Friday, June 11, 2010

Salt Cake. (It isn't salty.)

One thing I love about (in case you haven't noticed, I'm a bit hooked at the moment) is the "Most Searched Keywords" bar at the top. See, I noticed the themes from the start. First thing in the morning, everyone's looking up "breakfast," or "toast"; in the spring, you start seeing searches for lima beans and komatsuna, just like around Valentine's Day, "chocolate" tops the list. So, I figured, people base their searches mainly on times of day, times of the season, that sort of thing.

No, wait, pop culture!

The moment of realization came after I watched an episode of the anime, "Chibi Maruko-chan." (It was one of my favorites since it met the notable criteria of A: being animated, and B: being on while I was awake.) In it, the main character tastes her first baked apple (an unusual treat in Japan, where ovens aren't standard to many homes), and becomes fixated on recreating the recipe. So the next morning, I fired up Cookpad, and what do I see at the very top? "Baked apple." I felt in the loop, all right.

Since returning to the U.S., I've enjoyed keeping up with food-related trends by checking oddly specific keywords. Sometimes it's a member, introduced on talk shows like "Hanamaru Cafe"; sometimes, a specific, even brand-name, ingredient. Most are transitory, but others linger. I'm still waiting on trying a recipe for baked doughnuts, which dominated the site for a while earlier this year. Right now, the boom seems to be something called "Keiku Saré." Clearly, this was a Japanese pronunciation of a foreign word, and the recipes themselves appeared to be a savory baked good, but I had no frame of reference beyond that.

It took some Googling and guess work, and I'm still not sure what initiated the popularity surge, but it turns out the recipes are for "Cake Salé," and it's French. This is bizarre on numerous counts: usually, the Japanese word for cake is "keiki," not "keiku"; and more importantly, as far as I had known, the French adamantly refuse to use loan words. But there it is: "Cake" is, according to Wikipedia, the French term for "fruit cake." More specifically, there are two varieties: "Cake sucré," or sweet cake... and "cake salé," the savory version. Both are quick breads, baked in a loaf pan and leavened with baking powder, but the savory version swaps dried fruit and sugar for vegetables - "salé" being French for "salt." Not that there isn't salt in fruit cake, probably, not that I'd know for sure, since we were always busy with latkes that time of year. Latkes, too, being on the savory side.

What a great idea! I mean, sweet is great, but it's not really an anytime food. I eat a slice of banana bread, and I sort of feel like I spoiled my appetite for the day - sweets just leave me wanting to nosh. On the other hand, a loaf full of spinach and sauteed onions, maybe topped with some goat cheese? That's breakfast.

So, of course, I need to find a recipe, and it needs to be in Japanese, and it needs to allow me to play Mad Kitchen Scientist. Voila! "Cake Salé * Basic Recipe," by a user calling herself "Witch Diner in the Station," calls for a few basic ingredients and free choice of vegetables. So, you take:

120 grams flour
2 eggs
50 mL skim milk
1 tbsp olive oil
70 mL vegetable broth
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

and whatever vegetables you have on hand; you mix the wet ingredients in one bowl, then the dry in another; you microwave the vegetables for a few minutes, let them cool, then drain whatever liquid came out; you mix the dry ingredients with the wet; you pour a little batter into a small loaf pan (this doesn't make much), add most of vegetables, and add the rest of the batter; tap the loaf pan on the counter a few times to even everything out, then sprinkle on the rest of the veggies; and bake for 30 minutes in a 180° C oven.

Ew, weights and metric. I could have made that easier, couldn't I? Okay, scroll to the end for that, but anyway, I was sitting there thinking, "What vegetables would work?" We have corn, and I decided I wanted corn. What else? Well, we didn't have many leafy greens at the time, but there were some jalapeños, always good. Corn and jalapeños; well, why not make this salsa-like? No tomatoes, but... black beans...?

And then I remembered the black bean salad. The one that I made for memorial day, and everyone RAVED about it, and proceeded to ignore in favor of bowl after bowl of dry cereal. (I've stopped buying it. I have a problem.) Here was my chance to give it its well deserved comeback. Even better, since it had been sitting a while, I hardly needed to microwave it to ensure that it had shed just about all the juices it had to shed.

And then I imagined a poor, forgotten loaf with a single slice removed, gathering mold in a plastic bag or freezer burn as it hid in foil. So I made muffins.

The muffins... wow, were wonderful. They were! The beans kept them moist, the seasonings made them interesting, and the batter held enough filling together that they were really and truly FILLING. (This, incidentally, prompted certain household members to snub them entirely, but, meh, more for me.) Except, they clung fiercely to the paper wrappers, and were a bit spongy, and oh, yeah, they didn't brown. I left them in the oven a good five minutes extra before giving in, taking them out, and remembering that, oh, yeah, sugar makes things brown, doesn't it? No sugar, no pretty color. Crud.

Lucky for me (us? No, just me), this recipe makes all of seven muffins, so, do-over! This time, I decided to throw in some molasses, just enough to cross my fingers and hope for a Maillard reaction. (Science is fun!) I also needed to use corn meal to up the corniness (which, in itself, makes this post a little cornier), and to use whole wheat cake flour for no other reason than that it's in the fridge and I'm me. And then I ran out of salsa halfway through, but still had cubes of cheddar cheese from a previous recipe, so that, too! Finally, I ditched the muffin cups in favor of nonstick cooking spray on a nonstick pan. I upped the temperature a tad, crossed my fingers, and went upstairs to get dressed.

This is the recipe you're getting. Because it was amazing. And because, seriously, I'm not safe with cereal anymore.

Black Bean Salsa Corn Muffins
Adapted from
Note: I measured by weight, but I'm including volume measurements since it's the only way most people will try these out. Just be warned, I haven't tested it that way!
90 grams (3/4 cup) all purpose flour, cake flour, or whole wheat cake flour

30 grams (1/4 cup) cornmeal
2 large eggs
50 mL (or a bit under 1/4 cup) milk (fat free should work)
70 mL (or a bit over 1/4 cup) vegetable broth
1/2 tbsp molasses or sugar
1 tsp baking powder
About 1 cup black bean salsa, homemade or bought; or, 1/2 cup black bean salsa + 2 oz cheddar cheese

1. Preheat oven to 360° F. Cut cheese into 1/2" cubes. Lightly grease a nonstick muffin pan using additional olive oil or nonstick spray.

2. Whisk together flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in a bowl. (Add sugar, too, if using.)

3. In another bowl, combine eggs, olive oil, broth, and milk, plus molasses, if using; whisk after each new addition.

4. Pour wet ingredients over dry; stir just until combined with a rubber spatula.

5. Place 1 tablespoon batter into 6 of the muffin cups, then top each with 1 tablespoon salsa. Add another tablespoon of batter, then top each muffin with another tablespoon of salsa or a few cheese cubes. Don't mix! If there is batter left over, repeat with additional muffin cups. (I got seven, but better to play it safe.) The cups should not be full to the brim.

6. Bake in preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until muffins are lightly browned. Don't bake over 30 minutes, though; they'll be done when they're firm to the touch.

7. Allow to cool in pan for about a minute, then gently remove from pan and finish cooling on cooling rack.

1 comment:

sheila @ Elements said...

Those black bean corn salsa muffins sound wonderful! Interesting idea! :)