What is it then between us?
What is the count of the scores or hundreds of years between us?

Whatever it is, it avails not—distance avails not, and place avails not,
I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,
I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan island, and bathed in the waters around it,
I too felt the curious abrupt questionings stir within me,
In the day among crowds of people sometimes they came upon me,
In my walks home late at night or as I lay in my bed they came upon me,
I too had been struck from the float forever held in solution,
I too had receiv’d identity by my body,
That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body.

—“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry“
Walt Whitman

I want to celebrate the recent 200th birthday of Walt Whitman, by making his favorite cake. It turns out, he liked to eat cake and he liked to bake cake. Picture it: Brooklyn 1870-something and you’ve been invited to a hangout with Walt. Here’s what he might have brought over (along with a copy of his latest book!):I omitted the lard, but was excited to include the coffee and the molasses and the spices. I followed the version from HuffPost, but swapped in tart cherries and raisins for the cranberries.

See how the batter is the color of dirt!
I loafe and invite my soul,
I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass.
Smell the cinnamon, molasses, nutmeg, and cloves. What I smell, you smelled too!

I baked this cake for 55 minutes in a springform pan. This cake gives back all the flavors you put into it. Its texture is perfectly fluffy. Fortifying. Tart/plumped dried fruits. Molasses stays with you, as a memory in your mouth. I think of you, Walt, with every bite.

Next time, I will tackle the “Chinese Sesame-Scallion Bread,” from the May/June 2019 issue of Milk Street, which is a yeasted sesame pancake. Come back to my site next week, to see what happens.

Chinese Sesame-Scallion Bread
Milk Street, May/June 2019
Servings: 4
This bread, known as zhima dabing—which translates as “large sesame pancake”—is similar to Chinese scallion pancakes, but is larger, thicker and has a lighter, fluffier crumb. The addition of sweet (also called glutinous) rice flour gives the crust a unique crispness and the interior a satisfying chew. If you can’t find sweet rice flour with the baking ingredients, check the Asian aisle for a white box labeled “mochiko,” the Japanese term for the flour. Chop the scallions by thinly slicing them first, then running the knife over them a few times to further break them down. To keep the scallions fresh, prep them toward the end of the dough’s one-hour rising time.

Don’t use regular rice flour in place of the sweet rice flour, as it won’t produce the same texture. Don’t use pre-toasted sesame seeds, as the seeds brown deeply as the bread cooks; already toasted seeds may end up scorched and bitter. Don’t worry if some scallions are exposed on the surface of the dough as you flatten it into a round; this is normal.

1 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
¼ cup sweet (glutinous) rice flour
1 tsp. instant yeast
1 ½ tsp. kosher salt, divided
¾ cup warm (100°F) water
1 Tbsp. honey
4 tsp. toasted sesame oil, divided
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
4 Tbsp. sesame seeds, divided
2 Tbsp. grapeseed or other neutral oil

In a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, mix both flours, the yeast and 1 tsp. of the salt on low until combined, about 30 seconds. In a liquid measuring cup or small bowl, whisk the water and honey until dissolved. With the mixer on low, slowly pour the honey water into the flour mixture. Continue mixing on low until an evenly moistened dough forms, about 1 minute. Stop the mixer and check the dough; if it feels wet or very sticky, add an additional 1 to 3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour, Continue mixing on low until smooth, about 4 minutes. The dough should feel tacky but not stick to your fingers.

Coat a medium bowl with 1 tsp. of the sesame oil. Place the dough in the bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until the dough has doubled in size, about 1 hour.

Coat a rimmed baking sheet with 1 tsp. of the remaining sesame oil. Turn the dough out onto the baking sheet and use your hands to press into a 12-by-9-inch rectangle. In a small bowl, toss the scallions with the remaining 2 tsp. sesame oil, then distribute evenly over the dough. Sprinkle with the remaining ½ tsp. salt. Starting from a long side, roll the dough into a cylinder and pinch the seam to seal. Roll the cylinder seam side down, then coil it into a tight spiral and tuck the end under. Press the coil to slightly flatten, sprinkle with 2 Tbsp. of the sesame seeds and press to adhere. Flip the coil and sprinkle the second side with the remaining 2 Tbsp. sesame seeds. Press and flatten into an even 10-inch round.

Add the grapeseed oil to a nonstick 12-inch skillet and swirl to evenly coat the bottom. Carefully transfer the dough to the skillet; reshape into a 10-inch round, if needed. Cover with a lid and let rise until about doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

Place the covered skillet over medium and cook until the bottom of the bread is deep golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Uncover and, using tongs and a wide metal spatula, carefully flip the bread. Cook until golden on the second side, about 3 minutes. Slide the bread onto a wire rack and let cool for at least 10 minutes. Cut into quarters to serve.