I discovered Irvin Lin’s blog, Eat the Love, way back in 2010, when he participated in a round up of gluten-free Thanksgiving dishes hosted by Shauna Ahern of Gluten-Free Girl. I was struck by the creativity of his recipes, his openness to experimentation, and the visual impact of his blog. I loved the voice in his posts, combining stories and recipes in a smart and engaging way, while also genuinely connecting with his readers. His gorgeous creations should have been intimidating, but the way he wrote his descriptions and instructions had the opposite effect – making the reader feel that his projects were doable and that they’d be rewarded with flavour, even if they didn’t achieve picture-perfect results.
Over the years Lin’s blog has only gotten better, so it’s not surprising that he’s come out with a cookbook. It’s one that showcases what’s best about his approach to baking – inventive, playful, rooted in classics, but unafraid to explore new directions. When I first paged through Marbled, Swirled, and Layered, it was the flavour combinations that I noticed first – throughout his primary recipes and variations, he makes choices that show the title of his book doesn’t just refer to his dishes’ structure – he layers, swirls, and marbles flavour, too.
Lin does so with an attention to detail that I suspect comes from his background in design. His recipe titles reflect this – like his Lemon and Fresh Mint Shaker Tart with Masa Harina Crust or Seville Orange Bars with Salted Shortbread and Gin Meringue – but you can follow this precision right into the ingredients list. He uses alternative flours, browns butter, adds fruit or herbs or extracts, all in service of bringing flavours and textures together in inventive and delightful combinations.
For anyone who has been baking for a decade or three, these innovations are fun to try and the finished products are gratifying to serve. For anyone who is just starting out as a baker, his clear instructions will help you create complex and lovely baked goods that will make people think you’re an old hand.
The first recipe I tried, Chocolate, Peanut Butter, and Butterscotch Layered Cookies, is simple enough to make with kids, but its flavours are complex. The bottom layer combines browned butter and brown sugar to make a soft and chewy base that could pass for a peanut butter cookie. But that flavour is hidden in the top chocolate layer, cleverly signaled by a crosshatch.
I made this cookie as a donation to a bake sale table and they disappeared so quickly, I had to go home and make another batch.
My next holiday event was a cookie swap, so I stayed in the Cookies chapter and tried my hand at the Chocolate-Vanilla Checkerboard Cookies. These are old-fashioned butter cookies that are updated with vanilla bean and chocolate extract. They look complicated to construct, but Lin’s instructions walked me through the process quickly and perfectly (though I could use a little more symmetry in my execution).
I baked them all, filling my six-bag quota and bringing the rest to the swap for snacking. I had none to take back home with me.
Well, that’s not entirely true. The scraps from squaring off the checkerboard cookies are layered and twisted into a log, then sliced and baked. I left this log in the fridge, bringing it out to bake for my parents. They didn’t last long, either.
Then, I skipped from the front of the book to the back for Blueberry-Lemon Muffins with Cinnamon-Cardamom Swirl. Whenever I visit my parents, I try to leave them some treats in the freezer to last them until my next visit. These muffins almost didn’t make it there. The spiced swirl through the classic combination of blueberry and lemon makes these muffins pretty irresistible. And the instructions are clear and detailed enough to guide even a beginning baker to muffin success, especially with the helpful end note that explains the muffin method.
The last recipe I tested is also the one I’ve kindly been given permission to share with you – Carrot and Parsnip Layer Cake with Honey-Cream Cheese Frosting.
It’s a showstopper of a cake, but it’s rooted in the kind of cake that many of us grew up eating at picnics and potlucks. I really appreciate the way that Lin takes these old-fashioned favourites and brings them forward into the 21st Century.
The parsnip is an underloved vegetable that can be terrific in savoury or sweet dishes, but is usually relegated to a mash, soup base, or mixed roasted veg. Here it’s paired with its more popular cousin and allowed to shine in its own right.
Lin layers and contrasts flavours in this cake, while choosing ingredients that increase the complexity of texture and taste. It’s a long way from the potluck carrot cakes I remember, but it’s nearly as simple to create.
I actually made this cake twice. The first time was on Thursday morning (when this post was supposed to go up). I’d decided to make it for my parents, so that they could share it with our family and their friends. But, while the layers were cooling, the weather reports got increasingly hysterical and I ended up leaving before I could make the icing and assemble the cake. The promised Vancouver ‘snowpocalypse’ never really happened, but I didn’t have time to bake again until yesterday.
My pans were a little smaller than called for, but quite deep, so I have a taller cake than the original. It makes it a tiny bit unwieldy, but it is also quite spectacular. The contrast in colour between the outer and inner layers is striking and the spices used in each contrast just as beautifully. Almond flour gives the cake a soft texture and subtle nuttiness, while pineapple complicates the sweetness and makes the cake incredibly moist. The honey in the icing deepens its sweetness and compliments the flavours of the cake. And the coconut flakes that garnish the sides add a welcome crunch and another subtle flavour pairing with the pineapple inside.
I’ve been delivering wedges of this cake to co-op neighbours and friends. I’ll be sharing the rest at a committee meeting tomorrow. As with everything I’ve baked so far from this cookbook, there won’t be any leftovers for long.
CARROT AND PARSNIP LAYER CAKE WITH HONEY-CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
Text excerpted from MARBLED, SWIRLED, AND LAYERED © 2016 by Irvin Lin. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.Makes 1 layer cake; 12 to 16 servings
I’m a creature of habit, so when my friend Annelies invited me to dinner in a neighborhood here in San Francisco that I rarely frequent, I jumped at the chance. Not only did I get to dine at a new restaurant, but I got to hang out with a friend too. After our meal, we agreed to split a dessert and were particularly smitten with the idea of the parsnip cake on the menu. Like carrot, parsnip has a subtle earthy and nutty sweetness when cooked. I’ve taken it even further, though, layering parsnip cake with carrot cake to really up the game. The deeper, almost creamy parsnip makes the common carrot brighter and more vibrant. With honey-sweetened cream cheese frosting and a sprinkling of toasted coconut, this dense winter vegetable cake is now one of my favorites.
- 3 3⁄4 cups (525 g) all-purpose flour
- 3⁄4 cup (90 g) almond flour or meal
- 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups (600 g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 3 large eggs
- 1 large egg white
- 1 cup (6 ounces or 170 g) finely chopped fresh pineapple (or drained canned crushed pineapple)
- 1 pound (455 g) carrots, finely grated
- 1 1⁄2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1⁄2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1⁄2 pound (225 g) parsnips, finely grated
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1⁄4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
HONEY–CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
- 16 ounces (455 g or 2 bricks) cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1 cup (225 g or 2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1⁄2 cup (140 g) honey
- 1 cup (115 g) powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups (170 g) unsweetened coconut flakes
MAKE THE CAKE BATTER
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat three 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper.
Place the flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl and stir vigorously with a balloon whisk until the ingredients are evenly distributed and uniform in color. Place the sugar, oil, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat together for about 30 seconds on medium speed to incorporate. Add the eggs, one at time, beating until each is
incorporated before adding the next, then add the egg white. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and then add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until incorporated. Add the pineapple and mix until incorporated.
Scoop about one-third of the batter into a separate bowl. To the remaining larger amount of batter in the mixer bowl, add the carrots, cinnamon, turmeric, and cardamom, and fold to combine. To the second bowl of batter, add the parsnips, ginger, and nutmeg, and fold to combine. Pour the parsnip cake batter into one cake pan and divide the carrot batter between the other two cake pans.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then run a thin butter knife around the pan and invert the cakes onto wire racks to cool completely.
MAKE THE HONEY– CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
Combine the cream cheese, butter, honey, powdered sugar, and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat until the frosting is pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Refrigerate the frosting for at least 30 minutes to firm up.
ASSEMBLE THE CAKE
Toast the coconut in a large dry skillet over medium-high heat, stirring gently, until golden brown (some of the coconut will brown faster than the rest; that’s fine). Immediately pour the coconut into a bowl to cool. Take the frosting out of the fridge and beat on medium speed for about 15 seconds to loosen it up. Place one carrot cake layer on a cake platter or stand, flat side up, and spread some frosting over the top of that layer. Place the parsnip layer over the frosting and repeat. Place the final carrot cake layer over the parsnip layer and frost the top and sides of the cake. Using your hands, pat the toasted coconut all over the sides of the cake. Brush any stray coconut off the platter before serving.
* Unsweetened coconut flakes can be difficult to find. Some upscale grocery stores carry it, and often you can find it in the bulk section, where you can buy just enough for your recipe. At regular grocery stores, if it isn’t stocked in the baking section next to the sweetened shredded coconut, look for it near the dried fruit like raisins, dried ginger, and dried papaya. If you can’t find it, though, the sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut in the baking section will work. Just toast it over medium-low heat and pay extra attention if you use the sweetened shredded coconut. The sugar in the sweetened coconut will caramelize and burn faster than unsweetened shredded coconut.
I feel as though I’ve just scratched the surface of this cookbook. There are tarts, bars, and cobblers I can’t wait to try; deceptively humble quick breads alongside project bakes that are beautifully simplified. There are even a few savoury baked goods along the way.
Lin’s regard for his audience and enthusiasm for his art come through in his recipes, his headnotes, and in the helpful guides he provides throughout. He even includes recipes for his favourite gluten-free flour blends, making his baking as accessible as possible. Paired with his terrific instruction and delicious flavours, it’s no wonder this book is making all the year-end ‘best of’ lists.
Raincoast Books has been generous enough to offer a copy of Marbled, Swirled, and Layered to one Canadian reader. You can find the giveaway here and enter until December 22nd: Win a copy of Marbled, Swirled, and Layered*
Gift Giver’s Guide: For the modern baker, the discerning dessert-maker, the best guest, and the playful patissier.
Come back on Saturday for a review of a book that will solve all your holiday postprandial dilemmas.
*This giveaway is open to residents of Canada. You must have a Canadian mailing address. The winner will be required to answer the following skill testing question: 16 X 37 =_____ This promotion is in no way sponsored, endorsed or administered by, or associated with, Facebook. We hereby release Facebook of any liability. Winner(s) will be contacted by email within 48 hours after the giveaway ends. Entrants must provide a valid email address where they can be reached. Each of the winners must respond to the email announcing their win within 48 hours, or another winner will be chosen. No purchase of any product is required. If you have any additional questions – feel free to send us an email! You can find links to the rest of my Holiday Cookbook Review Series giveaways here. They’re all open until December 22nd.