guess again…a tomato spice cake

IMG_7914When I signed up to attend the hypertufa workshop, read about that here, I knew that I had to bring a cake with me.   As I walked in with my traveling cake safe, I heard a few gasps, and exclamations; “oh, you brought a cake!”  This came as no surprise to some, especially Doris, who looked at me and smiled and said “You brought cake? Of course you did!!!”  She obviously knows me, and the truth is, occasions like this are really just an excuse to take a mold down from the wall and use it!

IMG_7916Late summer is tomato season and if you find yourself with a few too many, consider making a cake with them.  Actually, this recipe is versatile enough that you can make it with canned tomatoes, either crushed or puree, or even with tomato juice which means you can have it anytime.  If you use a purchased puree or juice, check the ingredient list to make sure that ingredients such as onions or garlic are not included.

IMG_7917A few things to consider here.  Raisins are one of those ingredients that you either love or hate.  Personally, I am not a big fan but in this recipe, the golden raisins really work.  Just be sure not to skip the step to plump them or they will actually draw moisture from the cake and can make it seem dry.  If you use fresh tomatoes, blanch them to remove the skin and then cut each one in half and squeeze out as many of the seeds as you can before pureeing them.  The nice thing about using fresh tomatoes, you can mix it up by changing the variety of tomato.  Of course, you can just use a can of puree and make it anytime you want a fresh baked spice cake.

IMG_7971As the summer fades, spice cakes shift to center stage.  Slightly denser, jammed full of warm spices, and in this case, loaded with dried fruit and nuts, spice cakes are the perfect pick-me-up as the temperatures finally start to cool off.  For this cake, I combined cinnamon, allspice, cloves and freshly grated nutmeg which give the cake a warm, spicy flavor.

IMG_7979Guess Again Tomato Cake

with raisins and pecans

makes an 8-inch bundt cake, serves about 8-12

1/2 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup pecan pieces

2 cups cake flour

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

5 ounces (1 stick + 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened

1-1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg

1 cup tomato juice, puree or crushed tomatoes

vanilla glaze, recipe follows

Preheat the oven to 350.  Grease and flour a 6 to 8 cup tube or bundt pan.  Place the golden raisins in a small saucepan, cover with water and bring to a boil.  Remove from the heat and let the raisins plump until cooled.  Drain well before using.

Toast the pecan pieces on a baking sheet for 5 to 7 minutes, until lightly colored and fragrant.  Transfer to a dish and allow to cool.

In a mixing bowl, combine the cake flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, cloves and nutmeg.  Set the dry ingredients aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter on medium-low speed for 1 minute.  Add the brown sugar and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes.  Add the egg and mix completely, scraping the bowl at least once.  Sift one-third of the dry ingredients over the butter mixture, fold by hand a few times and add half of the tomato.  Fold a few times; sift half of the remaining spiced flour over the batter, add the remaining juice, and fold a few times.  Add the last of the flour mixture, and fold the batter gently until no streaks remain.  Add the raisins and pecans and fold enough to incorporate them evenly.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, spread it out evenly and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 45 minutes.  Allow to cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes, then unmold and cool on a wire rack.  Using a large spoon, ladle the glaze over the top of the cake, completely covering the top and letting the excess drip down the sides randomly.

Vanilla Glaze

makes about 3/4 cup

2 cups confectioners sugar

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1/3 cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Sift the confectioners sugar into a bowl.  Add the melted butter, milk and vanilla.  Whisk until smooth and creamy, use at once.


This cake is from my second book, Desserts from the Famous Loveless Cafe.

hypertufa pots and a garden tour

IMG_7925One of the best decisions I have ever made was to become a Master Gardener.  Not only have I learned a lot about the hows and whys of all things gardening, I have had a chance to make wonderful friends!  Earlier in the summer, I was talking with a fellow MG member and I mentioned that I really wanted to learn how to make hypertufa pots and that I was more than willing to plan a get together at my home with some of our gardening friends.  It was if the walls, or maybe the hostas were listening in on my plans because as quickly as I mentioned this, we learned that one of our fellow MG members was offering a tufa pot workshop in her backyard.  Needless to say, I quickly signed up for the class!

Georgeann may be known for her love of hostas and her beautiful garden (watch this episode of Volunteer Gardener for more information) but in our circle, she is well known for her knowledge and craftwork with hypertufa.  If you are not familiar with hypertufa, it is a mixture made from peat moss, portland cement and vermiculite and when it is completely cured, it is just as strong and durable as cement but not nearly as heavy.

IMG_7926IMG_7927IMG_7928IMG_7929Making the mixture is fairly easy, it takes a little elbow grease but it is not at all difficult to make.  In a large container with a wide opening, combine 3 parts peat moss, 3 parts vermiculite and 2 parts portland cement.  For extra strength and durability, you can throw a handful or two of fiberglass reinforcing fibers.  Add water to the container and mix it until it is moistened but holds its shape-refer to the photos above.  Do not do this with bare hands!!! (nevermind Georgeann’s bare hands, she warned us about the consequences)  Portland cement can be a bit caustic and it will dry your skin to the point of irritation.

IMG_7922Select a mold with a wide opening and grease the inside with spray or a thin coat of shortening.  Line it with a couple of plastic bags or a sheet of plastic drop cloth.  Do not worry about the crinkles and wrinkles, they will add texture to the pot.

IMG_7923Press handfuls of the mixture into the bottom so that it is at least an inch and a half thick.  Using your fingers, make a hole for drainage.  Keep building up the sides so that they are at least an inch thick but when it comes to the top edge, make it a little thicker and rounded so that it is stronger.  Let it cure, out of direct sun-in full shade, gently lift the plastic sheet to remove the pot from the mold after a day or two.  At this point, you can carefully shape the edges or carve designs into the surface of the pot.  Use a metal brush or a file to sand the edges and small chisels for the carving.  Replace it into the mold to finish curing.  You want to do this to ensure that you can get it out of the mold at all-a lesson I learned the hard way!

Allow the pot to dry in the mold for at least a week and then pull it out and peel off the plastic liner.  Keep the pot in the shade to finish the curing and it is best to keep it slightly moist and wrapped in plastic.  The longer and slower the curing process is, the stronger the pot will be.

IMG_7937If you walk around Georgeann’s garden, you will find tufa pots.  This one is home to just one of many hosta plants.

IMG_7938The pots are very durable and can even spend the winter outdoors.  Even though the cement mixture is on the alkaline side, plants can thrive in them and so can moss.

IMG_7939The moss is a plus in my opinion, I just love the character it adds to the pots.

IMG_7934As a beekeeper, I love seeing Vitex (Chaste Tree) in gardens.

IMG_7936All through the garden, I found little surprises like this mosaic of a Blue Jay.

IMG_7940And this Earth ball.

IMG_7941The waterfall is actually a water feature that recirculates but it is no less beautiful than a real stream!

IMG_7942Of course, there are plenty of Hostas to admire, too!

IMG_7946As much as I love Hostas, I really love Hydrangeas!

IMG_7949Arbors are everywhere in the garden.

IMG_7950Another of Georgeann’s tufa pots, this time it is a trough.  Remember what I said about the crinkles and wrinkles in the plastic liner?  They really do add a lovely texture to the finished pot.  IMG_7953Everywhere you look, there is something to see, and in my case, covet!

IMG_7954Don’t you just love this little cottage?

IMG_7956IMG_7957IMG_7959This swing is hidden from view in most of the yard but I was still hesitant to sit on it for fear of acting like a child…

IMG_7961If this were my garden, I have a feeling that I would be spending a lot of time sitting out in front of the cottage at this table.

IMG_7962Caladiums are quickly becoming one of my favorite plants to add color to a shade garden.

IMG_7964This stone sits at the start of the path that leads up to the cottage and if you ask me, it is an accurate description of Georgeann’s garden.

IMG_7970So the moral of this story; if a Master Gardener opens their home to you, go!  You really have no idea what you will discover or learn until you walk through someone’s garden and I am genuinely grateful that I had the chance to spend a morning exploring this beautiful garden.  And in case you were wondering, there was definitely cake; I brought my Guess Again Tomato Cake and the recipe will be posted soon!