A Little Comfort: 20th Century Cafe’s Russian Honey Cake

It’s been a rough couple of months out there in the world. Sometimes the world of cooking classes and food blogging can feel a little frivolous in light of everything happening out there: hurricanes, violence, politics and most recently wildfires in our beloved Napa & Sonoma counties. But then again, when you think about it, there is a special kind of magic when people come together around food — sustenance for the body and the soul. So now’s the time, more than ever it seems, to invite a friend over for a cup of coffee and a slice of cake, or to make that big pot of pasta sauce and share it with a neighbor, or invite family around for dinner… or get involved with feeding and nourishing your community.

[Simran and I have found some opportunities to share and help recently and it feels pretty good! If you want to get involved with helping Northbay fire first responders and evacuees, here’s a resource we can recommend: SF Fights Fire. ]

For me, a little personal moment of comfort came recently in the form of Russian honey cake, from the 20th Century Cafe in Hayes Valley in SF. It’s their signature dessert and one that’s been on my list to try for far too long. What’s so cool about 20th Century Cafe is that the dessert menu focuses on sweets from Eastern Europe so there are lots of new things to try. It’s such a lovely little spot for a special after school treat. The honey cake was, as advertised, divine and I managed to get a bite of the deliciously delicate layers of cake and cream before my hungry tablemates made it disappear.

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this cake! — surrounded by poppyseeds from one of their housemade bagels which we also sampled.

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enthusiastic cake eaters

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going going gone!

[Upon returning home and finding myself a little obsessed with this cake, I found this video of chef/owner Michelle Polzine making it.]

We had delightful time of chatting and sharing delicious cake together, then decided to further lift our spirits by taking a short walk and visiting our gorgeous San Francisco City Hall. We often admire the beautiful exterior of the building as we pass by, but I realized the kids had never been inside. It really is stunning and made even more lovely by all the “just married” couples taking photos on the balconies and grand staircase. Being in the presence of so many happy new beginnings has a way of recharging your sense of hope in the world.

We took a minute to sit on the steps, and all found ourselves with big smiles on our faces — tummies happy and happy to be together enjoying something beautiful. And when I thought about it on the way home I realized that those smiles where what we were needing most of all.

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Sweet Treat: Souvla’s Greek Frozen Yogurt with Baklava Crumbles

Souvla Frozen Yogurt

Souvla’s frozen Greek yogurt with baklava crumbles is fun twist on an ice cream sundae.

After a very foggy summer in SF, it’s finally feeling like summer and I also finally got around to trying the signature dessert at the new-ish Greek rotisserie lunch spot Souvla in Hayes Valley. This sweet treat is a winner all the way — from concept down to the Greek coffee shop paper cups they serve it in — velvety, tangy frozen yogurt (Greek yogurt of course) drizzled with a touch of honey syrup and baklava crumbles. So many things to like all in one cup! And yes…. Souvla’s rotisserie situation did look pretty amazing so next time you know I’ll be checking out the spit-fired meats, veggies and house-made spreads!

Don’t you think this would be a fun & easy dessert to re-create at home using store-bought baklava and fro-yo? Not to mention a good excuse to drag out the ice cream maker and experiment with homemade frozen yogurt. Unlike a classic ice cream which requires making a custard (pans, thermometers, multiple steps and a good amount of precision), making frozen yogurt is really as simple as combining 5 parts yogurt with 1 part sugar (the sugar adds sweetness and also keeps the yogurt soft and scoop-able rather than icy), a pinch of salt and add-ins (if you like). Make sure everything is well chilled then dump it all in the ice cream maker and let it churn away. Very doable and an excellent project for kids to try.

Here’s  a basic frozen yogurt recipe from Serious Eats and a slightly more involved one from America’s Test Kitchen (via the Splendid Table podcast).

New Favorite: Old-Fashioned Poached Pears

Poached Pears

Poached Pears by A Little Yumminess

Here’s something tasty to eat while you’re awaiting the return of luscious summer fruit. We love our apples, pears and oranges, but somehow they just don’t inspire the way those buckets of cherries and perfect ripe-tart-juicy nectarines do. But then again these spiced, wine-poached pears are pretty great. They’re tender and sweet, with hints of clove and cinnamon, and exotic, earthy aromas provided by a bit of leftover wine. Glossy and gorgeous, this is an old-fashioned kind of dessert, the kind your grandmother might have made — especially if she was Italian. In fact making these always gets my hubby thinking about his Nonni.

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Liz Prueitt’s Healthy Flax Muffins (gluten free)

Liz Prueitt's Healthy Muffins

One of the best Instagram accounts I have come across belongs to Liz Prueitt of Tartine Bakery fame. Via her Instagram feed you can follow along with her as she tests and develops recipes which is pretty cool if you’re interested in how that process happens and getting inside the mind of a chef. Most recently she’s turned much of her attention to gluten free baking where she’s been exploring GF twists on classics as well as new, creative inventions, comparing different substitutions and combinations. (She’s got savory cooking projects going on as well). Some posts share the refined, end result of many cycles of testing, other times you get to see the trials and errors along the way. The very best part is that she often throws shorthand recipes onto her posts so you can cook along at home. And since she’s sharing in real-time, her posts always reflect what’s in season right now.

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Chocolate Cravings: Dreamy-Creamy Chocolate-Banana Chia Popsicles

Chocolate Chia seed popsicles

I have these popsicles to thank for my kids’ growing interest in chia seeds and their strange jelly-like properties.

When that old chocolate craving hits lately we’ve been diving into these cool dreamy-creamy chocolate-banana popsicles. I’ve always liked the idea of homemade popsicles, but somehow they’re always a bit icy and never quite get that luxurious consistency I’m after. Well we’ve done it! We’ve finally landed on what is, at least for my family, the ultimate popsicle! These get extra bonus points because the flavor reminds us of the frozen chocolate bananas you get at the county fair or at Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk.  Continue reading

Two Yummy, Fun Vegan Birthday Treats

Recently my littlest guy had a birthday and celebrating with his buddies meant figuring our some yummy treats that could be dairy and egg free. We ended up with two tasty desserts for two different celebrations and wanted to share them because it’s always good to have a few extra ideas up your sleeve when it comes to vegan desserts.

Rice Krispy Sushi Continue reading

Buckwheat Crepes (Galettes), Savory or Sweet

Buckwheat Crepes_France by a Little Yumminess

Buckewhat Crepes_A Little Yumminess

 

We really love this buckwheat crepe (galette) recipe from the always excellent David Lebovitz — it’s a little less eggy and a bit more crisp and delicate than other crepe recipes we have tried and we love the deep color and the nuttiness from the buckwheat. I’ve made this recipe so, so many times over the years, but realized that I have never shared it here on the blog. Now is the perfect time, with that foggy chill in the air and major cravings for cozy foods like cheese and chocolate setting in. Crepe season is here! Continue reading

Breakfast Makeover: Smoothie Collection

Everyone loves smoothies! They’re super quick to make when you keep basics on hand, and they’re wonderfully portable for when you’re in a rush to get out the door (we’re always in rush on school mornings). Lately we’ve been making a big batch for breakfast and refrigerating the leftovers for an after school snack. I’ve also started adding smoothies to the lunch box this year (cleaned up, recycled small Odwalla containers work perfectly). As school lunch periods get shorter and shorter (don’t get me started!), this seems to be something my kids can successfully eat (along with a few other tidbits) in the teensy amount of time allotted for lunch.

If you start searching around for smoothies on the internet you’ll find tons of info– recipes, special containers, little tips and tricks. So…. to the collective oeuvre of smoothies out there I add our list of favorites with an international twist.

Mango Lassi_India Playdate

Mango lassis are by far the most requested smoothies in my house. We all love the creamy, sweet mango flavor, but that pinch of cardamom is what makes it special. For kids who insist they don’t like spices — this is a good place to start. Here’s our previous post with the recipe.

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Coffee Crunch Cake, It’s a San Francisco Thing (Yasukochi’s Sweet Stop)

Coffee Crunch Cake SF_A Little Yumminess

Yasukochi Bakery Stop_Super Mira_Japantown_A Little Yumminess

When my kids see a certain glint in my eye they know they’re in for a food adventure. This look means that there’s a high likelihood that we’ll be jumping in to car to trek off to some obscure corner of the Bay Area to find some (hopefully) tasty bite. Thank goodness they’re both good sports about it and humor this eccentricity. Our latest quest was happily close to home, in San Francisco’s Japantown as we went in search of the famous coffee crunch cake. I’m not sure if coffee crunch cake is “a thing” elsewhere, but it has a history here in San Francisco. Most old-school SFers will remember Blum’s coffee crunch cake with a special fondness: pillowy whipped cream sandwiched between light layers of chiffon cake, the whole thing  encrusted in crunched up pieces of coffee-flavored honeycomb toffee. This was the signature item at Blum’s (sadly gone) which was in the also now defunct ritzy department store I. Magnin’s. If I could travel back in time, some shoe shopping at Magnin’s followed by a stop at Blum’s for cake would most definitely be on my to do list.

The happy news to report is that while Blum’s is no longer, coffee crunch crunch cake lives on in San Francisco!  Continue reading

Tarta de Santiago (Spanish Almond Cake)

Spanish Santiago Cake by A Little Yumminess

Santiago Cake_A Little Yumminess

This super traditional Spanish cake first caught my eye because of its short list of ingredients and the fact that it uses no flour, just finely ground almonds, as the base. Another example of how a couple of simple ingredients can transform themselves into something special. This cake is moist, deliciously not-too-sweet, delicate and crumbly which makes it great with a cup of coffee in the afternoon. Simran and I and our friend Rachel happy nibbled away on this during a recent afternoon of recipe testing… and the fact that I wasn’t nice enough to save any for my family to try will give you an idea of how much I liked it.

In addition to being a lovely accompaniment to afternoon coffee this is a cake also has a long history. It dates back to the 16th century where it has been enjoyed by Santiago locals and pilgrims making their way to the Cathedral of Santiago Compostel (the burial place of St. James, the patron saint of Spain.). This recipe also happens to be gluten-free which comes in handy as well. Continue reading