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A Resolution About Resolutions. And Some Cake.

It’s a new year: resolutions abound. Taking my friends at their word, 2011 will see the end of lateness, the renewal of grammar anal-retentiveness, and loads of meat. I won’t complain about any of that. But I admit, I’m overwhelmed. So many promises! So much good intention! So much…pressure! That’s no way to start the new year.

When I posted about my kitchen resolutions last September, I was fired up. I figured that publicizing my goals would make them real, make me most likely to achieve them. Now, I take a peek at those resolutions hovering in the corner of this space, and struggle not to cower in their presence.

That duck prosciutto, for instance. No time like now for duck prosciutto; my friend Cathy has teemed up with Kim Forster, aka the Yummy Mummy, to launch Charcutepalooza, a celebration of home-curing. First up? Duck prosciutto, of course. And were it not for the fact that I’m working minimum 60-hour weeks, lacking any curing space (no yard, no garage, no wine fridge), and trying to keep up this blog in the meantime, I’d totally take the plunge.

Alas, duck prosciutto will have to wait. It’s still a resolution, and I do hope to do it, but today just isn’t that day. Perhaps this will be the year in which I finally learn to say no.

That’s the thing about resolutions. When they’re motivators, they’re great. When they’re threats, I lose interest.

Not to fear, though — I haven’t abandoned my duck ambitions entirely. I’ve got a full bird thawing in the fridge right now, and I rendered two pounds of skin this past week. Stay tuned for instructions on how to render that fat, how to use the cracklings, and — finally — how to confit the legs. One resolution: check.

For now, amid the crazy talk of more time at the gym and less food in the stomach and other bloated promises, I’m dreaming of simpler things. Like cake.

Cake! This here loaf is a total winner. For shock points, I’ll tell you that it’s from Food52. (Seriously, ya’ll should start taking bets on how many recipes I’ll make that aren’t from that site.) It’s a browned butter and butternut loaf whose modest appearance belies its complexity. The brown-butter icing, which I skipped for simplicity’s sake, would elevate this cake from plain jane to star of the show, and I think it makes the perfect host gift. I’ve got one on the counter for tomorrow, one in the freezer for another time, and I’ve already resolved to stick this recipe in my regular rotation. That’s a promise I’m likely to keep.

Brown Butter and Butternut Squash Loaf
adapted slightly from fiveandspice via Food52

2 cups pureed roasted butternut squash
1 cup unsalted butter
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
3 cups all purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg (preferrably freshly ground)
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

Glaze (optional):
5 tablespoons salted butter
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cup or so of confectioner’s sugar

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and grease two (9 inch) loaf pans.

In a medium saucepan, heat the butter over medium-high heat. It will melt first, and then start to foam. Turn the heat down to medium. As the butter browns, the dairy solids will start to stick to the bottom of the pan. Scrape these browned bits back into the butter from time to time. After about 7 minutes, the butter will have turned a nice brown color will smell rich and nutty; remove it from the heat and allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat eggs and sugars on high speed for several minutes, until the color has lightened. Scrape in the browned butter and beat for another couple of minutes, starting on low and raising speed to medium-high, until the mixture is smooth.

Add the pureed squash to the wet ingredients and beat until smooth and uniformly mixed in.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg, and cloves. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, and mix on low until fully incorporated. Do not overmix.

Divide the batter evenly into the 2 prepared loaf pans and bake for about 50 minutes, until a tester comes out clean. Take the bread out of the loaf pans and allow to cool completely.

To make the optional glaze, brown and cool butter as described above (it will take shorter since there is less). Add cooled butter to a mixing bowl. Whisk vanilla into butter.

Sift the confectioner’s sugar to remove lumps and whisk it into the butter mixture until the glaze is spreadable.

Spread the icing onto the loaves, and allow to set for about 30 minutes before slicing.

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