December 9, 2008
My oven and I are going through a rough patch and frankly, I don't think it can be fixed*.
You see, it has been behaving in the most erratic manner this fall, and if there's one thing a cook doesn't need, it's an unreliable oven, one that takes forrrreeeeevvver to preheat, turns itself off mid-baking, refuses to turn itself back on, or burns the food that's placed too far out in the back. Oh, and I almost forgot the best part: mine is also an oven that chooses to not demonstrate any of the above symptoms when the Oven Doctor comes to examine it. Mischievous, no?
Considering the tears of frustration that have been shed because of this -- about a fourth of a cup -- it seems heroic, or perhaps foolhardy, to attempt to bake anything for company. But Maxence's grandparents were coming for tea that Sunday, both had just had their birthdays, and I couldn't get my mind off Lilo's flourless poppy seed loaf cake**, so I decided to brave my oven's capricious temperament.
Maxence did, however, go out to buy an assortment of macarons so we wouldn't find ourselves unprepared, should disaster strike.
I scaled Lilo's recipe down to use the four eggs I had, and modified it to use part butter, part almond butter, and a little less sugar. I also flavored the cake with the zest of an orange (instead of vanilla) and omitted the baking powder, which didn't seem altogether necessary (the whipped egg whites provide sufficient volume). Finally, I baked it in the heart-shaped pan my grandmother once gave to me, and because the tip of the heart got a little too dark (see what I have to put up with?), I whipped up a simple orange glaze to use as a concealer (it didn't quite set the way it should have because I didn't have time to let the cake cool properly).
To my relief, my oven behaved in a relatively cooperative way (only shutting down once or twice during the baking) and we were able to enjoy this marvelously aromatic cake, fine-crumbed and moist, its every bite sparking an explosion of poppy seeds beneath our teeth.
I feel compelled to add this one caveat, especially if you're considering this for an office party or some such awkward occasion: when you're done eating your slice, you may want to excuse yourself and check your smile in the nearest mirror. Poppy seeds are sneaky that way.
* Having just received an estimate of what it would cost to fix what needs fixing, and found out that it is -- surprise, surprise! -- almost the price of the oven, I think I'm going to have to redraft my letter to Santa.
** Note that the French use the English word un cake for a cake that's baked in a loaf pan; a regular round cake is un gâteau.
Last week's saffron roasted cauliflower was included in Bon Appétit's holiday slideshow, which features many more inspiring recipes by fellow bloggers. I myself have earmarked Sarah's rosemary nuts, Ilva's herb cannelloni and Nick and Blake's coffee cake.
Flourless Poppy Seed Cake
For the cake:
- 60 grams (1/4 cup) butter, softened
- 60 grams (1/4 cup) whole almond butter (or other smooth nut butter)
- 125 grams (1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons) light brown raw cane sugar
- the zest of an organic orange, finely grated
- 4 eggs, separated
- 100 grams (1 cup) ground almonds (a.k.a. almond meal)
- 160 grams (1 cup + 2 tablespoons) poppy seeds
- a good pinch of salt
For the orange glaze (optional):
- 30 grams (1/4 cup) confectioner's sugar
- about 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F) and grease a 20-cm (8-inch in diameter and 2-inch-deep) round cake pan. (Alternatively, you can bake the batter in paper-lined muffin molds; the recipe will yield 10 regular muffins.)
In the bowl of a mixer, combine the butter, almond butter, 100 grams (1/2 cup) sugar, and the orange zest. Cream together for 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and mix until fluffy.
Combine the ground almonds and poppy seeds in a medium bowl. Set aside*.
In a clean, grease-free bowl, place the egg whites and salt. Using an electric whisk, beat until the egg whites are fluffy. Add the remaining 25 grams (2 tablespoons) of sugar, and keep beating until the egg whites form a smooth and glossy mass.
Working with a light hand, add one third of the egg whites to the first mixture. Fold in half of the poppy seed mixture. Add another third of the egg whites, folding it in gently with a spatula. Fold in the remaining poppy seed mixture, and add the last of the egg whites, working very gently to keep as much air as possible in the egg whites, until the egg whites are completely incorporated. Don't worry if the mixture is a little lumpy.
Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes (20 minutes for muffins), until puffy and lightly brown. Turn the oven off and leave the cake inside to set for another 10 minutes.
Transfer to a cooling rack, let cool for 10 more minutes. Run a knife around the cake to loosen, unmold, and let cool completely before glazing, if possible.
If you choose to glaze the cake, put the confectioner's sugar in a small bowl, pour in a teaspoon of orange juice, and whisk it in with a fork to form a smooth paste. Whisk in a little more orange juice, drop by drop, until the mixture is thin enough to be easily spreadable, but not yet runny. Pour the glaze on the cake and let it set somewhere cool.
* Lilo's recipe has you mix the almond meal and poppy seeds for 5 minutes at this point, but I didn't feel like dirtying another piece of equipment so I didn't. If you choose not to skip this step, she recommends you place the poppy seeds in the freezer for 2 hours before you begin the recipe, to prevent them from turning to oil in the mixing.
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