It is difficult for me to draw a line between Ashley Rodriguez my friend, and her cookbook Date Night In. If looking for a straight up review of her work, my apologies, but there isn't one here.

That said, while I don't remember how or when we met, the Ashley I am lucky enough to have come to know over boozy drinks, shared sandwiches and seagulls, early morning walks for (not tomato soup-ish) coffee, phone calls, and a road trip covering a section of the west coast of this continent, that Ashley is the same Ashley her readers find on her site, and in her book.

So, if you'd like to know about her, and her grapefruit cake, then please read on.

Ashley is one to bring you a (homemade) doughnut before dinner. And who has a weekly doughnut tradition with her three spitfire kids. She studied art, takes photographs, and appreciates a well-baked egg. She's sassy and used to drive a convertible. She likes fried chicken, ginger beer, and ice cream. Ashley can pull of a wide-brimmed felt hat with aplomb and a tote that holds everything from notebooks to this really amazing chunky bracelet, from a package of her famous cookie mix to a tube of cherry red lipgloss. There's the magic of Mary Poppins in this girl, hidden under that blonde hair and behind her warm smile. 

She is fiercely committed to her family and her husband. She is an attentive mother to Baron, Roman, and Ivy, while still active and present in her partnership with Gabe. She also maintains time alone, or with her friends, and considers how those experiences help her in her life at home. It is not a balance that is easy, so it only made sense that Ashley would write about how exactly she does it all, including those intimate moments difficulties and those of reward. 

I think, as a culture, we are nervous to talk about the work that goes into our relationships — romantic or otherwise — it is seen as a shortcoming. Ashley disagrees. In her book, an extension of a wildly-popular series on her blog, she is as generously candid as she is in conversation. Her earnest, heartfelt intention is evident on every page. Date Night In isn't just about food; it is about the way she and Gabe come to the table to come together.

By the by, on that table, and in this book, you will find Braised Pork Chilaquiles with Roasted Tomatillo Salsa and Pickled Red Onion, German Pretzel Sandwiches, Chanterelle Pot Pie, and Nutella Semifreddo, among other things.

Ashley's Grapefruit Olive Oil Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate | Tara O'Brady

One of the other things is a Grapefruit and Olive Oil Cake with Bittersweet Chocolate. It's part of a menu called Somewhere in Italy, and offered alongside Pasta e Fagioli, Crostini with Ricotta, Proscuitto and Peas, and an Aperol Spritz. It is a straighforward quick bread, with a tight crumb and the qualities of both a muffin and a cake. The scent of the batter reminded me of those chocolate oranges from the holidays — the one you smack into segments — yet decidedly more refined, with the grapefruit's sharper note heightening that floral aspect of the olive oil and the darkness of the chocolate. It cuts just so. To continue the silver screen theme, it's Audrey Hepburn's Sabrina after she comes back from Paris wearing that Givenchy dress by the tennis court. In other words, like Ashley and the work she does, a fit that's practically perfect in every way. 

 

GRAPEFRUIT + OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE

When baking with olive oil, I recommend one that is more grassy and floral than peppery.

— From Date Night In: More Than 120 Recipes to Nourish your Relationship by Ashley Rodriguez (Running Press, 2014) 

Makes a 9-inch loaf cake, serving 8 to 10

 

INGREDIENTS

  • Unsalted butter, for the pan
  • 3/4 cup / 180 ml freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, divided
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly grated grapefruit zest, divided
  • 1/2 cup / 125 g whole-milk plain yogurt
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup / 160 ml best-quality extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 cup / 150 g granulated sugar
  • 1 3/4 cups /235 g all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 ounces / 110 g bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
  •  1 1/2 cups / 170 g confectioners sugar, see note below
  • Crème fraîche, for serving (optional)

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan.

Add 1/2 cup / 120 ml grapefruit juice to a small saucepan set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and reduce the juice by half. Cool slightly.

In a medium bowl, combine 1 tablespoon grapefruit zest, yogurt, eggs, olive oil, and reduced grapefruit juice and whisk to mix well. 

In a large bowl, add the granulated sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Whisk to combine.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients. Mix until everything is well blended. Stir in the chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and place in the hot oven. Bake until the cake is deeply brown and set and springs back gently when pressed, 50 to 55 minutes.

While the cake bakes, prepare the glaze. In a bowl, combine the remaining 1/2 tablespoon grapefruit zest with the remaining 1/4 cup  / 60 ml grapefruit juice. Gently, in order to prevent a confectioners sugar snowstorm, stir in the confectioners sugar and continue to stir until well mixed. 

Let the cake cook in the pan for 5 minutes before cooling on a wire rack.

When cooled to room temperature, place the cake on a serving platter and drizzle with half the glaze. Reserve the rest of the glare for serving along with the sliced cake. Serve with crème farce, if desired. The cake can be made 1 day in advance.

NOTES FROM TARA:

If, by any chance, you are new to olive oil in sweet baking, you may want to cut some of the oil with an equal amount of something more neutral — say grapeseed or canola.

I made my cakes in miniature, for ease of sharing. I divided the batter between three 5 1/2-by-3-inch loaf pans and baked them for about 30 minutes, or until deeply golden as per Ashley's instruction — the edges were coming away from the sides of the pans, and a cake tester inserted into the centre of each cake came away clean. 

The recipient of one of the cakes has a weakness for marmalade-ish glazes, and so that is reflected in the photos. To make, combine the 1/4 cup grapefruit juice that had been set aside for the glaze with 1/4 cup granulated sugar and 1 tablespoon marmalade in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Stirring, bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down to medium-low, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring now and again. Remove from the heat and cool to warm before using.

 

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[Thursday, March 26, 2009: Due to an under-the-weather little one, I will not be able to post today . Until he's feeling better, here is a sneak peak at what we've been enjoying this week - a luscious Grapefruit Tart with a buttery, shortbread crust. Just a bit of puckery-brightness for these early spring days.

Back soon.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009: Everyone is all better, and so I am back. Thanks for all your concern and well-wishes, and for keeping a spot warm for me.]

Orange peel. Air that is sugary sweet and heavy, ripe with moisture and the scent of citrus. I shut my eyes and inhale, swallowing whole.

Its February and I am in my parents' kitchen.

For years, my Mum made marmalade; each time turning to the same book, using the same recipe for as long as I can remember. Stains and smears have turned the page translucent in places, smudging the penciled notes along the margins.

The ceremony of marmalade making took the day. The speckled charcoal pot, used only for canning, appeared from the depths of cupboards. Sterilized jars lined up like soldiers on the counter, gleaming, waiting to be of service. I have a mix of memories of the procedure; the infinite boiling, reducing, concentrating of flavours, the endless task of cutting the thin peel into even thinner strips, staining my nails in the process.

And although at the time I did not much care for marmalade, the notion of those jars is still one of my strongest culinary memories and present-day aspirations. What care was there of winter when there was such warmth in the kitchen, such delicious bounty to be enjoyed?

While the calendar may (almost) read April, it still (almost) feels like February here. At best, early March. Maybe.

The sun may be warm but the wind is not; it still breathes bitterly against our faces each morning, sending me shivering back into the warmth of the house and reaching for a scarf. Just the other day I was greeted with snow in the moments just after sunrise; it cascaded delicately, like icing sugar upon a cake rather than a true snowfall, but it was frozen nonetheless. This morning there was no snow, thank goodness, but the grass was frost-tipped and blue in the early light.

Spring is dragging her feet.

But, there is hope. There are the teeniest buds on our lilac tree; tiny, perfect little bundled fists of green, holding within their grasp the promise of warm days to come. The afternoon light has changed its character, doffing its winter garb of blue-grey hues for warmer shades of palest flax. And while I wait, as patiently as I can, for local rhubarb and asparagus and, sigh, berries to make their way to market, at least I can count on citrus to bring even more sunshine to our day.

Bold and boisterous on the tongue, citrus is rah-rah-sis-boom-bah blithe, full of cheer and high kicks. Citrus fruits are sharp and spry, marching merrily ahead as spring lags behind, with enough pep in their step to wake our palates from the sedative effect of a season's worth of comforting richness.

I was looking for a tag-along companion for a Sunday brunch invite, something that could add some brilliance to what could be a gray morning. Citrus was surely the ticket, and I wanted to journey on the path of least-resistance; some quick Saturday baking and Sunday primping, with little worry and few opportunities to be lead astray.

I wholly ignored the option of sometimes-temperamental shortcrust pastry, eyeing in its stead a forgiving shortbread crust. I passed on the idea of a persnickety curd for its filling; with its demands of patient stirring over gentle heat and its abject fear of overcooking, a curd can be such the little fusspot. Not what I was looking for in a brunch guest.

A grapefruit-modified version of a traditional Key lime filling was my choice, whisked together and briefly baked, it demanded only the slightest attention; its presence fit perfectly in the bleary-eyed pottering about of Sunday morning.

Yellow upon yellow, this tart speaks of brightness in golden tones. The floral notes of Ruby Red grapefruit are accented by twangy lemon, and tempered by creamy-sweet condensed milk. The shortbread crust is the perfect foil for the citrus, buttery against all the tang of the filling.

So thoroughly-cheered was I, I (almost) felt prepared to be patient as I wait for spring's arrival. Almost.

GRAPEFRUIT TART WITH SHORTBREAD CRUST

FOR THE CRUST

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 2-3 teaspoons heavy cream

FOR THE FILLING

  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1 can sweetened condensed milk
  • 2 teaspoons grated grapefruit zest
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed grapefruit juice (preferably Ruby Red)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

METHOD

Prepare the crust first. Whisk together the flour and salt in a medium bowl and set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using a hand mixer, cream together the butter and sugar on low until light and well blended.

Add the eggs yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the flour and mix until almost blended. Slowly add 2 teaspoons of cream, checking if the dough has come together. If it is still a bit dry, add the rest. Stop mixing as soon as there is no longer flour visible.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of plastic wrap, using the wrap to shape the dough into a flattened disk. Wrap tightly, then refrigerate for 1 hour.

After the dough has chilled, lightly flour your work surface. Roll out the dough into a 1/4-inch thick circle, about 12 inches in diameter. On a parchment-lined baking sheet, drape the dough over a 9-inch flan ring, fitting the dough gently and pressing it into the edges. Chill the dough for 10 minutes.

Using a sharp paring knife, trim the dough so that it is flush with the rim. Return the tart shell to the refrigerator for 30 minutes to firm up and chill thoroughly.

Preheat an oven to 375°F (190°C). Line the tart shell with parchment, allowing a 1-inch overhand. Fill lined shell with pie weights and bake until the pastry's edges are beginning to colour, about 15 minutes. Remove parchment and weights, using the overhang of paper to assist. Continue baking until the pastry is light golden all over, about eight minutes more. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool completely (still on parchment lined baking sheet).

Turn the oven down to 350°F (175°C).

In the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, or in a medium bowl with a hand mixer or whisk, beat the yolks on medium-high speed until fluffy and pale, about 3 minutes. Add condensed milk, zests, juices and salt, and beat to combine, scraping down side of bowl as needed.

Pour the filling into the cooled prepared tart shell and bake until just set, about 10 minutes. Still on its parchment, transfer the tart to a wire rack. Cool completely, then loosely cover in clingfilm and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to overnight.

Allow the tart to sit at room temperature for about 10 minutes before serving; remove the flan ring and garnish with some softly-whipped cream, crème Anglaise or simply with a dusting of confectioners' sugar.

Makes one 9-inch tart, serving 12.

Notes:

• Alternatively, use the leftover egg whites to top the tart with a torched Swiss meringue.

• The tart as shown was baked in a 10-inch quiche pan with extra-deeps sides and a removable bottom. The amount of filling and pastry require a deeper capacity.

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