If I have to do lengthy travel (a drive of more than three hours or a train ride further than a few stops), I like to do it on gray, drizzly days. This makes being tucked into a train seat or behind the wheel of a car feel cozy, rather than suffocating. On brilliantly sunny days, I just wish I could be outside breathing fresh air and walking barefoot in the grass. (Note: This does not apply to short drives in nice weather, which is actually one of life’s great pleasures and involves loud and enthusiastic car singing.)
The other week I took the train on one such day. The city beyond the glass window of the train car was obscured by a fine mist. All morning the air threatened rain, alternating between a gentle shower of fat drops and a delicate spritz, like walking through a life-size atomizer. It was warm but wet, a combination that makes all the colors of spring appear doubly vibrant. The grass in the conservatory gardens on upper Fifth Avenue seems to practically pulse with green; the white blossoms of low-hanging trees around the meandering park paths are brighter than ever, the touch of rosy color on the undersides of the petals making the swaying branches look like they’re blushing, like a crowd of girls, cheeks pinked from the fresh air.
Spring has me thinking of abundance and awakening. I often feel this way come April or May, as if my body is suddenly catching up with the outside world, and rather than wanting chicken soup and comforting stir-fry-style dinners and oatmeal for breakfast, I want drippingly ripe fruit and crunchy salads and bright, citrus-laced desserts. My cravings go from warm and cozy and saucy to light and crisp and tart in what feels like an instant. That’s not to say that winter means heavy comfort food and spring ushers in an austere string of salads.
No, life tends to stay in check. Cravings—if you listen to them honestly and indulge in them—will general keep you in a nice balance: sweet one meal and salty the next. Heavier some days, lighter the next. And every season has space for the sweet and creamy, the buttery and umami-packed, and so on. But in spring and summer, the palette of ingredients—so to speak—is a brighter one.
Overall, meals turn from warm to cool, and I find myself turning on the oven less and doing more what one could generously call “cooking” but I’d realistically term “assembling”: piling pulled chicken on top of greens with sugar snap peas and green goddess dressing or swiping hummus and labneh across a plate and covering it in a mosaic of vegetables or tossing cold leftover sliced steak with rice noodles and shaved cucumber ribbons and bell peppers, then drizzling it all with a spicy sauce of sesame oil and gochujang and soy.
But just as I would scoff at you if you said ice cream should be eaten only in summer, I don’t reserve baking for winter and fall. Seasonal cooking is nice, sure, but pleasure has no season so if I want cake in July then on the oven goes!
So today’s cake is one that really bridges the gap between seasons—and happily, it’s a pretty fantastic blank canvas for any fruit all year round (and by blank, I mean buttery and coconut- and nutmeg-scented and brightened up with the tang of goat’s cheese).
Here, I’m using raspberries and peaches, but if you can’t find good peaches yet since it’s not stone fruit season (I KNOW I AM JUMPING THE GUN), you can just use berries. Or use other fruit! Pears would be excellent, and so would apples. You could use apricots or figs. In the winter, you could try frozen cranberries with a touch of lemon zest or maybe even blood oranges with some fresh ginger.
The cake itself is just…so good. Like, close your eyes and stop talking good. The coconut milk and goat’s cheese transform it from a basic butter cake into something more tender, more unusual, and—between you and me—a bit addictive.
Oh, and because I like poetry with my cake (do you?), here are parts of two I’m loving so much this week. Read them please, then carry on and bake!
What It Looks Like to Us and the Words We Use
I think of that walk in the valley where
J said, You don’t believe in God? And I said,
No. I believe in this connection we all have
to nature, to each other, to the universe.
And she said, Yeah, God. And how we stood there,
low beasts among the white oaks, Spanish moss,
and I refused to call it so.
So instead, we looked up at the unruly sky,
its clouds in simple animal shapes we could name
though we knew they were really just clouds—
disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.
Bad things are going to happen.
Your tomatoes will grow a fungus
and your cat will get run over.
Someone will leave the bag with the ice cream
melting in the car and throw
your blue cashmere sweater in the dryer.
Or your wife
will remember she’s a lesbian
and leave you for the woman next door. The other cat–
the one you never really liked–will contract a disease
that requires you to pry open its feverish mouth
every four hours.
No matter how many vitamins you take,
how much Pilates, you’ll lose your keys,
your hair and your memory.
There’s a Buddhist story of a woman chased by a tiger.
When she comes to a cliff, she sees a sturdy vine
and climbs half way down. But there’s also a tiger below.
And two mice—one white, one black—scurry out
and begin to gnaw at the vine. At this point
she notices a wild strawberry growing from a crevice.
She looks up, down, at the mice.
Then she eats the strawberry.
So here’s the view, the breeze, the pulse
in your throat.
Your wallet will be stolen, you’ll get fat,
slip on the bathroom tiles of a foreign hotel
and crack your hip. You’ll be lonely.
Oh taste how sweet and tart
the red juice is, how the tiny seeds
crunch between your teeth.
That’s music, right? And serious stuff. So we might all need a little cake to catch our breath. Here you go!
Raspberry Peach Butter Cake
Makes one 9” round cake
1/2 cup (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup (56 grams) fresh goat cheese (I used Vermont Creamery's honey goat cheese)
3/4 cup (150 grams) sugar, plus more for sprinkling
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup fresh raspberries
1 medium peach, peeled and thinly sliced
1/4 cup milk (whole or 2%)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 9" round cake pan with parchment, butter the base and sides, then dust it lightly with sugar.
Beat the butter and goat cheese together until pale and fluffy. Add the granulated sugar and beat for another few minutes.
Add the egg and vanilla and mix to combine well, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, nutmeg, and salt. Add half of the dry ingredients to your butter/sugar mixture and mix until just combined.
Add your milk and coconut milk, mix carefully (it'll slosh!), then add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix until the batter comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as you go.
Pour the batter into your prepared pan. Arrange the peach slices on top, then scatter the raspberries over the slices, and sprinkle some sugar over the fruit.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until the top is golden and the cake begins to pull away from the sides. Remove from the oven and let cool before slicing and serving.