Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

One of my best girls, Claud, leaves bright and early tomorrow morning on a one-way flight to a fabulous new life in NYC, and so, naturally, the recent days have meant nonstop bon voyage action. Following last week's going-away soiree, we celebrated with a good crowd last night over champagne and several cakes. Another decent excuse for a weekend baking extravaganza at Chez Rach.

To left you'll see a Chocolate Raspberry Fudge creation, a close cousin of the Red Velvet Truffle Fudge cake you've seen in these parts before. I hit up the corner liquor tienda for that perfectly-sized tiny bottle of Chambord and baked this puppy Saturday morning. He held up well overnight, and I frosted him with a quick chocolate raspberry icing, using up the last bit of Chambord to complement the chocolate. Tossed a few fresh raspberries on top, and added some cuttings of dendrobium orchid that we had in a pretty bouquet from Molly. Pleasant, no? I love the fresh vibrant blue of those tiny orchids.

Sunday was consumed with making some delicious gluten-free cakes that obscured the fact that they were made of unusual flours not containing wheat. A challenge, for sure. I picked up a few basic gluten-free flour combinations at Whole Foods - they've got some great options, if you're interested in that whole realm - and sat down to figure out how to liven them up a bit. I came up with these two recipes:

1) Apple Spice cake, using a basic spice cake recipe, but adding vanilla yogurt, vanilla pudding, raisins, walnuts, and an organic Fuji apple. I also tossed in a little more allspice and ginger, which made a difference. Frosted it with a quick butter cream and added toasted walnuts, chopped. Finished it with clippings from Molly's bouquet, this time white hydrangea and an unknown orange thistle. It was cute; felt autumnal. And most importantly - moist, which can be a challenge when you're baking with gluten-free flours. (Baked in the heart mold)

2) Banana Coconut Cream, using a Pamela's Vanilla Cake (gluten-free) base, but adding banana cream pudding, banana vanilla Wallaby yogurt, and fresh shaved coconut. I was out of coconut extract and coconut milk, otherwise surely would've thrown those in, as well. The cake baked well, if a little humbly; I frosted it with a butter cream frosting and sprinkled shaved coconut on top, finishing it off with a few cuts of the lavender and pink gladioli dying on the coffee table. (Baked in the classic pan)

I held my breath and prayed to Allah as I shifted each cooled cake onto the cake tower, fearing disaster. Luckily, both fit comfortably, and after a white-knuckled cab ride clutching the tower to my chest and begging that we wouldn't hit some grandpa in Chinatown and end up with cake all over my face, the bundts and I arrived intact.

It's lovely to have an excuse to bake for people you care about; not so lovely when that excuse involves a cross-country move. Yesterday's baking was a welcome embodied distraction from the void to come. Bon voyage, mi hermana.


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