So much better than its name suggests olive oil cake

16 May 2021

I have, since, been pointed in the direction of other excellent-sounding olive oil cakes, but this one has the advantage of being completely dairy-free, which was what I was looking for in the first place. If I’m honest, I can hardly imagine it getting any better than this.

We’ve been seeing friends again, and my favourite invitation is ‘goûter-apéro,’ somewhere between a kid’s afternoon snack and early evening drinks. It’s the best way to see families, and justifies meeting — and drinking — early, before the evening chill sets in. We’re just a day away from indoor gatherings again, but I bet outdoor meetings will continue, as the world bursts fully into spring and we’ve become inured to the nip.

Last Sunday I needed a dairy-free cake, and an online search quickly yielded this Olive Oil Cake by Claire Saffitz from Bon Appétit magazine. It is flavoured with a subtle trio of lemon zest, vanilla extract, and — the key — a real dash of alcohol. I used sweet vermouth, which is always on hand in our house. Madeira would also be good, but I think I’d choose either over the other, more overt, suggested options in the recipe, amaretto and Grand Marnier. I like the structuring, delicate, nearly unplaceable aroma of the vermouth.

Olive Oil Cake, barely adapted from Claire Saffitz’s recipe in Bon Appétit magazine

300ml (1 1/4 cups) olive oil (I use a mix of a mild and a more peppery one)
175g (1 cup) sugar
250g (2 cups) flour
40g (1/3 cup) almond flour / ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
Zest from one lemon and 3 Tbsps of juice
2 tsps vanilla extract
3 Tbsps sweet vermouth, or another fortified wine or liqueur such as Madeira, amaretto, Grand Marnier…

NOTE: The oven is preheated to 200C (400F) and then lowered to 175C (350F) just before putting in the cake —> Do not forget to lower the temperature (as I did, once), as — even if it doesn’t burn — the cake will loose its incredibly fluffy texture!

Preheat oven to 200C (400F).

Line the bottom of a 23cm (9″) spring-form cake tin with parchment paper. Coat the parchment and the sides of the tin faintly with olive oil, and then a sprinkling of sugar.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, almond flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, just enough to eliminate any lumps. Set aside.

Put the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest in a large, deep bowl or stand mixer. *** I don’t have a stand mixer so I used a a manual whisk once (lots of elbow grease), and on another occasion the whisk attachment of a handheld mixer (much easier!). Any one of those works. ***

In a small bowl, stir together the alcohol, lemon juice, and vanilla extract. Set aside.

Whisk the eggs, sugar, and lemon zest vigorously, until the mixture becomes foamy and pale and begins to thicken => 3 to 5 minutes. Add the olive oil in a steady drizzle, all the while continuing to whisk energetically. The mixture will continue to thicken and gain in volume.

Now incorporate the flour and alcohol mixtures into the egg/sugar batter according to the following pattern:
With a wooden spoon, stir in a 1/3 of the flour mix, then half of the liquids, another 1/3 of the flour, the rest of the liquids, and the rest of the flour. Stir through just enough to combine. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake tin, sprinkle lightly with sugar, and slide into the oven without forgetting to lower the temperature to 175C (350F) !!

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until a knife or skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Apparently this cake keeps well for at least 4 days, but here so far it’s barely lasted overnight.

Wild garlic pesto and the latest letter from N&Q

4 May 2021

Spring has been slow in establishing itself this year. It’s been sunny and dry — too dry if you ask gardens and plants — but also very cold. We’ve probably noticed it more than usual, as meeting friends is still confined to the great outdoors (for just a few more weeks!) which has made us yearn all the more for that mildness in the air.

I wrote about this forced but gleeful embrace of outdoor socialising in my latest newsletter, which you can find here if you haven’t seen it yet.

In it too is this recipe for wild garlic pesto — that most welcome signal that the earth is waking up and spring has finally arrived.

Wild garlic pesto

A bunch of wild garlic leaves
Grated parmigiano
Nuts (walnuts, pine nuts, almonds)
Pinch of salt
Freshly ground pepper
Good olive oil

When I make this pesto it seems too fiddly to measure the ingredients precisely, but I do have rough ratios in mind.

3/5th wild garlic
1/5th grated parmigiano
1/5th nuts

Wash and coarsely chop the wild garlic.

If using almonds, start by chopping them briefly in the food processor before adding the other ingredients. If using walnuts or pine nuts it isn’t necessary to do so.

Place all the dry ingredients in the food processor and pulse blend, slowly pouring in a drizzle of olive oil. Continue adding the olive oil gradually until the ingredients have formed a paste that has the desired consistency.

Taste and adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.

Store the pesto in a jar in the refrigerator with a protective layer of olive oil over the top.

Leek and wild garlic quiche with trout or pancetta

30 March 2021

Spring has sprung and it is time for quiche. ‘Why?’ you ask. I’m not sure, but that is how it works in my mind.

Perhaps it is the still tentative but now perceptible promise of picnics. Maybe the hankering for boisterous post-egg-hunt Easter brunches from another era, which somehow disappeared with the move to London. Or is it just the availability of leeks, to the near exclusion of all else … ?

Well, it is unmistakably spring, and had we no calendar there would be no mistaking it. Magnolias have burst, the daffodils are already waning, wild garlic is abundant.

And so, I’m making quiche.

In addition to the leeks and wild garlic, I’ve used another leaf, erbette spinach (aka erbette chard or perpetual spinach), which adds herbaceousness and really melds everything together. I found it available from my local farm delivery, but it isn’t all that common. Regular spinach or chard leaves would also work well.

I’ve tried versions of this quiche both with pancetta and with trout, and I’m hard pressed to decide which is the better one. I think it depends on the mood, and the availability of one or the other. So this recipe offers both options, I leave it up to your inclination.

Leek and wild garlic quiche recipe

Pastry crust (or store-bought)

4 to 5 leeks (about 750g)
Pat of butter and olive oil

Salt
50g wild garlic
150g erbette (perpetual) spinach (alternatively, spinach or chard leaves)
120g hot smoked trout fillet (alternatively, pancetta)
4 eggs
300g crème fraîche (or sour cream)
Squeeze of lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper
Grated cheese such as Gruyère if using pancetta (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F)

Roll out the pastry and transfer it to a buttered pie dish. Poke the crust all over with a fork, and place it into the refrigerator while preparing the filling for the quiche.

Trim the leeks, wash, slice thinly, and rince again. Drain as much as possible.

Heat the butter and oil in a heavy skillet, add the leeks, a generous pinch of salt, and cook over slow to medium heat until softened but if possible not browned, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, wash and thinly slice the wild garlic into a ‘chiffonade.’ Wash and coarsely chop the erbette (spinach or chard).

When the leeks are softened, add the spinach and wild garlic just for a minute or two, until wilted.

If using pancetta, transfer the leeks etc. to a bowl and set aside, and brown the pancetta to the desired hue in the (wiped) skillet.

In a medium or large bowl, crack the eggs and whisk them well with a fork. Add the cream and mix well. Then stir in the leeks, spinach, and wild garlic, with a generous squeeze of lemon.

Take the pie crust out of the refrigerator. Sprinkle the trout or pancetta evenly on the dough. Pour over the egg/cream/vegetable mix. Smooth the top.

Sprinkle generously with freshly ground black pepper and grated cheese, if using.

Bake in the oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden and the filling just set.

Enjoy with a green (or red or yellow) salad.

Basic unsweetened shortcrust

30 March 2021

I use this recipe all the time for quiches and savory tartes (like this Classic French tomato tarte with mustard ). Sometimes also for sweet ones. It is based on a classic shortcrust pastry, with the sugar omitted.

Basic unsweetened shortcrust recipe
Makes enough for 2 quiches

210g white wheat (or spelt) flour
40g wholemeal rye (or buckwheat) flour
Large pinch of sea salt
125g cold unsalted butter
One egg

Small glass of cold water (I usually drop an ice cube into the water and leave it for a few minutes)

Mix the flours and salt together in a bowl. Add the butter, cut into cubes. With your hands, squish the butter into the flour until the mixture feels like coarse bread crumbs, with some larger pieces of butter remaining.

In a glass or small bowl, beat the egg and a tablespoon of water with a fork.

Add the egg to the flours, and mix well to obtain and homogenous dough (with some visible streaks of butter remaining). Let the dough rest in the fridge, wrapped in parchment paper or cling film, for at least an hour and up to a day.

When ready use, generously butter a pie dish, and dust it with a sprinkling of flour. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface, lifting it occasionally as you do it so it doesn’t stick to the surface. Roll it out into a circle as thinly as you like it and so that it won’t break.

To transfer the dough to the dish, loosely fold the dough in half once, and again, so it is now a multi-layered ‘quarter.’ Pick this up, place the point of the quarter at the center of the pie dish and unfold the crust, and press the sides carefully so that they hug the dish. Poke the dough all over with a fork.

At this stage, if the filling and/or the oven aren’t yet ready, place it into the refrigerator until ready to use.

(Any unused pastry keeps for 2 days in the fridge, or can be frozen)

NEW Letter from Nettle & Quince !

3 March 2021

I’m starting a new letter companion to these pages! It will feature stories, ideas, recipes, and inspiration through the seasons, month by month.

The first letter is coming out this weekend: all about citrus — Sevilles, sweet oranges, blood oranges, lemons …— with links and recipes including this whole lemon tarte and Seville orange and cardamom infused gin !

You can sign up right here ⬇️


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