Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Almond Cake with Orange Glaze, and Sugared Grapes...and soaring through the air

So this was dessert the other night for my Irish dinner.  It's an almond cake with an orange glaze and sugared grapes.  Buying and working with almond paste was fun and it gives the cake a really nice rich moisture wrapped in a pretty and simple look.

I've been really enjoying my new copper cake molds that I bought at this antique store (in between Houston and Austin).  I swear, this antique store just jumped out, plucked me right up, and swung me off of the highway.

Now, no trip up to university is complete without being lured into its tentacles of temptation.  Thank goodness almost everything in the store is priced so high I can only make off with little things like cooking pots and a few bowls.

This week has been about having some quality time with girlfriends.  As any parent of teens can attest, having girlfriend time is paramount to survival at this stage of the parenting game.

One of the issues that seems to come up more and more is that of "control".  Or, rather, the "lack thereof" that occurs as your children fly the nest or are preparing to make the leap.

Parents are often chided for being "helicopter parents" and always wanting to pave the way for their children so they don't encounter any hiccups or pitfalls.

But, now that I have arrived at this stage and it's my turn to relinquish the hovering and protecting, I wonder how parents actually do (or undo) these "helicopter" type behaviors.  They were set in motion all those years ago when we were handed a teeny tiny fragile newborn that needed every ounce of protection we could provide.

It's hard.  It's more than's downright scary hard.  From going through those first driving lessons to sending your children on a plane on their own for the first feels like you've just told them to go cross a busy street in the middle of the Big Apple...blindfolded!!

Some parents seem to go through this process easier than others.  I sure wish I were one of those types.  I'm working on it.

We celebrate all of the tiny milestones (that seem HUGE) at the time when our children move from eating solids to using the potty, to having sleepovers (without calling in the middle of the night).  

"Control" wasn't a word that was used then...parents were patted on the back for being organized, energetic, supportive, and "on top of things".

But, then that ugly word "controlling" seems to slip in during the teenage years.  Organized and supportive starts to look like "helicoptering" and "controlling".  

Where is the guide book that explains how to STOP doing everything every step of the way? Who changed the rule book all of a sudden?  On what page does it say to stop all of the learned behaviors for fourteen or fifteen years and 

simply...let them go?

It's an exciting and terrifying time as parents because either you are watching your little birdie soaring high, wings outstretched, the world blowing against its little body...or you are still clutching your little bird's tail feathers, afraid it will topple over, go crashing to the ground and become painfully hurt.

The role of parenting during this stage just takes my breath away most of the time.  The maturity that it takes me as an adult to do, say, respect, admire, and involve myself with my children on a higher level, on more of an even playing field, is a joyous quest but one that doesn't just snap into existence naturally. 

Can't we just go back to the old "time out" approach?  Explain to them what they just did was incorrect, seek out the timeout chair, then slip off into the kitchen for a cookie (or two), take a deep breath, get them out of "time out" with "I'm sorries", big smiles and warm hugs and then just go watch "Franklin" or "The Big Red Dog" (are those still popular?)

Nah, I don't really want to go back, but this new normal of "teenage years" requires reaching for a new set of directions as we, as parents, are thrust into a new stage of learning, changing, and adapting...just as we did on day one coming home from the hospital.

Giving up control is the "name of the game" at this stage.  It's downright difficult.  Often, our role is to cover our eyes, peek out at the test flight of our birds...and just hope for the best.  

I can see now why all of the parenting that was done with diligence for so many years up until now was so important...absolutely critical.  

Because when you let them go, that's all that there is to send with them...years and years of directing, guiding, loving, scolding, prodding, and encouraging.

For you are sitting in the nest...and they are soaring through the air.

Morning sunrise over the city of Houston

Almond Cake with Orange Glaze...and Sugared Grapes
(recipe from the Williams-Sonoma "Cake" cookbook)

2 cups (9 oz/250g) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
7 oz (200g) almond paste
3/4 cup (6 oz/170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup (7 oz/200g) sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
3 large eggs, room temperature, slightly beaten
1/2 cup (4 fl oz/110 ml) buttermilk, at room temperature

Preheat oven to 350˚F (180˚C).  Generously butter a 9-cup (72 fl oz) Bundt pan (I used shortening and a light coating of flour.)

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt together onto a sheet of waxed paper;  set aside.

Using a stand mixer, beat the almond paste and butter with the paddle on medium speed until combined.  Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy.  Beat in the almond extract.  

Slowly drizzle in the eggs, beating each addition until incorporated before continuing.  Reduce the speed to medium-low and add the dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with the buttermilk in 2 additions, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.  Beat until just combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Bake until the cake is browned and puffed, and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean (50 - 60 min).  

Let cool completely on a wire rack.  Tap the pan on a counter to release the cake, then invert it onto a serving plate.

Makes 8-10 servings

Orange Glaze:

2 cups confectioner sugar
3-4 tablespoons fresh orange juice

Sugared Grapes:
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup water
2 cups fresh grapes, room temperature
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar (for rolling)

Place sugar and water in shallow pan and heat until simmering (not boiling) and stir until sugar is dissolved.
Place grapes in pan and submerge. Make sure grapes are well coated. 

Using a slotted spoon transfer coated to grapes to a wire rack to dry for an hour.  Separate grapes as much as possible to avoid clumps of simple syrup that will lead to clumps of sugar.

Place granulated sugar in a shallow pan or bowl and working in small batches, roll grapes through sugar to coat. Transfer coated grapes to a clean surface for furthering drying, about 1hour.


  1. Oh wow, this is gorgeous! I never considered sugaring grapes, but it sounds fantastic. So lovely!

  2. What a lovely looking cake! Yum! I put clusters of sugared grapes around a Thanksgiving turkey one year. It make a lovely presentation!

    Yes, you are becomes 'controlling' during the teen years. :) But it becomes easier to let go bit by bit when they are in college. Each time they demonstrate independence, maturity and wise decisions, you breathe a sigh of relief and let go a little more in confidence that they can and will fly without you. :)

    1. It's funny how different each child is. One, you worry about certain things that don't touch your radar screen with the other.

  3. I swear, something really needs to be done about those antique stores that simply jump out at you. It's a real problem! Especially with prop-shoppers such as myself. Sarah, I'm so in love with your photographs and your styling, and this cake sounds so delicious!

    1. John, coming from you...that compliment is sooooooo wonderful to hear.

  4. Stunning pics as always Sarah, may have to dig out my copper molds and have a go. Funniest thing, never heard of the phrase helicopter parents till today and then boom, twice! If I think of where I saw the first mention, which may have helpful info, I'll email it to you. But based on what I've learned of you and your parenting over the last year or so, I think you'll excel at what needs to be done since you've already aced raising the babes. Not something I say lightly by the way. You're a thoughtful soul with excellent values and I truly believe children learn by example.

    1. "helicopter parents" must be the new buzz word. With the push push push for all of these kids to take "AP/college" courses while in high school, what are poor parents to do? I fell for it with my first and I'll NOT take that path with the second...but, oh, the pressure is there...

  5. I can't stop looking at the shot of the grapes hanging over the urn/bowl. I love your photography, Sarah!

  6. I'm just speechless! Your photos are magical, stunning...
    Love the recipe!

  7. The cake is gorgeous, and I love almond flavored desserts. My heart goes out to you, as even now that my sister and I are grown I see my mother still struggling with these same feelings. You put it so beautifully here.

  8. Hi Sarah! I've yet to become a parent so I can't really relate. But your blog has been teaching me so much about what to expect when I do have my own children. The cake is out of this world beautiful -as are your photos. Thanks for sharing the recipe and your thoughts. xx

  9. Your photography looks utterly incredible my friend :D
    And the recipe for this cake is something else - beautiful!


    1. To Sue, Jess, Nancy, and Guru...a big thank you to you for your sweet sweet words.

  10. What stunning presentation and images! Absolutely divine.

    - Nan

  11. That was lovely. But so scary. My son turned 7 this week. 7?? How did that happen so quickly. It seems like yesterday when I had to do everything for him. And now he's his own little person with his own opinions and ideas. It's wonderful but sometimes, I just want to stop the clock.

    1. Oh just eat it up Loree...7 is such a magical age. I love watching their opinions start to be declared.

  12. What lovely photos as well as insights into this stage of parenthood. Right at the beginning it was scary and then got easier but as they hit their mid teens, it all chnanes in a major way as they desperately try to break away mentally from us. And we have to let them. It took a massive argument with my son when he was 17 for me to realise that the change had happened whether I liked it or not. Now at 22 he keeps reminding me of the things I taught him, like never losing your temper in a discussion because it means you just lost. When he does this, I realise that I have taught him some good stuff that will see him well through the years. I think I have finally let go even though he still lives at home.

    1. oh Suzanne...I do hang on your every word. Especially since it is my son who is has two years left and you have raised a son. Here we go...into the world of driving again with a newbie! The WORST!

  13. It's wonderful and terrifying. I love watching the women my daughter's are becoming but at the same time I worry (quietly I hope) all the time! the cake, the photos and the sentiments are lovely
    Mary x

    1. Four women in your family...four beautiful women to watch grow up! Thank you for your kind words Mary.

  14. oh my gosh, i loooove antique shopping! especially scoring kitchen finds. such a blast. your cake is a stunner and your photos are beautiful.

    1. I'm picking up the birthday student later this month. All I can think about is I will HAVE to pass that gorgeous antique shop again!

  15. I understand your sentiments exactly Sarah... Parenting.., what a job... what a subject..:)
    This cake is stunning and far too tempting...
    Enjoy your weekend... xv

    1. Vicki, thank you for the kind words. My good girlfriend said the other day, "Parenting is SOOO overrated!". I think the 15 - 18 stage is so hard for teens.

  16. Lovely thoughts, Sarah...for this cake, I LOVE how you crowned them with your jeweled grapes, just beautiful!

  17. Well written, Sarah! You inspire me...while figuring out "life" I'm figuring out the blogger's world too!!

    1. ...and you're off Chenedra! You'll love blogging and capturing the life at Elberta's Place is its history continues to unfold.

  18. Sarah, that is one gorgeous looking cake. And relinquishing control must be so difficult - I have a younger sister and I get worried about her going on long trips abroad and whether or not she'll be safe. I can't even imagine what being a parent is like. I guess you trust in how you raise them and pray that nothing bad will come their way

    1. So true trust in how you raise them and pray that nothing bad will come their way. It's that "how you raise them" part that you realize at this stage was so critical!

  19. Sugared grapes - - how can something so simple seem so incredible and enticing? I don't know, but I'm excited to try them out!

    Get in that girlfriend time, lady! It sounds absolutely essential. Oof, parenting sounds hard.

  20. Thanks to fantastic menu. I managed to get and it also felt amazing: -)
    I have a website together with wedding cake dishes me personally should you be fascinated. You can find it at

  21. Great Photos, I loved reading about your time in wine country on Oregon, it's my backyard! Cheers
    Tiffany @thymeoftaste

  22. you have great artistic talent in both your photos and your was a wonderful read.


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