Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Illustrious plum torte

6 October 2018

I buy plums because how can I not, in the momentary season that will soon give way to an endless monotonous expanse of apples and pears?

Five days later they are still on the kitchen counter and, miraculously, apparently intact, without the dispiriting tinge of fermentation that has all too often come to taunt me with an accusatory waft of neglect.

It is high time to use them up, and I am hesitating between jams and quick compotes, just as a friend writes to say she is coming to London and can she stay with us. Of course, as always. And so it will be cake.

I could have made either of the ones already on these pages (here and here), but my attention is turned elsewhere. I want to bake Marian Burros’ illustrious plum torte, which I’ve heard about and read about for years and decades, but, just as those impulsively purchased plums, neglected too often, too long.

The recipe* was first published in the New York Times in 1983, and every fall thereafter, during peak plum season, for the next twelve years. When they decided to stop publishing it, with the last printing in extra large type ‘with a broken line border to encourage clipping,’ the paper was nonetheless assailed by angry letters. It is said to be the most requested and most often published recipe in the newspaper’s archives, and is usually described as famous, iconic, one of the newspaper’s most popular recipes.

It could seem difficult to come on the trail of so much lore, but astoundingly, after all those years, the cake lives up to its reputation. I won’t regret that I hadn’t made it before, I’m just glad it has become part of my dream plum life.

*The recipe was allegedly given to Burros by Lois Levine, her co-author on the 1960 Elegant But Easy Cookbook.

Marian Burros’ plum torte (<— click link to the original recipe)
I have doubled the recipe and substituted ground almonds for some of the flour. I preferred to omit the cinnamon.

250g (1 1/2 cups) sugar
225g (1 cup) unsalted butter
210g (1 1/2 cups) flour
75g (1/2 cup) ground almonds
2 tsps baking powder
Pinch of salt
4 eggs
15 to 20 plums
Brown sugar and juice from 1/2 a lemon for topping (and 1 tsp ground cinnamon or cardamon, why not?)

Heat oven to 175°C (350°F). Line with parchment paper and butter a springform pan about 25cm (10″) in diameter.

Leave the butter to soften at room temperatire until easy to mix.

Wash and cut the plums in half lengthwise, removing the stones.

Beat the butter and sugar with a wooden spoon until creamy. Add the flour, ground almonds, paking powder, salt, and eggs and stir well.

Spoon the batter into the dish. Place the plum halves skin side up all over the batter so they fit snugly. Sprinkle with a little brown sugar and a good squeeze of lemon juice (and a spice if using).

Bake for about an hour until a knife inserted in the centre of the cake comes out fairly clean (the cake will remain moist from the plum juices). Cool before eating. As with most cakes, it will taste even better the next day, covered and left at room temperature.

Strawberry and gooseberry yogurt cake

5 July 2018

Our season of birthdays has come and gone, and it was marked by a few disconcerting cake wishes. Our tradition is to celebrate birthdays, with presents and cake, at breakfast. This brought about some unsettling cake choices.

Crumbles. An apple crumble seemed like a humble birthday cake wish, but in March, it’s acceptable. In June, it is not. I was quite distressed about having to ask our local grocery shop for apples in June. (They did scoff. Or was I imagining it?) But birthday wishes are not open to veto.

Luckily, my other June birthday child was willing to give in to my gentle nudging — or was it open pleading — that I make him THIS cake. This perfect, easy, quintessentially June cake.

It is based on the classic French yogurt cake — easy as pie — about which I’ve spoken before. Yogurt cakes are the first cakes many French children learn to bake because all the measurements are calculated in volume, using a standard yogurt pot as the unit. [Read more about it here.]

I make it often because it is so easy, and also for the perfect light sponge texture. On popular demand, here is its early summer strawberry and gooseberry incarnation, the recipe translated for a country where 100ml yogurt pots are not ubiquitous.

Strawberry and gooseberry yogurt cake

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt
2 pots (100ml) melted butter
3 pots (300 ml) light brown sugar plus 2 Tbsps for the berries
3 pots (300 ml) flour plus one Tbsp for the berries
3 pots (300 ml) almond flour
4 eggs
2 tsps baking powder
Zest from 1 lemons
Strawberries and gooseberries about one cup each
Icing sugar (optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Stir all the ingredients together except the fruit in a large mixing bowl to obtain a smooth batter.

Wash and trim the berries. Cut the strawberries into halves or quarters, depending on their size, and the gooseberries in half. In a medium bowl, toss with 2 Tbsps sugar and one Tbsp sifted flour (this will prevent the fruit from falling to the bottom of the cake while baking).

Gently stir the berries into the batter. Pour into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven. Once completely cool, sprinkle with icing sugar for decoration.

Rhubarb almond cake

5 May 2017

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This is simply the best rhubarb cake, and possibly the best use of rhubarb in any form, in my opinion. (Hmm — on second thought, rhubarb ice cream is high in contention.)

The strands of rhubarb on top are striking, but this cake is much more than a pretty picture. It has excellent crunchiness on the outside; soft, near-cheesecake quality in the center; while the rhubarb’s tartness plays off a subtle sweetness. It is not exactly easy, but it’s certainly worth the — slight — effort.

Rhubarb almond cake recipe from Bon Appétit with just a few tweaks

225 g (1 cup) butter (plus a bit more for the pan)
175 g + 3 Tbsps (3/4 cup and a bit) sugar
450 g (1 lb) rhubarb stalks
150 g (1 1/4 cup) flour
100 g (3/4 cup) blanched almonds (or almond flour)
1 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp coarse sea salt
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
Zest from 1/2 lemon
2 large eggs
60 ml (1/4 cup) plain thick Greek-style yogurt

Bring the butter to room temperature *Note: The batter needs to be beaten for a good length of time, so it is best to use a food processor. However if, like me, you do it all by hand, make sure the butter is very soft before you start, it will make things much easier.*

Preheat oven to 150°C (350°F).

Butter a cake tin (9″ in diameter), sprinkle some sugar and tap out the excess.

Wash the stalks of rhubarb, slice them in half lengthwise (in four parts if the stalks are very thick). Reserve about 8 of the prettiest strands to decorate the cake. Chop the rest of the rhubarb into 1 cm (1/2 inch) pieces.

In a food processor, pulse the flour, almonds, baking powder, and salt until the almonds are finely ground. *Alternatively, if using almond flour, mix all those ingredients thoroughly in a large bowl.*

In another bowl or electric mixer, beat together 225 g butter and 175 g sugar. And beat. And beat. If possible, beat for at least 4 minutes to get the lightest dough. Add the eggs, one at a time, fully incorporating the first before adding the second. Scrape the seeds from the vanilla bean into the batter (or add the vanilla extract), as well as the lemon zest. Beat again vigorously for a good 3 to 4 minutes.

Slowly (without any more beating from this point) incorporate the dry ingredients into the batter, and finally the yogurt. Once everything is combined, add the chopped rhubarb. The batter will be quite thick. Scrape it into the buttered cake pan, smooth the batter as best possible, arrange the reserved strands of rhubarb on top, and sprinkle with 3 tablespoons of sugar.

Place the cake in the oven and bake for 70-80 minutes until the cake is set and a knife comes out clean. It will have browned nicely on top.

Let the cake cool completely before removing from the tin.

This cake gets better overnight and it keeps for a few days well wrapped at room temperature or in the refrigerator.

Related recipes

Rhubarb ice cream  **  Rhubarb compote

Rhubarb raspberry crostata  **  Rhubarb rosemary jam

Rhubarb rosemary syrup

French apple cake with rum

12 October 2016

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When fall sidles in with armloads of plums and bright warm days, it is easy to overlook that October has arrived and apples are at their crispest.

Of course, apples will stay with us for a while, resignedly softening in cool cellars, faithfully, to accompany us through the bleakest winter months. We’ll be grateful — if perhaps a little weary — for those last wrinkly fruits as we await spring.

A small part of me always wonders whether it wouldn’t be best to hold out just a little while longer before biting in, to prolong the novelty a few weeks more. But the truth is that I long for apples already in the summer, I miss them in August; something about the comfort of a familiar companion amid attention-grabbing summer harvests.

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Apples are remarkable fruit, and I love all the gnarly varieties (though I can never remember which is which). Smaller ones, tart and sweet, barely bigger than a large apricot are ideal to bite into — the perfect, well-packaged snack on the go. Bigger apples are less fussy when baking, and so versatile! Is any other fruit equally ideal in cakes, tartes, crumbles, and pies, but also able to stand deliciously independently, simply baked in the oven stuffed with raisins, nuts, and cream, or stewed into spicy compotes?

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This weekend I jumped into apple season with this perfectly lovely, easy cake that I discovered a few years ago and make regularly. The recipe, which I found on David Lebovitz’s blog, is originally by Dorie Greenspan. I love this cake because it feels very ‘French,’ in that it is un-fussy. While exported French cuisine is elaborate, French home cooking is usually quite straightforward, and, as Dorie Greenspan writes in her introduction to the cake, skilled French home cooks often don’t use recipes, even when baking. Also, the generous addition of rum is completely essential for this cake — we French do like a good dash of booze in our desserts.

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Apple cake by Dorie Greenspan via David Lebovitz
Here is the recipe, doubled, because I always seem to be feeding a crowd! I’ve reduced the sugar ever so slightly, and added a squeeze of lemon so the apple pieces don’t turn brown.

1 cup (225g) butter plus a little extra for the mold
1 1/2 cups (220g) flour (I usually use white spelt flour, which seems perfectly interchangeable with all-purpose white flour)
1 1/2 tsps baking powder
1/2 tsp sea salt
7-8 large apples (mix of varieties — once the apples are incorporated in the batter, there should be practically more apple than batter)
Juice from 1/2 lemon
4 large organic eggs
1 1/4 cup (250g) soft brown sugar
5 or 6 Tbsps dark rum (but no less, this is what makes the cake!)
1 tsp real vanilla extract

I’ve made this cake in round springform pans, as the recipe suggests, but also in long rectangular loaf tin, and, here, in a fancy bundt mold that I found this summer while scrounging through my grandmother’s old kitchenwares.

So … choose the desired mold (or two) line it (them) with parchment paper and butter the paper generously. [Parchment paper was impossible with my crinkled mold so I buttered it excessively and added a dusting of flour.] If using a springform pan, place it on a baking sheet, as it may ooze while baking.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Melt the butter and let it cool to room temperature.

Peel and core the apples, then cut each wedge into roughly 1/2 inch (1cm) chunks. Squeeze a little lemon juice over the pieces of apple so they don’t turn brown.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In a larger bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy, add the sugar gradually, still whisking, then the rum and the vanilla.

Whisk in half of the flour, then half of the melted butter. Add the other half of the flour and finally the rest of the butter.

Use a spatula to stir in the apples, mixing until they are well coated. There will seem to be more apple than batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake pan. Tap the pan gently on the table to even out the batter, and smooth the surface with the spatula. Slide into the oven for a good 50 minutes to an hour. Test (as usual) with the tip of a knife or skewer that should come out clean. [The cake may pull away from the sides of the pan, it doesn’t necessarily mean it is overcooked, first check with a knife!]

Let cool to room temperature before turning onto a serving plate.

I prefer to serve fruity cakes with crème fraîche or clotted cream, but by all means ice cream would be fine too.

Bon appétit!

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Life-saving birthday aka any-day yogurt cake

23 June 2015

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The no-hassle, mindlessly easy, infinitely versatile, all-season, all-occasion cake that will also save a thousand birthdays.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t have the heart of a baker. I rarely follow recipes precisely, I am exasperated when a cake I’ve made many times suddenly doesn’t work because the butter or the continent or the ambient humidity has changed. I like the idea of baking, however. I like cakes. And I like to think I can make a cake for my children’s birthdays, at the very least.

So I gravitate towards simple recipes such as this one or this one. And yogurt cake.

Yogurt cake is a classic in France; it is the cake most French children first learn to make. While French home cooks use scales, not volume measurements such as cups, this cake is an exception: the unit of measurement is a pot of yogurt, the one whose contents are emptied precisely for the cake.

Because my family is not classically French, I discovered yogurt cake a bit later, in my twenties. It is brilliantly easy, and very clever, and can be easily spruced up for a special occasion.

Here first is the simple original recipe, though I rarely make it as is. The variations are just as easy.

Yogurt Cake, classic French recipe

The measurement used is one empty pot of yogurt (empty once the yogurt has been used for the cake!). In Anglo-Saxon countries where yogurts are not as ubiquitously sold in the same standard-size pots I use a measure of 100ml.

Note: 1 ‘pot’ = 100ml see explanation above
1 pot of plain unsweetened yogurt
1 pot of oil or melted butter
2 pots sugar
3 pots flour
2 eggs
1 tsp baking powder
Lemon zest

Mix all the ingredients together and bake in a medium oven for 35 to 40 minutes.

*

Yogurt Cake, adapted recipe

I have doubled the quantities, reduced the amount of sugar, substituted part of the flour with ground almonds, and added raspberries which are conveniently in season for my boys’ birthdays.

2 pots (200 ml) of plain unsweetened yogurt
1 pot (100ml) melted butter
1 pot (100ml) olive oil
3 pots (300 ml) brown sugar
3 pots (300 ml) flour
3 pots (300 ml) almond flour
4 eggs
2 tsps baking powder
Zest from 2 lemons
Fresh raspberries

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).

Line a 10-inch (26cm) baking tin with parchment paper and butter generously.

Mix all the ingredients together except the raspberries to obtain a smooth batter. Add the raspberries and incorporate gently in order not to squash the berries. Pour the batter into the baking tin, slide into the oven, and bake for 50 min to an hour, until the cake is set and a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with icing sugar and a handful of raspberries for decoration.

*

Festive birthday cake (pictured above)

Make the above recipe without nuts — use 6 pots of flour (and no almond flour)
NOTE: I don’t use almond flour for this version because it renders the cake incredibly moist and crumbly, which would make it difficult to cut through

Once the cake is baked and cooled, cut it in half carefully crosswise. Smear raspberry jam on the bottom half of the cake and place the top half back on top.

Make a lemony mascarpone icing and decorate with fresh raspberries and a generous sprinkling of popping candy!


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