This past Saturday was my first baby shower. This last trimester has snuck up on me so quickly. I am finding it hard to believe in little more than a month and a half I will have a babe in arms; a little person completely dependent on me for everything. It’s not as if I have not known this was coming, but moving from a far off date to the present feels like it’s happening all of a sudden. Pregnancy, for me, has been delightfully creative, vital, and productive with lots of “me” time. I have enjoyed it so much. The shower hit home the realization that this period of our life “together” (me, husband, in utero baby) will be ending very soon, and we’ll be three. It makes me appreciate how fleeting the time is during these ten months, and how I must relish every second of it…even the afternoons when my cramped rib cage feels props up little feet and Gaviscon is my preferred “beverage” of choice as the karate-style baby kicks churn my stomach acid.
Baby showers in Chile are still a fairly new concept and certainly not as common as in the US. In fact, I was not even sure I would have one earlier in the year. In the US, from the time we are little girls, we attend baby showers and are groomed that when it is our turn to have a baby, well, not having one would be unthinkable. In fact, many friends up north mentioned they had not one but multiple showers (family, office, best girlfriends) to outfit them for the new arrival. In Chile, my hypothesis is that baby showers have never been totally necessary since the family network here is very strong to start. It is normal to have aunts, uncles, grandparents, and extended family showering the new parents with gifts, lending cribs and baby equipment, offering child care support. It’s a different social structure. Thus, the need to throw a “party” for baby stuff is only now arriving, much like Chileans began importing Halloween ten years ago.
Baby showers here tend to feel more like birthday parties with baby presents. Registries and lists are optional and often not adhered to at all. A Chilean friend of mine even mentioned many Chilean women opt to have baby showers in the evening almost like a carrete, party with booze, starting at the very Chilean hour of 9pm versus a more typical weekend afternoon or brunch in the US. What mother-to-be can stay up that late, anyways (not me!)?
So all this being said, a couple of my girls offered to help organize the shower. We decided they’d manage the invites, the décor, the games. I tried but I just could not outsource the food (nor venue). Blame it on the entertainer and cook in me but I had to micromanage this part of the event. My mother seemed to be a little shocked by this and mentioned, more than once, “the mother-to-be should not have to lift a finger”. Nonetheless, I knew that if I have my immaculately produced brunch filled with “baby-sized” portions, petit fours, and favorite flowers, I would need to be involved. It was important—to me–and that, my friends, counts. A lot.
I also calculated this probably would be my last entertaining foray for the next 6 months, at least, so why not enjoy it . The thought of planning the menu and spending an afternoon “playing” in the kitchen to crank out gorgeous honey-dijon ham-Parmesan palmiers, choux puffs for shrimp cocktail salad, baby-sized quiche, stuffed rosemary baby muffins, among others, all sounded like fun to me. What joy to prepare for an intimate celebration with my best girlfriends marking my transition into motherhood and the arrival of our baby. What more noble reason could there be to cook and share?
Given that baby will be born in the middle of the Chilean winter, the weather has turned and is feeling more season. Citrus and pomegranates are flooding the markets. In fact, on many corners of Santiago, vendors crack open pomegranates and sell them like popcorn, which people buy to snack on. Pomegranates have a delightfully sweet-tart-crunchy flavor and texture. I was itching to make a dessert with them and something citrusy.
Then I remembered an old go to recipe from my catering years: sticky orange-almond cakes. Back in the day, this was always a huge crowd pleaser, and marvelously gluten free/flourless (not sugar free so it’s not health food!). The recipe for the cakes itself is extremely easy and has few ingredients. The magic here is the union of pureed oranges, eggs, almond flour, and sugar that all join together to form a moist cake. I stamp these out with a pastry cutter into the cutest little circles and put a dollop of natural yogurt and pomegranate seeds on top. You could make these cakes larger for a proper-sized dessert but they are so dainty, why not just serve them as nibbles?
Gluten Free Sticky Orange-Almond Cakes
Adapted from Hors d’Oeuvres
5-6 whole clementines, peeled
6 large free-range eggs, lightly beaten
1 cup granulated sugar
2 cups almond flour (almonds with no skins)
1 teaspoon double-action baking powder (if you don’t have this, double)
1/2-cup non-sweetened yogurt, whipped
4 tablespoons pomegranate seeds, for garnish
In a small pot, cover the clementines with water and cook until very soft, at least 1 hour. They will become very pale. Cool thoroughly and then drain. Pick out any seeds that may have been left behind.
Preheat oven to 170C (350F). Prepare a jellyroll pan (approximately 14×10 inches or 55 x 25 cm) with greased parchment paper. You must cover the entire pan with paper and generously grease (canola spray or butter) to avoid sticking. I cannot emphasize this step enough.
Place the oranges in a food processor. Process till you get a very smooth, silky puree. Add the eggs, sugar, almond flour and baking powder. Pulse until blended. Pour the batter into the lined pan.
Bake until firm to the touch, 30-40 minutes. If the pan gets too brown/golden on one side, rotate half way through baking. It should feel firm and “bouncy” to the touch when done (do not use a knife to test for doneness, won’t give you any feedback!). Remove and cool completely.
Next, cut the cake into rounds with a pastry cutter. I used one that was about 1-inch diameter. Place the rounds on a tray with parchment paper. Whatever you do, do not toss the scraps. I repeat. Do not toss the scraps. This would be total sacrilege. While they are not adorable like the cut outs, this cake is so delicious, they should be shared with others. Trust me, they will easily disappear with afternoon tea at home or in the office (and you will be praised by your spouse or co-workers).
To assemble, spoon a little bit of yogurt onto the cake and artfully garnish with three pomegranate seeds. Dust with powdered sugar and serve on a silver tray for a dazzling presentation (I used the base of our Moroccan tea set since it seemed to go with that flavor theme). The cakes taste best at room temp so don’t stick them in the frig or heat them up.
The other beauty of these babies? They are ideal for work ahead for parties, like a baby shower. They can be made two days in advance and kept in an airtight container or frozen for up to one month and defrosted overnight in the frig.
Makes 30+ cakes, plus scraps (see note above).