pairing. A well-steeped early grey is the perfect accompaniment to these satisfying cake.

What I most loved about baking this cake: listening to the cheerful bubbling of the butter as it boiled and browned. Happy noises yielded a gorgeously nutty and fragrant butter.

I added a splash of amaretto, per Dorie’s suggestion, and while I can’t quite taste the distinctive flavor in the finished cake, I do sense a greater depth of flavor.

We have half a loaf left, just enough to last us through the rest of the work week.

Happy January, friends!

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check out my fellow baking bloggers at Tuesdays With Dorie.

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Tuesdays With Dorie: Gingerbread Bûche de Noël

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This year, Christmas is more melancholy than most, as G’s family experiences the first Christmas after his mother, my sweet mother-in-law, died from cancer at the end of May after a year-and-a-half journey with the disease.

My grief, muted and tolerable in the ensuing months, hit like a polar vortex these past few weeks. When the acute sadness washes over me, I give in to tears, and allow myself to feel the weight of an incredible loss, and the journey to that loss. As anyone whose life has been touched by cancer can attest, that journey is filled with unexpected turns, moments of hope, and, in our case, an irrevocable loss.

And so it was with a heavy heart that I donned my holiday apron, fired up my mixer, Blossom, and undertook Dorie’s gingerbread Bûche de Noël. I found comfort in the many steps, from making pralined pecans, to baking and rolling the cake, to creating the marshmallowy Italian Meringue frosting. I recalled last year’s Christmas creation–a chocolate peppermint ice cream cake baked in my vintage tree shaped pan, reminisced about our last Christmas all together, and looked ahead to spending time with my in-laws.

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We ate, talked, drank, shared gifts, and found joy and comfort in being together, despite our shared sorrow.

My mother-in-law loved decorating for Christmas, and writing thoughtful notes in personal cards sealed with stickers. My father-in-law carries on these traditions.

The Bûche de Noël, also known as a yule log, symbolic of the large logs that generate warmth and light during long December night, was the perfect dessert for this long season of darkness.

Here in Wisconsin, daytime is short, and sunshine eludes us many days. And still, we celebrate the light…life…love.

Happy holidays to you and yours, whatever celebration you honor.

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