Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Simplest (four-ingredient) almond cake

6 September 2021

I wish I could wax poetic for hours about this cake, but that isn’t really my style, and the cake fulfills such a basic role in my life that basic is probably how best to write about it.

It features just four ingredients (lemon zest optional), comes together practically instantly, and not only does it keep for days but even improves with time. So it can be made ahead, and, as Imen McDonell suggests, always be on hand.

The recipe is from Imen’s The Farmette Cookbook. She calls it Claire’s Frangipane and has a lovely story to accompany the recipe, which like most others in the book is alluringly personal, one that transports straight into a chair pulled up to the kitchen table of her fabulous friend Claire. But, as I don’t know Claire, to me the cake has just become the simplest almond cake.

I’ve made this cake more than any other in the past few years and always serve it with either a rhubarb compote or stewed gooseberries, because, though delicious on its own, the cake truly transforms when accompanied by something luscious and puckeringly tart. At this time of year I might stew some early apples (unsweetened), or perhaps plums with cardamom?

Simplest almond cake recipe from Imen McDonnell’s Farmette Cookbook
The recipe given here is double the original — I often double recipes for cakes, especially ones that keep so well and improve with time.

275g sugar (slightly reduced from the original)
300g butter (softened at room temperature)
4 eggs
300g almond flour or freshly ground almonds (I like both blanched or whole)
Zest from one lemon (optional)

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Line a 23cm (9-inch) cake tin with parchment paper and butter the bottom and sides.

In a large mixing bowl (or stand mixer), beat the sugar and butter vigorously, for a long while, about 5 minutes.

Add the eggs one at a time, so each is assimilated before adding the next. Add the lemon zest if using.

Blend in the ground almonds until completely combined.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 to 50 minutes (it could take a bit longer), until a knife or skewer comes out clean, and the cake feels firm to a light touch.

Dust with sugar and let cool completely before serving.

Serve with rhubarb, gooseberry, or another tart fruit compote, and optionally and quite decadently with a spoonful of crème fraîche too.

Can be stored at room temperature for a day and in the refrigerator after that.

Cranberry lemon squares for a singular Thanksgiving

26 November 2020

This year I wasn’t sure about Thanksgiving. Many things felt uncertain just a few weeks ago, and wouldn’t a celebration without friends bring more acutely to the fore the limitations of these times? Better perhaps to stick our heads into the soggy English soil and push on to Christmas. All around us decorations are already going up.

Impossible. Not with children in the house who have never known a year without turkey, they were appalled. And, things started to look up. First in the news, then on a more personal note. The arc had begun to shift. And who am I to deprive my children of Thanksgiving, especially if they start baking pumpkin pie?

In this singular predicament where less time was needed preparing today, I suddenly had time to bake things, to give to friends. So I made pecan bars, which are probably my favourite and will endure some more tweaking before I’m entirely satisfied. And also these ridiculously delicious Cranberry Lemon Bars. The season will undoubtedly be different, but it stubbornly refuses to be swept under the carpet.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Cranberry lemon squares adapted from the NY Times Genevieve Ko’s Cranberry Lemon Bars
I have slightly modified each component. The shortbread comes from Alice Medrich’s book Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, it has a little bit less butter which, shocking as it may seems, works better here I find. I have increased the quantity of lemon curd, which in the original seemed just barely enough to cover the whole surface. You can find the original recipe here.

Note about the pan size: The quantity fits a 34 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) pan, but any rectangular cake pans or loaf tins can be used — once the shortbread is pressed (as thinly as possible, about 1/2 cm or 1/4 inch thick), if it doesn’t cover the whole surface of the pan just create a ‘rim’ by folding the aluminium foil where the dough ends.

First, make the cranberry sauce

340g cranberries
150g sugar
150ml (2/3 cup) water
Zest from 2 lemons

Wash and pick through the cranberries to remove any soft or discoloured ones. In a medium saucepan, mix the cranberries, sugar, water, and lemon zest and bring to a boil. Cook over a medium flame for about 10 minutes, until the cranberries burst and take on the consistency of jam. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Now prepare the shortbread
(Note: this shortbread is different to the one in the original recipe)

250g butter (+ plus a small knob for buttering the pan)
100g sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt
310g flour

Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F) and position the rack in the lower third of the oven.

Melt all the butter and let it cool slightly.

Meanwhile, line a high rim 34 x 23cm (13 x 9 in) pan with aluminum foil and brush it generously with some of the melted butter, making sure to go up the sides.

In a medium bowl, mix the warm butter with the sugar, vanilla, and salt until the melted butter has been completely incorporated. Add the flour and mix just enough to combine into a smooth dough (it will be quite soft and oily).

Press the dough into the prepared pan to achieve a smooth, even layer as thin as possible, about 1/2 cm (1/4 inch) thick.

Bake for 16 to 18 minutes, until the sides barely start to turn golden.

Meanwhile, prepare the lemon layer

260g caster sugar
30g flour
Pinch of sea salt
4 eggs
200ml lemon juice (using the zested lemons plus 1 or 2 besides)
Icing sugar for dusting (optional)

In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Add the eggs and stir gently to combine without over-whisking. Finally, gently whisk in the lemon juice until smooth.

Let the shortbread cool for about 5 minutes and spread the cranberry sauce over it in an even layer. Carefully pour the lemon mixture over the cranberries. Return to the oven and bake for 18 to 20 minutes, until the top layer is set (it shouldn’t jiggle).

Let cool completely then place the tray in the refrigerator for at least two hours until cold and set. Slice into bite-size squares and, if desired, dust with icing sugar before serving.

Pear and almond cake with honey and cardamom

4 October 2020

October 4th. It’s been raining for days. Not a downpour, a steady mizzle. The occasional interruption a pause — a tease, to lure us outside — but never long enough to be safe from the next drizzle. Everything is steeped, the grass is shimmering.

Looking out, droplets dribbling down the window like sea spray, it feels like the earth may drown. We need a buoy. A book, a game, a film? A cake.

This recipe is a variation on one I found on the blog My Darling Lemon Thyme a few weeks ago while looking for a dairy-free pear cake (it happens to also be gluten-free). It’s an excellent recipe and I’ve used it a couple of times since for riffs and improvisations. This latest incarnation is worth writing down.

Almond and pear cake with honey and cardamom based on the Spiced Pear and Almond Cake from My Darling Lemon Thyme

4 eggs
120g (2/3 cup) soft brown sugar
Scraped seeds of one vanilla bean or a teaspoon vanilla extract
Zest from one lemon
80ml (1/3 cup) extra virgin olive oil
200g ground almonds
120g white spelt flour (or use 300g almonds and 45g rice flour)
1 tsp baking powder
2 tsps ground cardamom seeds
2 tsps ground ginger
Two generous pinches of salt
300g peeled and finely chopped pears (I had little pears and used 6 or 7 in total)
2 Tbsps runny honey
A handful of flaked (sliced) almonds
Icing sugar (optional) for dusting

Preheat oven to 180°C. Oil a cake tin and line it with parchment paper. [The quantity works for a 30 x 10cm loaf or 23cm round tin.]

Beat the eggs, sugar, and vanilla vigorously for 5 minutes.

Add the lemon zest and the olive oil gradually, beating to incorporate completely.

Add the ground almonds, sifted flour, baking powder, cardamom, one teaspoon of ginger, and the salt. Mix until just uniformly combined.

Peel, core, and cut the pears. Toss in a bowl with the honey and the other teaspoon of ginger.

Gently mix the pears into the batter, scrape the mix into the cake tin, and cover with the flaked almonds. Slide the cake into the oven and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Let cool in the tin for about 10 minutes before de-moulding. Serve warm or at room temperature.

The cake keeps for a few days (at room temperature for about 24 hours and then preferably in the fridge).

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) plain unsweetened yogurt
2 pots (200 ml) 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.


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