A Coffee Bundt Cake from the North for a Fertile Season, And an Award Nomination

Finnish Date & Coffee Bundt Cake | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-17

I. The Girl from the North and Her Secret Ingredient

On a warm Spring day, a girl with mousy hair worn in two long braids, walked down the stairs of an airplane in Rimini, in north east Italy. The hot sun kissed her pale skin, and the humid air filled her nose thrills with the smell of the sea. As she took her first steps on the Italian soil —that couldn’t be more unlike her cold, dark and quiete country— she felt as though she had finally come home. She was glowing with that light of those who have found something they had long lost when she met the dark-haired, dark-skinned, fascinating young Roman who stole her young heart away. He happened to be in Rimini by pure chance, substituting a fellow tour driver who had fallen ill at the last moment. He could hardly understand a single word she said, but he fell in love with the Fin girl nonetheless. 

More than a year later, she gave birth to a baby boy that decades later I shared a significant amount of my life with. Although our paths later drifted apart and we didn’t get the dolce vita happily-ever-after of his parents, I am eternally grateful for the numerous ways this encounter enriched my life. She evoked the love for great north in me. For a magical Finland that glows in the aurea borealis, that is home to Santa Claus and its breakfasts always smells like big coffees and freshly baked cinnamon rolls.

Although back in the seventies that handsome Roman would bring his own pasta and tomato sauce whenever they travelled to Finland, it warms my heart to say that years later we shared many Christmas and Easter meals (untouchable staples of the Italian cooking tradition) with bountiful spreads of Italian, Finnish and Iranian dishes. If this is not one those marvelous immigrant food stories, I don’t know what is.

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One of the Finnish treats that she often baked is this incredible coffee bundt cake. Traditionally the cake is baked around Christmas time, but it’s so good that you’d want to eat it all year round. The cake is dark, moist and sweet just to the right point. There is something of a mystery to the taste of this cake, if you don’t know what the ingredients are. Coffee arrives first of course, but right after that a caramely, nutty note sneaks in, sometimes so stealthily, as if it was disguised in chocolate.  There is no chocolate, rest assured. The secret ingredient that together with coffee creates the unnamed flavor, is dates. You know that feeling when you were having a nice dream, yet you can’t quite remember what you were dreaming about? That’s how the combination of coffee and dates tastes like. 

Dates are the heart of a Finnish Christmas cake! Isn’t that mesmerizing? Think of the snow, the North Pole, the berries, and dates? There must be another immigrant food story about it that we just don’t know. I also add a good dose of cardamom powder, first because the cardamom-coffee match is made in heaven in North, second because the cardamom and dates match is made in the heavens in the middle east

II. New Season, New Projects & an Award Nomination

We’re nowhere near Christmas of course, but my I have no few reasons to be celebrating. First, Norouz, the Persian new year on the first day of Spring is just upon us (annual Norouz post coming super soon). I will be moving to a new apartment at the end of April and I have many plans and projects for the new place to share with you in person,  and last but definitely not least, I am among the finalists of the first edition of Cucina Blog Award, run by Italian daily paper, Corriere della Sera. Angela Frenda —the food editor of Corriere and cookbook author— has been working hard in the past years to raise the level of the food communication to the top measures of the world. I am honored beyond words to be in the group of 18 talented bloggers, most of whom have been of incredible influence and inspiration to my work.

If you like Lab Noon, you can show your support and vote for my blog in the Best Social Blog category. 

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The award is part of the yearly food conference called Cibo a Regola d’Arte, organized by Corriere and held in Milan from March 21st to April 2nd. I also have the pleasure to hold a Persian cooking lesson during the very same event on April 1st, that you can subscribe to here. The award ceremony is on the same night where the one and only Honey & Co from London will hold a pop-up restaurant. I can’t wait to meet them and taste their food, and I am thrilled to meet and reunite with other amazing finalist bloggers such as Fotogrammi di zucchero, Two for The Bar, Betty Liu, Il Gambero Russo, Miss Foodwise (Remember my post about her book? I am taking it with me to get it signed!), Juls’ Kitchen, Con le Mani in Pasta, Gnam Box, Valdirose, Hortus Cuisine, Naturalmente Buono, Kraut Kopf and others. Continue reading

For the Love of Books, Apples & The “Art” of Food Blogging; A Review of Pride and Pudding by Regula Ysewijn

Miss Foodwise's Pride and Pudding by Regula Ysewijn | Lab Noon by Saghar Setareh-14

The three chapters of this post are interconnected, but if you only want to read my review of the Pride and Pudding cookbook jump directly to Part.III. Enjoy!

I. The Original ‘Sin

The more time has passed from school years, the keener I am to appreciate Autumn. You see, I used to absolutely hate the arrival of September, the end of Summer, and the beginning of school.

My school years back in Iran were not easy. Yes, my best friends are still the ones I made during school, and yes, we have plenty of stuff to laugh about at the slightest remembrance of any silly thing that we did back then, but the school I went to was very much of a Pink-Floyd’s-The-Wall sort of school, to make you get the picture. 

Our whole educational system —particularly my school— was very focused on scientific subjects such as mathematics, physics and biology. Arts and sports were neglected to the point of disappearance. Everything out of this tight circle was considered a hobby, not much worthy of a teenager’s precious time.

That’s why my range of hobbies was quite wide. I spent half of the afternoons of each week at the English school for many consecutive years, (which was incredibly educational, and much more fun that you could imagine). Apart from that and private music lessons (at which I helplessly sucked), during those years I took various courses of drawing and painting, which later led me to choose Graphic Design as my major at University. It was a rather radical decision for that moment in time, one that my mom still remorses just as much as I’m grateful for it (she still dreams of a doctor or an engineer). 

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Looking back, I don’t find it surprising at all. After all, the thing I cared most about when filling my notebooks with scientific content was the neatness, the harmony of colors and size of the writing, and the fact that when I flipped through pages, it must have evoke an “Ooooh” sound, as for what a beautifully written notebook.

Good editorial design, beautifully created books and magazines, and harmonious compositions of text and images just sing to my soul. The visual presentation of a text is for me just as important as the content, if not more so. This plays an important role in my choice of cookbooks. Don’t think I’m shallow; a cookbook to me is a source of inspiration, not just in the kitchen, but also in design. That’s why the only cookbooks I purchase new with the intention of keeping them forever, are the ones that are well-designed books, with interesting recipes. Others can be borrowed, bought on kindle or second hand.

II. Apple, the [Un]Forbidden Fruit

Another quick flashback to school days will bring us closer to the core of this piece: my mom’s obsessions with healthy school snack. She was extremely against any junk food, that’s why I was not allowed to take any money to school. She always baked simple cakes at home (such as this one); an afternoon activity that evolved a lot of fun in the kitchen and licking some batter off the bowl. My school snack was a piece of cake and some fruit; almost always an apple.

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I had my soft and moist cake during the first break, and the apple on the second one. So that it also worked as a natural toothbrush. Although I knew that my mom’s home-made cake was a precious thing, I couldn’t help craving for chips, or digging my fingers in cheetoz bags that left them all orange and cheesy, or longing for really terrible cold cut sandwiches that somehow tasted like a noble food when wolfed down at the backyard, where other greedily hungry teenagers couldn’t find you.

I have grown up with apples. In Iran we begin the new year with red apples, as they’re part of our famous “7 S’s” table. Later in Spring rosewater apples hit the market; a small and fragrant variety of apples I have had only in Iran. And we knew Summer was ending when the green, crunchy and slightly sour apples appeared on our tables. These are still my favorite type of apples.

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Often we neglect the common, ordinary apple as a fruit we can find anytime, anywhere. But apple’s story is tied to human’s story. From the Garden of Eden to Snow White, discovery of gravity to modern technology, apples have always been present in mythology, religion and pop culture. Although maybe it’s worth saying that the most (in)famous of these stories that features apple as the forbidden fruit, is a big historical misunderstanding. In fact, the apple is not mentioned at all in the Genesis section of the Bible and neither in Quran*. The only fruit mentioned in that section is the fig, which leaves Adam and Eve use to cover their nakedness. But since in the medieval west the fig was too exotic to be recognized, the common and familiar apple became the forbidden fruit. However, Michelangelo has painted a very clear fig tree on Sistine Chappell’s ceiling. 

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The apple’s story is so fascinating that drink writer Pete Brown has written a book called The Apple Orchard: The Story of Our Most English Fruit. He has done an outstanding research on this fruit, which was not born in Britain, as is commonly believed. As Brown explains clearly, it has been scientifically proved that the apple grew in Kazakistan for the first time. Not so surprising considering the fact the Almaty means the location of Apples, and Alma-Ata, the other pronunciation of the name of the city means the father of the apple in Turk languages. Alma, (apple) is also a common girl’s name in the whole Silk Road region. 

*Biblical and Quranic narratives, Wikipedia.

III. Pride and Pudding, “A Very Tasty Masterpiece” by Miss Foodwise

I am almost sure that Regula Ysewijn aka Miss Foodwise was the first food blogger I came upon and I started following seriously. At that time I was very obsessed with my diet and did not know much about the food blogging world. I had just debuted my presence on Instagram. Beautiful, dark photos inspired by the Dutch masters, intriguing historical recipes from the great Britain, and the stories behind them, tuned into a faithful reader of hers.

One year of Lab Noon, the Virtual Birthday Party, Friuty Birthday Cake for Summer & a GIVE-AWAY!

Lab Noon's Fruity Birthday Cake | Torta di Compleanno di Lab Noon -3Lab Noon officially turned one on June 19th. I remember how very confused, extremely tired and incredibly excited I was to launch the blog after many months of work. The blog was supposed to be written three languages, English, Italian and Persian. I decided to omit Persian after a short while. My first ever recipe quickly became an all time hit! Though now looking back I see many things that I would’ve done differently. Lab Noon's Fruity Birthday Cake | Torta di Compleanno di Lab Noon -9

It’s been an amazing year. I have said long thanks to all supporters in the invitation to this virtual birthday party. Here I want to thank all these lovely and talented food bloggers, who have accepted my invitation and prepared lovely cakes/dessert to share with you for #LabNoonsBirthdayParty. Some of these bloggers have been inspirational to me even before I started blogging and some I discovered in this one of year blogging. Some of them I have met in person or know them more personally in some way, some were pure strangers that reached me and joined the party. I am so glad I’ve known you all. Big, acclaimed ones, and new comers. I wish I could hug you one by one, and taste your cakes. Thank you everyone, really. 

Lab Noon's Fruity Birthday Cake | Torta di Compleanno di Lab Noon -11Bellow you will find a list of all the food bloggers who have taken part in Lab Noon’s vitual birthday party and their recipes. (I have tried my best to be organized and get the right link to everyone, but if you get a error please let me know and I’ll fix it). Lab Noon's (virtual) Birthday Party-1-2

Secondly, I want to thank once more Paola from Pauta Pot who generously gives these two beautiful, handmade, birdy cups as a give-away for our party. You can win these cups simply by writing a comment under this post, about the recipes and Lab Noon’s birthday. Then I will extract a name randomly and we will send you those cups! Please remember that  free shipping is available only in Europe.

The Recipes of the Guest Food Bloggers for Lab Noon’s Birthday Party (in alphabetical order)

Lab Noon’s Fruity Birthday Cake for Summer

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My idea of home made cake is something simple and rustic. Of course I would love a proper, nice & fancy cake (like many of the recipes above really put me to shame for how beautiful and perfect they are). But cakes that I like to make are simple, and very homy, filled with nutrient ingredient, so that with a sweet treat you can more than just empty calories. Recently I am always using more fruit in the batter and on topping of cakes that I make. Inspired by some natural jams and confections that use apples or apple juice as sweeteners, I have reduced the amount of sugar in my cakes dramatically and I have substitute it with apples! Both apple puree or grated apple work. Apple puree is cooked (so more time need), more smooth, but can also be much more watery. Grated apples brown easily (no matter how much lemon juice you add), some pieces could be bigger than others, but it gives a very nice texture and moistness to the cake. Continue reading