chocolate chip bundt cake in caroll’s garden

sunday mornings are perfect for gardening.  there is a certain sense of peace that the demonstration garden has early in the day which i find comforting.  today i went out to the garden with a chocolate chip bundt cake and spent a few hours weeding the beds and chatting with my fellow master gardeners.
as master gardeners, we spend time preparing gardens for tours and on occasion,  those gardens are our own.  it is a chance to share our most prized possession with fellow gardeners.  this afternoon, i had the pleasure of visiting the garden of one of my fellow demonstration garden volunteers.

caroll has a backyard that consists of a large wooded slope.  the run off that was produced by the paved driveway, the house and the nature of gravity itself was eroding the slope.  over the last 3 years, she has spent countless hours correcting drainage and preventing erosion by building an intricate system consisting of perforated pipes to harvest the water.  the hillside now features beautiful rock walls that help sculpt and terrace the yard which is now home to many mature, shade loving perennial plants.  in a word, the view from the bottom of the slope up to the house, is jaw dropping.  thinking about how many hours she spent just observing the landscape at all times of the day and during each season as well as during heavy rain, leaves me awestruck.

there is nothing she has not considered.  there are features to attract and nurture wildlife and the yard is a certified wildlife habitat.  and because caroll is who she is, there is also a touch of whimsy and that blue bottle tree is just a small taste of all the accent pieces that are scattered throughout the yard.

her selection of plants was carefully considered.  these firepinks “pink coral” (silene virginica) combine beautifully with the native geraniums, cranesbill “tiny monster

here is caroll leading a tour of the area beyond her yard.  the area is actually woodland that contains a spring which is one of the area’s well known “seven springs” which also gives the area it’s name and helps form a wetland.  the nearby apple creek feeds into mill creek which is a major part of the watershed in this area and home to an endangered crayfish species.

visitors to the demonstration garden will recognize this guy.  he is a miniature version of jimi tindrix, the tin man who lives in the herb garden.  caroll saved many cans for fellow master gardener shirley, and in return, shirley made a tin man to hang in her garden.

just one of the many views from below looking up at the house.
the bear’s breeches were putting on quite the show for us.
the lady herself, in the garden with cake, as it should be.  we all snacked on cake as we walked around the various parts of the garden and listened to caroll tell the story of the garden.

for this part of the garden, caroll had 10 yards of topsoil delivered and she sculpted it to form a level area suitable for sitting and enjoying the landscape.  her plan is to add a fire pit to this area and if you ask me, that would be perfect for cold weather use of the garden.  nothing like a roaring fire to cozy up to and enjoy the evening in the fall.

love the blossoms on the bear’s breeches.
chocolate chip bundt cake

1 small bundt cake serving about 12
(or 40 if they are gardeners limiting themselves to tiny slivers of cake…)
2 ounces almond paste, buy the kind in an 8 ounce can and remove it from the can by opening both ends and pushing it through.  cut it into four equal pieces and save the remaining pieces by wrapping them in plastic and storing them in the freezer; thaw it as needed.
1 1/4 cup sugar
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened

1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 1/4 cup all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2/3 cup chocolate chips
2/3 cup buttermilk
4 tablespoons cinnamon sugar

preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour an 8 cup bundt pan and set it aside.  place the almond paste and the sugar into the bowl of a food processor and pulse it to cut up the almond paste.  allow the machine to run so that the almond paste is finely chopped.

add the butter, vanilla, almond extract and the salt and process until a smooth paste is formed.  with the machine running, add the eggs, one at a time and process to combine.  scrape the bowl and run again until the mixture is smooth.  scrape the batter into a mixing bowl.

place the flour and the baking powder into a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter.  sprinkle the chocolate chips over the flour and fold the mixture a few times.  drizzle the buttermilk over the batter and fold the mixture together until no streaks of flour remain.

using a large spoon, dollop 1/3 of the batter into the prepared pan.  resist the temptation to smooth this out and dust the top of the batter with 2 tablespoons of the cinnamon sugar.  repeat this process once more and then top it all off with the remaining amount of batter.  this time, smooth the batter out so that it is level across the pan-it will bake more evenly this way.

bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 55 minutes.  allow the cake to cool in the pan for 15-20 minutes and then turn it out onto a rack to cool.

strawberry cake

strawberry season sneaks up on us and does not linger; it is sensitive to the cold and it is fleeting.   the berries can be quickly saturated, left waterlogged and tasteless by a day of rain.  gardeners with strawberries generally keep close watch on the berries as they ripen with daily trips to the bed to gather the ripest, reddest, plumpest fruits.  those that make it back to the kitchen may become any number of treats.  sorbet, ice cream, jam or cake-too many choices and honestly, most are consumed as they are picked; who can resist just picked berries?  not me, that is a fact.

like little red hearts on a vine, they ripen quickly and if you are not vigilant, you will find yourself battling squirrels, chipmunks, slugs and snails for the opportunity to taste the fruits of your labor.  we tried netting to keep the squirrels out this year.  the net works well-it traps the squirrels in the bed with the strawberries so that they get their fill while they search for the way back out…

pretty little flowers.  do you notice the similarity to the bloom of a wild rose?  they are both members of the rosaceae family.  but the connections do not stop there.  also part of the family is the genus Prunus and it includes nearly 430 species including plums, cherries, peaches, apricots and almonds.  amazing and true!  this is such a diverse family of plants that includes herbs, shrubs and trees which the majority are deciduous or, they lose their leaves each year but some are evergreens.  while many of the members are ornamental, quite a few produce edible fruits.  apples, pears, quince, apricots, plums, cherries, peaches, raspberries, blackberries, loquats, strawberries and almonds are just a few of the members of the genus Prunus.  and there you have it, the reason i tend to add a little rosewater to dishes that feature red berries!

our little bed is in it’s third year and the plants are well established.  we have picked several pints and have enjoyed snacking on them.  since i never head over to the demonstration garden (the one i help maintain as a member of the master gardeners of davidson county) without a cake, i decided to use some of the abundance to bake a cake to share with my fellow volunteers.  after all, this is the south and it doesn’t get much more southern than a strawberry cake in the month of may!

fresh strawberry cake
makes one 10 cup bundt cake
serving 12-16
6 ounces unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
3 eggs
2 cups strawberries-cleaned, hulled and cut in half to loosely fill the cup
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup buttermilk
  1. preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour the pan and set it aside.  
  2. place the butter, sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a large food processor and pulse to combine.  
  3. add the eggs, one at a time with the machine running to form a smooth mixture.  
  4. stop the machine and dump the berries in.  pulse the machine to mix in the berries.  it will puree a small amount, chop up most and leave a few large chunks-refer to the photo above and do not puree until it is all one texture.  
  5. scrape the mixture out into a large mixing bowl.  
  6. place the flour, baking powder and cinnamon in a sifter or a mesh strainer and sift it over the batter in the bowl.  
  7. fold the mixture a few times, sprinkle the buttermilk over the top and fold together until no streaks remain.  scrape the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly in the pan.
  8. bake until a pick inserted into the cake comes out clean, about one hour.  cool the cake in the pan for 20 minutes and then invert it onto a rack to cool completely before cutting-if you can wait that long!
for those of you interested in more about the rosaceae family, here is the source i used for this post: