Pantry Cake, with a Beautiful Ratio

12 03 2013

Who among us has opted not to cook or bake something because the ingredients aren’t at hand?  I am especially guilty of this, mainly because I wait until I want to eat something before I decide to cook.  Leave the apartment?  Go shopping?*  No, I want something to eat NOW.  On the up side, this forces me to be creative, and tests my understanding of the way ingredients work (science!) on a pretty regular basis.  Here’s an example from yesterday. I was catching up on my blog reading, and found this delightful post about olive oil cake from The Hungry Dog.

Olive oil cake is one of those things I’ve always wanted to try, and this recipe sounded pretty great.  Until I started looking at the ingredients, and making mental substitutions: “Let’s see, I don’t have blood oranges, but I do have a jar of sour cherries I should use, maybe I could substitute those. Oh, wait, you need the juice, too, and I think the syrup the cherries are in will be too sweet. It would be easy to go get some oranges, but wait, it’s Monday and the fruit stand on the corner is closed. Besides, it’s sleeting…”

So I started casting around for another olive oil cake recipe. My cookbook collection was surprisingly silent on the subject.  I found a couple more recipes online, but they wanted me to separate the eggs and whip the whites and fold them in and it all sounded like kind of a hassle. But it occurred to me at some point that the olive oil is simply playing the role of the fat in a regular cake recipe. And I started to wonder if I could make an olive oil pound cake (quatre quarts in French) with a straight up 1:1:1:1 ratio of eggs, sugar, oil, and flour.  So I preheated my oven to 180C, weighed my eggs and got to it.**

My three eggs weighed in at 200 grams, so I scaled out 200 grams each of granulated sugar, cake flour, and extra virgin olive oil (pretty good stuff, but not the very best) in separate containers, and I drained that jar of sour cherries, which gave me about 2 cups of fruit, weighing about 350 grams.  I wanted some insurance that the cake would rise, so I added a teaspoon of baking powder to the flour, along with 1/2 teaspoon of salt.  Eyeballing the ingredients on the counter, I guessed that this cake was going to fit best in my 10″ tube pan, so I oiled it and dusted it with flour.

Mise en place done, I started whipping the eggs in my second biggest bowl with my new hand mixer (I didn’t want to buy it, but now that I have it, I’m really glad I did), adding the sugar as I whipped.  I kept whipping the eggs and sugar until they lightened in color and  got thick and creamy looking.  (In some circles, we call this the “ribbon stage”, where drizzling the whipped eggs over themselves results in a thick ribbon that remains distinct for at least three seconds before melting back into the whole.) Whipping the whole time, I slowly drizzled in the olive oil and a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  I thought it looked like airy mayonnaise, which it basically was, and all of a sudden those cakes made with mayonnaise made more sense and sounded less disgusting.  Finally, I sifted the cake flour, baking powder, and salt together over the batter and folded them in with a rubber spatula until the batter was smooth.

I spread about half of this in the tube pan, sprinkled about two-thirds of the cherries over it, and topped with the remaining half of the batter and the rest of the cherries.  At this point, I thought it might be nice to put some pistachios on top for crunch and because they’re so good with cherries.  So I grabbed a handful of shelled pistachios and scattered them over the cake.  And a sprinkling of cassonade for added sparkle.  After 45 minutes in the oven, the cake was a lovely golden brown, springy to the touch, and a toothpick stuck in the center came out clean.  I let it cool a bit and dug in.

a sunny cake on a snowy day

The cherries had sunk to the bottom, as I feared they might, but the cake is still marvelous.  The crumb is velvety-fine and tender, with just a hint of crunch on top from the pistachios and cassonade.  The olive oil lends a subtle, earthy fruitiness, and the sour cherries offer bright bursts of juicy flavor.  It was as great for dessert as it was for breakfast, and makes a fine snack as well.  Interestingly, the flavors seemed to solidify overnight, so the olive oil notes are more pronounced the next day.

I’m kind of in love with this cake.  Only problem is, now I’m out of olive oil and sour cherries.  I suppose a trip to the store will be in order soon…

*In Paris, this can be a serious time commitment.  It’s rarely the case that you can just pop out really quick and grab that one ingredient you’re missing, because even though the shop downstairs always has the kind of flour you’re looking for, the one time you really need it fast, they’re out. So you walk to the next store, probably a few blocks away.  They don’t even carry what you need.  And it goes on like that, until you finally find the flour, but in the meantime you’ve thought of a bunch of other things you need, and then you call home to make sure you’re not forgetting anything, load up your shopping bag and lug it home.  By then any energy you had for cooking is sapped, so you scrap the whole idea and decide to try again tomorrow.

**I weighed the eggs first because they are the least flexible of the ingredients – I can weigh out any amount of flour, sugar, or olive oil I wish, but if I arbitrarily decide I want to use, say 150 grams of each, and then my eggs weigh 60 grams each, well, it’s not going to work so well.  Weighing the eggs first means I can just scale everything else to match their weight.

On this day in 2010: Wadja (A cool little bistro.)

Originally published on Croque-Camille.

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Clafoutis aux Cerises

16 06 2008

Hooray!  It\'s cherry season!

You may be wondering what I did with the rest of the cherries after only using a quarter pound in last week’s stone fruit tart.  Well, obviously some went to the noble cause of snacking (fruits are free snacks, as Nick is prone to saying).  But when I noticed that they were starting to go South I decided to make a cherry clafoutis.  This classic French dessert is often described as a thick, eggy pancake, but I’ve always considered it more of a custard.  The beauty of it, though, is in the simplicity.

Clafoutis batter

A batter of eggs, milk, sugar, flour, and almond meal is poured over fruit and baked.  Traditionally, the cherries aren’t even pitted, but seeing as I don’t care to break my teeth on my dessert, I chose to pit the cherries for my clafoutis, despite the fact that I don’t own a cherry pitter.  Let me tell you, halving and pitting 400 grams of cherries by hand is a messy undertaking.

Cherries for clafoutis

But that was the hardest part.

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The First Days of Stone Fruit

10 06 2008

Well, the stone fruits have finally arrived.  Not that I haven’t seen them in the market the past couple of weeks and been tempted, but they are finally affordable!  On Sunday we found some delicious cherries for 1.50 – 2 euros a kilo!  (Here’s how I do the math: 2/3 of the price per kilo in euros = price per pound in dollars.  It’s only approximate, but at least it gives me an idea.  In this case, we’re talking about $1.30/pound for cherries!)  On the way out of the market we stopped for some fruit – advertised as peaches, but with the smooth skin of nectarines – that was 3 euros for 2 kilos.  Whatever they were, they smelled great.  And at that price, we didn’t much care about the name of the fruit anyway.  They taste like peaches, so that’s what I’ll be calling them for the duration of this post.

So the obvious question as we amble home from the market is what to do with all this fruit?  Nick reminds me of a perennial favorite of ours in the summer months: rustic stone fruit tart.  That was easy.

Of course, when we get home and I jump onto cooksillustrated.com for my trusty recipe, they are having some kind of technical difficulties (as they often are).  So I piece together a basic pie dough recipe off the top of my head and hope the proportions are right. 

Rolling out the dough

As far as workability, the dough is great.  I roll it out, place it on a sheet pan, and dump the fruit on top, having already pitted, sliced, and sugared a pound of peaches (no peeling required) and a quarter pound of cherries.

So juicy!  So sexy!

Then it’s a simple matter of folding the edges of the dough up around the fruit.  I also use the leftover juice in the bottom of the fruit bowl to brush the top of the tart and sprinkle it generously with cassonade.  It bakes for about an hour and comes out looking just as beautiful as I remember it.

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