Quarantine Reading, or Lack Thereof

Here we are in Quarantine Week 7. How are you holding up? I’m hanging in there, but am definitely looking forward to post-corona. (Whenever that is.) In the meantime, I’m happy to hang out at home. I’ve been baking every weekend – trying new recipes and experimenting with my sourdough starter. I’ve cleaned the bathrooms, kept up on the laundry, and re-organized the kitchen cabinets. I started Zoom yoga, attended a Zoom happy hour, and even had Zoom book club. I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with Scott. I’ve also been surprisingly busy and pretty productive working from home, which is not my preferred workspace. But one thing I haven’t quite managed to accomplish is tackling my To-Read List.

I guess my reaction to pandemic is inability to focus. That’s how I feel at least. Sitting quietly with a book is the last thing I want to be doing. I’d rather be working with my hands, which is why I’ve been baking up a storm. Nonetheless, I am trying forcing myself to get back in the reading state of mind. This past weekend I managed to get several chapters along in The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters. (I started it over a month ago.) Thinking a little nonfiction would also help get me out of my reading rut I downloaded The Likability Trap by Alicia Menendez from Chester County Library’s Libby app. My goal this week was to finish reading those, but I haven’t read the past two nights…so fingers crossed.

How’s your reading in quarantine going? Are you conquering your To-Read List with all this free time, or binging shows instead?How have you been getting your books – Libby? Hoopla? Kindle? Audiobooks? A friend? Your bookshelf? Any good book recommendations? Tell me in the comments!

Shop Small via Bookshop.org: Amazon has declared books “non-essential.” This is sad news for readers who love physical books, especially since our libraries are closed. I recently discovered Bookshop.org through Grace over at The Stripe. By ordering on Bookshop.org you can contribute directly to your favorite local bookstore, who will receive the full profit of your order. I’ve decided to go ahead and become an affiliate of Bookshop.org for all of my cookbook and book links now too because #supportlocal. You can shop my storefront here: bookshop.org/shop/bakingofftheshelf. (If you make a purchase I will make a small commission, which goes towards keeping my blog live!)

Chocolate & Red Wine Cake

Months ago Diana Henry’s From The Oven To The Table was chosen as the Saveur Cookbook Club pick of the month. I promptly put it on hold at the library, and it finally came right before the library closed for Covid-19. So now I’ve been on stay-at-home orders with it for several weeks. You’d think I’d have made every recipe by now! (Come on, have you met me?) I can proudly say I did actually made two recipes though, the other being the Roast Salmon & String Beans with Cornichons & Mustard Crumbs on page 17. Today’s recipe review is a weekend dinner gourmet chocolate cake that makes for fantastic weeknight dessert leftovers.

This cake sounds straightforward. Unsalted butter, dark chocolate, dark brown sugar, eggs, cocoa powder, all-purpose flour, baking powder, sea slat, red wine, and orange zest. Then I read the instructions. What makes this cake difficult is melting the chocolate for the batter and glaze. That’s two separate instances of melting chocolate, as if one time wasn’t stressful enough. Melting chocolate without burning it is one of the most difficult baking tactics to master, I think. It takes patience, a steady simmer, a good saucepan, and constant stirring. The melting of chocolate (which then needs to quickly go into the batter before solidifying), means the key to making this recipe “easy” is mise en place. I suggest preheating your oven while you measure and chop the chocolate, grease your pan, sift the flour, whisk together the dry ingredients, pour the wine, and zest the orange. Why? Because after you successfully melt that chocolate, there’s no time to waste measuring dry ingredients!

OK, not exactly throw-it-in-the-oven, but nevertheless an easy cake that can be served for afternoon tea as well as for dessert.

Diana Henry, From The Oven to the Table

Henry is right. This is an easy cake, despite the chocolate melting. But really, the melting process isn’t all that hard. Her instructions on improvising a double boiler are easy to follow and yield perfectly melted chocolate. All you need is a large skillet and small saucepan. The ingredients are standard baking cabinet fare, you definitely have a bottle of red wine somewhere, and I’d argue you don’t really need a springform pan. Just use your regular baking pans – a 9 or 8-inch pan works, round or square. The baking process took me roughly three hours, start to finish. Which means it is possible to make this cake in the afternoon for an impressive dessert. (Just make sure to leave enough time for the glaze to cool and set before your dinner guests arrive. Garnish with orange swizzles.) But I highly recommend making this cake the day before and letting it sit overnight in the fridge. The flavors meld together beautifully, and it tastes even better the next day.

The cake itself is rich like a flourless chocolate torte. It tastes exactly like chocolate dipped oranges – and smells exactly like them too. Henry’s recipe suggests using the zest of one orange so to not overpower the wine flavor. I would suggest choosing a small orange, or maybe not quite zesting the whole orange, as I could not detect any wine flavor in my attempt. (Although, that could be the poor quality of my wine!) Serve the cake in small slices with vanilla ice cream to balance out the chocolate intensity. Pair with coffee, more red wine, red dessert wine. Or chug a glass of cold milk.

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