Posts Tagged ‘baking’

Elderflower and polenta cake from Lombardy

27 May 2022

In this very instant it’s the best cake in the world. It is a fairy godmother cake from another time. It belongs in an ancient garden, dappled, overgrown, heaving with ivy and tangled roses. It needs friends with whom to share it. Right now it’s just me in my urban fox-ravaged patch, with this cake. But when I close my eyes I am displaced.

There are many things I should rather be doing this morning than baking, or eating, a cake… but the elderflowers are in full bloom, the time will pass in an instant. So I walk over to the elderflower tree at the bottom of our road, nip a few overhanging flowers, and begin to bake.

I saw this cake just a few days ago on Stefano Arturi’s Instagram. Stefano is the author of the excellent blog Italian Home Cooking, and, as with all of his recipes, he explains the origin and stories behind this nearly forgotten, old-fashioned pàn de mèj (millet, originally). He describes it as ‘a dry cake, exquisitely perfumed, whose restrained elegance and goodness should be revived.’

I totally agree, and now is the time.

Elderflower and polenta cake recipe barely adapted from Stefano Arturi’s Italian Home Cooking

3 to 6 heads of elderflowers, depending on the size
150g white flour (I used spelt)
150g coarse polenta
1 tsp baking powder
Good pinch of salt
Grated zest from one lemon
120g sugar (I use golden caster sugar)
80g butter, melted and cooled
40g light olive oil
2 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 170C (330F). Line with parchment paper and butter a small (23cm / 9in) cake or pie tin.

Shake the elderflower heads to get rid of any small bugs.

Mix together the flour, polenta, baking powder, salt, lemon zest, and sugar.

Add the melted butter, olive oil, beaten eggs, and vanilla extract. Stir to combine.

Pick the flowers from the stems and chop them up a little. Combine 5 tablespoons of the flowers into the batter.

Scrape the batter into the cake tin.

In a small bowl, mix together 2 tablespoons of elderflowers with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Sprinkle over the cake.

Bake the cake for about 30 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Eat warm or at room temperature, traditionally with a pour of cold single cream, though it is delicious as is.

Almond & buckwheat pound cake with a flume of rhubarb

21 May 2022

Sometimes a bowl of rhubarb compote in the fridge inspires cake, and so the other day.

A quatre-quart — ‘four-quarters’ as the French call a pound cake — is often my basis for a quick cake improvisation; a ‘snacking cake’ — such a perfect denomination. The term was recently popularised by Yossy Arefi thanks to her book ‘Snacking Cakes: Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings,’ which she describes as ‘a single layer cake, probably square, covered with a simple icing—or nothing at all—and it must be truly easy to make.’ Though I don’t own the book, the term immediately imprinted itself. I now often think of a cake I’m about to make as a ‘snacking cake.’ This is the perfect example.

The basis is a simple pound cake — equal weights of eggs, butter, sugar, and flour. But I’ve lowered the sugar slightly, as usual, and divided the flour ratio into three (unequal) parts: white spelt, almond, and buckwheat. I’ve noticed buckwheat flour appear in recipes more and more often recently and its popularity is well deserved. It adds depth and is a great addition to many cakes. I started using it some years ago when I began spending most of my summers in Brittany, where buckwheat is the local flour. As it doesn’t keep for very long I often have an open packet that needs using. I find using little is often best.

Almond & buckwheat pound cake with a flume of rhubarb

250g unsalted butter, left out to become very soft
210g sugar
4 eggs
150g white spelt flour
30g buckwheat flour
70g almond flour
1 mounded tsp baking powder
Zest from one lemon
1 tsp salt
Rhubarb compote

Preheat the oven to 175C (350F). Line a 30 x 10cm (12 x 4 in) — or equivalent capacity — cake tin with parchment paper and butter the paper generously.

Beat the butter and sugar vigorously until very soft and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, and continue beating well. Stir in the flours, the baking powder, the lemon zest, and salt. The batter should ideally feel mousse-like.

Scoop half of the batter into the tin, then a generous layer of rhubarb compote, and finally the rest of the batter.

Place in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a knife or skewer comes out clean.

Wait for the cake to cool completely before cutting, if you can.

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
Dairy- and (optionally) gluten-free!

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).


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