running memories ::::
I lived in the West Loop in Chicago, in the Illinois Medical District, during medical school. Though I spent many weekends training for long distance races, my favorite time of year was the fall. A perfect day for me: cloudy with a gentle breeze and cool enough for long sleeves. I’d drive to the closest suburb, Oak Park, park just near Taylor Park, and run the long straight neighborhood roads. The famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright had his studio nearby, me running by it at least four times a week, along with the many historic houses that he designed still standing in the neighborhood.
If not running in the light of the flame-colored trees on Greenfield Street, or Division Street, or Chicago Avenue, I’d often venture outside of Oak Park into nearby River Forest, taking 290 West to the Harlem Street exit, then heading left onto Lake near the Family Practice outpatient clinic (where I coincidentally did some FP rotations). River Forest’s homes were just as stately and sturdy as Oak Park, bungalows and modern colonials looking cozy as the weather cooled.
My weekends, however, were focused on my long runs on trails, as close to wilderness I could get while still being in Chicago and its surrounding sprawl. I found the Fox River Trail in Batavia, near the city center, parking at the Laurelwood parking lot, and the Salt Creek Trail, just next to the Brookfield Zoo. I spent many hours on these trails, in snow, rain, sun, and wind. I solved the world’s problems. I solved mine. I fretted about exams. I let off steam if I had a bad day.
These 20 milers often led me to the thought of food, primal and deep, in order to refuel and refocus. Immediately after a run, I’d gorge on succulent fruits and vegetables, like Asian pears and jicama, Navel oranges and raw snap peas. At home, I’d prepare high calorie meals, like vegetarian chili or buttery scrambled eggs. I’d splurge on McDonald’s French fries sometimes. And sometimes I’d binge on sugar if the Gatorade didn’t give me enough of a sugar high.
Though my cake-decorating abilities were yet to be discovered at that time, I vaguely dreamed of a perfectly sweet cake to replenish those calories. My cake snobbery in full force at that time (and worse now), I rarely broke down to eat a slice save for the Opera Cake at Whole Foods on Ashland (seriously, the best cake for PMS). But had I torn my eyes from pages of pathology and following troponins and sat down from running some weekend, I may have kept busy with creating a beautifully decorated cake. Today’s cake is the cake I dreamed about then: it is spicy, it is creamy, and it is sweet. It is a cake made for an autumn birthday or a thanksgiving to what we have. I am thankful for my body and how it allows me to move (We were MADE to do this! I tell my patients). I am thankful for my communion with nature when I really need(ed) it. I am thankful for family who understands that running for me is just as much mental health as it is physical health.
Happy almost Thanksgiving, everyone. Have a great week prepping turkey and your favorite sides. And maybe make this cake.
One year ago: sour cream cinnamon pie
Two years ago: orange cauliflower soup
Four years ago: fuyu persimmon, pomegranate, and apple fruit salad and homemade root beer syrup
- THE CAKE: 7 ounces (1 ¾ cups or 200g) all-purpose flour
- 2 ounces (6 tablespoons or 55g) cornstarch
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon mixed spices (such as cinnamon, ginger, allspice, clove)
- 1 cup half-and-half
- 2 tablespoons dark rum
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 6 ounces (1 ½ sticks or 170g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 14 ounces (397g) granulated sugar
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- THE ORANGE CREAM CHEESE FILLING: 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- ¼ cup (4 tablespoons or 113g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 2 ½ ounces (¾ cup or 71g) powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon orange oil extract
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
- THE ORANGE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING (Yield 2½ cups -- I ran out of frosting, just barely. You might consider making 1½ batches to have enough):
- 3 large egg whites (one large egg white = 30 g = 1.05 ounce so you’ll need 90 g egg whites)
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 10 ounces unsalted butter, softened, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
- ½ teaspoon orange extract (or flavor of your choosing)
- A drop of orange food coloring, if desired
- PREPARE THE CAKE: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the middle position. Lightly butter the bottom of 2 8-inch cake pans with baking spray then line with parchment rounds. Set aside.
- Whisk together the flour, cornstarch, baking powder, salt and spices in a medium bowl.
- In a separate small bowl, combine the half-and-half, alcohol, and vanilla extract.
- In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together on medium high speed until pale and fluffy.
- On low speed, add the eggs, one at a time, incorporating each before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Continue on low speed, then alternate between adding the dry and liquid ingredients, ending with the dry.
- Distribute the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans, using a spatula to spread evenly.
- Bake until a cake tester comes out clean from the center of each cake, approximately 25 minutes. Allow the cakes to cool completely in the pan before removing. Put the cakes in the fridge overnight, if possible, as it is easier to frost a cold cake.
- NEXT, MAKE THE FILLING: Beat the cream cheese and butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until smooth, about 3 minutes. Add the vanilla and orange oil and zest and mix until combined. Use right away or refrigerate. If refrigerating, you may need to rewhip before using.
- NOW, MAKE THE BUTTERCREAM TO FROST THE CAKE: Lightly whisk egg whites and sugar together over simmering water (double boiler) until the sugar dissolves and the egg white mixture is too hot to touch or an instant read thermometer reads 140 degrees F. It should look and feel as smooth as silk.
- Using a stand mixer with a whisk attachment, pour hot whites into the room temperature mixer bowl and whip on low speed, gradually increasing to high speed until egg whites double in volume. The meringue should appear to have stiff, glossy peaks. This should take about 10 minutes.
- Remove the whisk attachment and replace with paddle. On low speed, add butter, 2 pieces at a time, mixing with a spatula after each new addition. Continue to beat until the mixture is smooth in appearance, about 3 minutes. On a low speed, whisk in vanilla.
- Use immediately, store in fridge for a couple of days, or freeze well wrapped for up to 3 months.
- ASSEMBLY: Spread the orange cream cheese frosting in between the two layers. Use the orange buttercream to create a crumb coat over the filled cake. Place the coated cake in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes to set.
- Prepare your open star tip (I used 2D) and piping bag. Place the rest of the orange buttercream in the piping bag and pipe roses over the cake.