I love beauty.
To me, beauty isn't commercial - the high price-tag definition of beauty thrust upon us by Madison Avenue. It's not the latest fad or trend dictated to us by family, friends or the culture. To me, beauty is found in those places and things that exalt our senses and make each of us feel better about being in our world and living in our own skin.
What defines beauty is different for everyone.
I find beauty in walking on the beach or in the woods, having a picnic with freshly prepared food, taking a bite out of a hand-crafted cheese, paying a visit to a local art exhibit or simply enjoying the lines and lettering on an old stack of old books.
Whenever possible, I try to surround myself with beauty. Living in New England, where much is preserved, it's easy.
Lately I've been loving old New England antique stores, full of vintage items and old plates and dishes that I pick up 3 or 4 dollars a piece. Bringing these inexpensive pieces into my home and using them at the dinner table takes me back to a more elegant time and place in our history. I love the feeling of pouring freshly brewed tea into an English china cup and serving myself or a loved one a piece of cake on a hand-painted plate. It's as though the whole world slows down and dignity and elegance matter again.
One of my favorite old-world desserts to serve is the Austrian coffee cake created by 18th century coffee house Demel in Vienna. I found the original recipe for this in Saveur Magazine but have since adapted it to suit my taste.
226 g. unsalted butter
110 g. flour
26 g. cornstarch
2 g. salt
60 g. confectioners sugar plus extra for dusting
zest of one orange, minced
10 g. vanilla extract
3-4 oz. high quality bittersweet chocolate
35 g. Grand Marnier
5 eggs separated
1 pinch cream of tartar
204 g. sugar
Heat oven to 325 degrees (163 Celsius). Grease molded bundt or kugelhopf pan with butter and flour.
Sift together flour, cornstarch and salt and set aside.
Cream butter and beat in sugar. Beat in zest and vanilla until light and fluffy. Beat in egg yolks one at a time. Add reserved flour mixture in 3 parts beating well after each addition.
Melt the chocolate and mix well with Grand Marnier. Set aside to cool slightly.
Beat egg whites with cream of tartar until they start to have shape. Gradually add sugar and beat until stiff peaks form.
Fold one third of whites into the batter to lighten it. Then fold in remaining egg whites. It will be slightly lumpy when you're done.
Pour half the cake batter into the pan. Spread the chocolate on top of the batter in a line around the center of the batter. Pour the rest of the cake batter on top. Bake 40-55 minutes depending upon your oven. Remove when a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean. Do not over-bake or the cake will be dry. Cool. Remove from mold. Dust with confectionery sugar.
Variations: Mix a portion of the batter with the melted chocolate to create a marbled effect. Change the liqueur to rum or other flavoring. Replace the melted chocolate with your favorite butter and nut crumble.
This cake is lovely served with tea. My favorites are Mariage Freres, Damman and New England's own Tea Forte.
Taking time out in the day for a special treat like this brings beauty to my day.
What enriches your life? What do you find beautiful?
Pain passes but beauty remains ~ Pierre Auguste Renoir