A couple of weeks ago, I got a big, beautiful head of cauliflower in my CSA panier.
The accompanying literature indicated that the cauliflower came from Brittany (Bretagne, en français) which was odd, considering the CSA is called Les Paniers du Val de Loire, and all the participating farms are located in the Loire Valley. I’m looking at it as a bit of serendipity, though. I know it’s been hard to tell, but April is Bretagne month here at Croque-Camille. While Brittany is best known for its crèpes, kouign amann, and shellfish, my preliminary research indicates that modern Breton cuisine focuses on fresh local produce and the bounty of the sea. So lucky me, a fresh, local ingredient landed right on my doorstep, and all I had to do was figure out what to cook with it!
Fortunately, Mark Bittman had a suggestion for me, referenced in a glowing post about Parisian market-purchased cauliflower (I wonder where his came from originally?) – cauliflower pasta. It sounded easy, fast, and hence perfect for my cooking-for-one needs while Nick was in the States.
Looks a little bland, though, doesn’t it? Kinda tasted that way, too, even with whole wheat spaghetti and a hefty pinch of red pepper flakes. I think I can sum up the problem in two words: boiled cauliflower. We all know that boiling is not the way to coax intense flavor out of anything, except maybe a reduction. The good news is that I only used half the cauliflower, so I still had the other half to play around with.
What did I do with it? Well, it happens that another cauliflower recipe landed in my inbox via the newsletter from Le Haut du Panier, another CSA-type service available to Parisians. It was a recipe for cauliflower “cake,” cake being the word the French use for any muffin-like preparation. It was also one of the most vaguely written recipes I’ve ever seen, with one of the weirdest mixing methods.* It called for cauliflower, but didn’t say how much! I assumed one head. Then it said the cauliflower had to be cooked, but not how. I opted for roasting, since everything tastes better roasted.
The recipe also called for a sachet of levure. Again, I had to assume they meant levure chimique (baking powder) and not yeast, which is called levure, too. Once I had copied down the ingredients (and halved them, given my half head of cauliflower and half packet of levure chimique I found lurking int the cupboard), I combined them in a way that made sense to me. (I can do that, I’m a professional, you know.) I’ll admit, I still didn’t have high hopes.
But when it came out of the oven, it smelled pretty great. I cut a couple of thick slices and served them alongside a leafy green salad. And I went back for seconds. That is to say, it was surprisingly good. I felt a brief pang of regret when I opened the fridge to get out the vinaigrette and saw the tiny Tupperware of cooked lardons I had wanted to add to the batter, but when I took my first bite of the cauliflower cake, the missing bacon was regretted no more. As a bonus, it was Good Friday appropriate, so Nick and I finished it off together.
What the French call “cake,” many Americans would refer to as “bread,” or more specifically, “quick bread.” But the alliteration provided by “cake” is more euphonious, and I just can’t resist. (How often do I get to use words like that?) This recipe could easily be doubled for a bigger loaf pan, though it will have to be baked a bit longer. Now that the world of cruciferous cakes has been opened, I see no reason to stop there. Suggested variations include broccoli and cheddar, mixing in some cooked lardons, or toasting some cumin seeds along with the cauliflower. Let your imagination run wild!
½ head of cauliflower, broken into florets
50 ml/1¾ oz. olive oil, plus some for the cauliflower and some for the pan
75 g/ 2½ oz. all-purpose flour
50 g/1¾ oz. almond meal
½ sachet levure chimique/1½ tsp. baking powder**
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
60 ml/2 oz. milk
50 g/1¾ oz. Comté cheese, cubed (Gruyère or Emmenthal would work here, too)
- Preheat oven to 180 C/355 F. Oil a 22 x 10 x 6 cm loaf pan (8½ x 4 x 2½ in. or equivalent).
- Spread cauliflower florets on foil-lined baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Roast until edges are deeply, deliciously browned. Remove from oven, but leave the oven on.
- Meanwhile, combine flour, almond meal, baking powder, a generous pinch of salt and a few twists of pepper in a bowl. In another bowl, whisk olive oil and eggs until frothy.
- Using a rubber spatula, gently stir 1/3 of the flour mixture into the eggs. Add half the milk, then half the remaining flour, then the rest of the milk and finish with the flour. Stir gently between each addition. Fold in the roasted cauliflower and the cheese, then scrape the batter into the well-oiled loaf pan. The pan should be about half full.
- Bake 30-35 minutes, rotating once during baking time, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool a few minutes in the pan, then remove to a cutting board. (You may need to loosen the sides of the cake with a knife.) Serve warm with a green salad for a light meal, or as you might serve rolls or biscuits with a more substantial dinner.
Makes one loaf.
* For those interested, here is my direct translation of the original recipe:
Preheat the oven to 180 C. Butter a loaf pan. Mix 3 eggs, 150 g flour, and a sachet of levure. Gently heat 120 ml of milk with 100 ml of oil. Add the liquid to the egg mixture. Season. Add 100 g of hazelnut meal and 100 g of grated Comté-type cheese. Then incorporate the cauliflower (cooked and roughly chopped). Stir delicately. Bake about an hour.
** I have to give a shout-out to Clotilde, for solving my levure chimique-baking powder conversion dilemma. Thank you!
Originally published on Croque-Camille.