This is not a Valentine’s Day post.
There will be no red velvet here today. No chocolate, even. No flowers, no candy hearts, and nothing fluffy and pink.
This is not because I hate Valentine’s Day, or love. It’s because I think these winter months are neglected. I think we do ourselves a right injustice with the things we bake in January and February.
Maybe this is out of sheer exhaustion after the baking and cooking marathon that is the Holiday Season, and we need a month off. Maybe it’s reflective of common New Year’s resolutions to be healthier, feed ourselves better, detox after cookies and eggnog and pies and more cookies. (And then suddenly February 14th rolls around, and we want to stuff ourselves with sweet, sweet chocolate again.)
Whatever the reasoning, I think it is silly.
Why do we relegate warming spices to the months of October through December? Why do we leave our cans of pumpkin and bottles of allspice in the late fall? Y’all, anyone who’s lived in a place with seasons knows that the real cold comes in the depths of January and February, right after the last of the warm embers left over from Christmas lights and cozy evenings with family have burned out inside of us. And while I can appreciate a good red velvet, chocolate cake with more red dye than you care to know just doesn’t sing the same notes as cinnamon, cardamom, or earthy herbs.
Let’s be real: this time of year is when we need that comfort food, in the form of hearty soups, lots of steaming potatoes, and warm, dense spice cakes.
(I say this, of course, as Atlanta is a pleasant but humid 60 degrees. Whatever, it was cold a couple weeks ago, okay?? I’m a Northerner at both heart and stomach.)
So maybe this is a Valentine’s Day post after all, insofar as I want to express my undying love for spice cakes and cream cheese frosting. This one in particular comes courtesy of the New York Times, made dense with olive oil and fig jam, pleasantly studded with bits of fresh figs, and topped with a tangy-sweet cream cheese-and-honey combination–and more fresh figs, of course.
I know this isn’t quite the time for figs, so if you can’t find them at your usual grocery store, feel free to skip them and add a touch more jam instead. Maybe experiment with different fruits. Apricots? Pears? Surely, you can’t go wrong here.
Do keep an eye on the cake, especially if you’re using two 9″ pans like I did. 35 minutes left them under-baked, but 10 more minutes dried them out a touch. Of course, if you do over-bake, don’t worry–leaving the cake out for a day allows the moisture from the frosting to sink into the cake, bringing back that nice, tender crumb. Just make sure you pop it in the fridge soon after to prevent the fruit from spoiling.
I said earlier that I don’t hate Valentine’s Day. While this is technically true, I don’t like it, either. I spent my evening doing homework, munching on leftover baked tofu, watching a bit of the Olympics. (Who else saw Shaun White last night?! What an absolute legend.) But if you are less of a grump than I am, I hope you got to revel in the cutout hearts and cupids and saccharine sap of today. Just make sure you enjoy an extra chocolate-covered strawberry for me.