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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

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.

Dried fruit rum pot

14 January 2021

14 January. There never was a more forlorn morning. The clouds are so heavy, the mood is dim, we want to be drinking away the endless evenings with friends…

With or without a pandemic, I don’t understand dry January, there never was a more misappropriate pairing. I could forego alcohol at any time of the year; January is when I definitely want a drink. And today especially.

Better than a stiff drink, one drowned lusciously in soft spicy fruit, with a large spoonful of cream.

Like the glimmer of a candlelit café beckoning through an icy Berlin winter, I discovered this a few weeks ago. I’ve made summer rum pots or Rumtopf (jars of summer berries and fruit layered with sugar and rum and left to marinate until Christmas) in the past but not this year, and I was already missing it. Seeing a friend mention a ‘dried fruit’ rum pot recently on Instagram, I immediately asked for the recipe. This is an adapted version, with some changes to quantities and measurements and probably a few more spices. Many thanks Alison!

Dried fruit rum pot

Recipe adapted from one a friend sent me a few weeks ago. After some cursory research online into ‘dried fruit rum pots’ (there are hardly any) I think the recipe may originally have come from Epicurious.

170g (1 cup) sugar
2 oranges
1 lemon
1 cinnamon stick
8 cloves
3 allspice
20 peppercorns (1/4 tsp)
600g (20 oz.) of a selection of dried fruit: apricots, pears, peaches, prunes, apples, dates, sultanas, …
300ml (1 1/4 cup) dark rum

Put the sugar with 600ml (scant 2 1/2 cups) of water in a saucepan, add the rind and juice of the oranges and lemon, the cinnamon, cloves, allspice, and peppercorns. Bring to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.

Strain the syrup and return to the pan. Add the dried fruit. —> If some of your fruit is very dry (as was the case for my figs and pears) add them first and gently for 5 minutes before adding the rest. Once the softer fruit is added, simmer gently for another 10 to 12 minutes.

Let cool completely in the pan.

Meanwhile, sterilise a jar or two (the total capacity will be about 1.5 litres / 6 cups).

When the fruit is completely cool, pour the fruit with the cooking syrup into the clean jar(s), add the rum, and mix well (but gently in order not to squash the fruit).

Ideally, let the fruit marinate in the rum for a while. While this could be eaten immediately, it will get much better in a week or two, and should keep for a couple of months (if it lasts). I like to eat it with a small scoop of sheep’s yogurt and thick cream.

Galette des rois with poached pears and frangipane

6 January 2021

January 6.

An upgrade on the simple frangipane Galette des rois, which I wrote about a few years ago, this year I added poached pears. Actually I made two galettes, one with apple sauce and frangipane and blackcurrant jam, which sounds great but ended up too sweet — everyone agreed it would have been best just with applesauce, basically a giant ‘chausson aux pommes’ (a puff pastry pocket filled with apple sauce, a staple of every French patisserie), but that is straying too far from the spirit of galette, which in my mind needs almonds, non-negotiably. The winner is the galette with poached pears.

This year I also discovered a new home-made puff pastry recipe. I usually buy puff pastry if I can find the pure butter kind, but, unlike in France where it is a staple in every supermarket, or Switzerland where puff pastry can be bought at night in a snowstorm on a motorway stop (!), puff pastry can’t always be found on every street (or Autobahn) corner. And so I had to make my own. Cue the discovery of David Lebovitz’ Quick Puff Pastry, hidden under cover of his French Apple Tart. The recipe really is easy and works beautifully, even when quadrupled for 2 galettes, each with a top and bottom.

And so too a reminder that while Galettes des rois mark the celebration of Epiphany on the 6th of January, galettes and crowns and small children squatting under the table (read about the ritual here) aren’t confined to just one day, they should last, gleefully, all month.

Galette des Rois with poached pears and frangipane
Recipe for one galette about 30 cm (12″) in diameter

Puff pastry (store-bought pure butter puff or this easy recipe, in which case double the quantity)

Poached pears
3 pears
100 g (1/2 cup) sugar
150 ml water
1 slice of lemon

Frangipane (almond cream)
90 g (2/3 cup) unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
70 g (1/3 cup) sugar
100 g (1 cup) ground almonds
1/4 tsp salt
1 egg
Zest from half a small lemon
1/4 tsp almond extract
1 1/2 tsp rum
fève (dried fava bean or small porcelain figurine)

1 egg yolk and 1 Tbsp milk for the eggwash

The pears — Peel, core, and cut the pears into quarters. In a small-ish saucepan, heat the sugar and water until boiling. Add the pear quarters and the slice of lemon and simmer gently for about 10 minutes. Let cool completely.

Meanwhile make the frangipane — In a medium bowl, beat the softened butter until creamy. In a small bowl, mix the sugar, almonds, and salt. Add this to the butter and mix well before beating in the egg until thoroughly combined. Stir in the lemon zest, almond extract, and rum. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Assembly — On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into two circles of the same size (about 30 cm or 12″). Use a pie dish or plate to trim the circles into neat edges.

Place one circle of dough on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Spread the frangipane on the dough, leaving an edge of a good 1 cm (1/2 inch) along the circumference. Place the fève randomly on the frangipane. Now cut each pear quarter lengthwise into two or three (depending on their size), and fan out in one layer onto the frangipane to cover it completely.

Make an egg wash by beating 1 egg yolk and 2 tablespoons milk lightly with a fork. Brush the egg wash along the circumference of the pastry kept free of frangipane and pear. Carefully place the second round of pastry on top and press along the edge thoroughly to seal. Using a sharp knife, make a design on the galette (carefully, without cutting through, except for a small whole in the middle to let the steam out while baking). Gently brush the whole galette with the remaining egg wash.

Place the assembled galette in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes (or overnight).

Baking — When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180°C (375°F) and remove the galette from the refrigerator.

Bake in the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, or until the galette is golden brown.

Serve warm (lightly reheated if necessary) according to the following ritual —

The youngest child (person) hides under the table. The pieces of cake are distributed as the name of each person present is called out ‘blindly.’ Beware of the fève when eating the cake! The person who gets is queen (or king) for the day!

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