Tag Archives: cake

Sabbiosa, a cake from Lombarby

Sabbiosa cake

It’s taken me a long time to make this cake from Lombardy in northern Italy, whose name roughly means “sandy” – perhaps a reference to both its colour and its texture. I first saved a page out of the Independent newspaper back in 1999, with a recipe from Simon Hopkinson. He explained how he’d first eaten sabbiosa in 1984 but when he’d first tried to make it there had been some confusion about the type of flour used.

Via an erroneous translation, he laboured under the impression that the flour was corn starch, or what we know in British English as cornflour. Instead, however, it’s a potato flour. In Italian this is fecola di patate, which is translated on Wordreference as both “potato starch” and “cornstarch”. Given that patate is potato, it’s clearly not corn (ie maize) starch – which in Italian is amido di mais.

Adding to the confusion, Hopkinson gives his ingredient as “potato flour” – which some sources, such as this site, say is an entirely different ingredient to potato starch. There’s some logic to this, but Italian sources tend to just refer use fecola as a synonym for farina di patate, potato flour. Italian Wikipedia saysLa fecola di patate is a flour obtained from the dehydration and subsequent grinding of potato.”

Potato or wheat?
Furthermore, a lot of the Italian recipes I’ve seen for sabbiosa are simply made with wheat flour. I’ve had Hopkinson’s version filed for 17 years, so I wanted to stick with potato. I’m not going gluten-free or anything, heaven forefend, gluten is such a marvellous, useful protein* when treated right. But during a visit to Roma last week, I saw some fecola di patate in the shop at the Città dell’Altra Economia, which forms part of the Ex-Mattatoio, the handsome, sadly neglected 19th century former slaughterhouse, so I had to get it. In UK health food shops, the equivalent does seem to be called simply potato starch.

The other distinctive Italian ingredient I’ve used here is Lievito Pane degli Angeli (“Bread of the Angels leaven”!). This is just a brand of baking powder – a chemical blend of difosfato disodico (disodium diphosphate) and carbonato acido di sodio (sodium bicarbonate), much the same as my UK baking powder. Though the degli Angeli brand has a punch of aromi – flavourings. Rachel, who we saw last week, loves this stuff, and was enthusing about its miraculous qualities, but I find the aromi a bit pungently vanilla, and I’m suspicious whether it’s even real vanilla or some synthetic flavouring. Either way, if you’re using non-flavoured raising agent, you can add say a teaspoon or two (to taste) of real vanilla extract if you like.

The cake recipe also contains booze, which is similarly optional. Also optional is a mascarpone crema, made with raw eggs, much like that used in many tiramisu recipes. If you’re scared of raw egg, serve with cream, custard or even crème fraîche. Or nothing, for a weary nod towards tedious New Year dietary abstention.

The recipe

Ingredients for sabbiosa

400g unsalted butter, softened
400g caster sugar
400g potato starch, aka potato flour, aka fecola di patate
10g baking powder
Pinch salt
4 large eggs, beaten, about 225g
35g brandy (optional)

Ingredients for sabbiosa

1. Preheat the oven to 180C.
2. Grease and line the base of a 25cm tin.
3. Beat together the butter and sugar until light and very fluffy.
4. Combine the beaten egg with the brandy (if using).
5. Beat the egg into the creamed mixture, adding a little of the potato starch if it starts to curdle.
6. When the egg is all combined with the creamed mixture, sieve in the potato starch and baking powder, and add the pinch of salt.

Making sabbiosa with potato starch
7. Fold the fecola through the batter until well combined.
8. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.
9. Put in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes then, carefully, check the cake to see if the top is browning. If it is, cover with foil, then return to the oven.
10. Continue baking for until a skewer comes out clean, for another half hour or thereabouts.

Sabbiosa - leave to cool in the tin
11. Leave to cool in the tin then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.
12. Prepare the accompanying cream.

Mascarpone cream (crema di mascarpone):

2 eggs
250g mascarpone
70g caster sugar
20g rum or brandy, to taste (optional. Either leave our use some other booze. I used some bourbon as it smelled like it’d be nice… and it was!)

1. Separate the eggs.
2. Beat the yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy.
3. Beat in the mascarpone and booze (if using)
4. In another bowl, whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks.
5. Fold in the egg whites until you have a smooth mixture.

Dust the cake with icing sugar and serve slices with a good pour of the crema. Muse about the potatoes. Ignore new year diets.Sabbiosa with mascarpone crema

 

* Or more accurately, combination of proteins: gliadin and glutenin.

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Wholemeal honey cake

Wholemeal honey cake

I love cakes made with ground almonds. And I love cakes with sweet syrups poured over them after baking. So this cake is a result – it has both.

It’s from a recipe by Gill Meller, now group head chef of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage operation. As with my last syrupy cake, revani, it’s a recipe I got from the paper several years ago. It’s one I strongly associate with my parents’ place in northwest Devon, as the original newspaper cutting lives in a file there, along with some notes about what’s not quite right with it. Notably, the version as it appeared in the Guardian had too much butter in it, which seriously leaked out on baking. The version on the River Cottage site reduces the butter and increases the oven temperatures. For our family version, we reduce the butter even more.

The original also uses self-raising wholemeal flour – something that’s not especially common, so you can replace it with plain wholemeal flour and a bit more raising agent. But watch it with the baking powder. See notes below. More specifically I use a low protein (less than 10%) wholemeal flour, as opposed to a higher-protein bread-making wholemeal flour (12% plus). It would work with bread flour, but might be slightly heftier. As it is, it’s surprisingly soft for something so brown and branny.

Plain wholemeal flour

Not gluten free… but it could be
On the flour note, anyone who reads my blog will know I don’t generally have problems with modern common wheat (Triticum aestivum) and gluten. I prefer locally grown and/or stoneground where possible, and I find that as long as I don’t eat industrially made wheat products – specifically that paragon of bad modern food, white sliced – I’m fine.  For those of you who like, or have to, avoid modern wheat, I suspect this cake could work pretty well with either older wheat such as spelt (Triticum spelta), which has less starchy endorsperm and less gluten.

It may even work with alternatives to grass/cereal flours (wheat, rye, barley, oats etc), such as pseudocereal buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). I’ve put the latter on my shopping list as it’s a foodstuff I enjoy for its own merits and want to try for this cake. Half-buckwheat, half-ground almonds sounds pretty good to me.

Wholemeal honey cake ingredients

250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
150g ground almonds
150g self-raising wholemeal flour*
2g baking powder [this is about a 1/3rd of tsp and has been a problematic aspect of this recipe, see below]
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
Pinch fine sea salt
40g flaked almonds
100g honey

1. Preheat the oven to 170C.
2. Grease a 23cm (9″) diameter springform cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in the egg, a little at a time.
5. Beat in the ground almonds.

Bran

6. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon, add a pinch of salt, then fold this in too. Sieving lightens and combines, but also removes the bran. The bran is good, rich in dietary fibre, protein, B vitamins and various minerals (including iron) – so chuck it into the mix too!
7. Put the mixture in the tin, scatter the 40g flaked almonds over the top. Place on a baking sheet (it may still leak some butter) then bake for about 1 hour, until a knife or skewer comes out clean. As long as the top’s not charring, it’s better to overbake this cake than underbake it. It’ll be more stable and the almonds and honey will keep it moist.
8. Warm the honey in a saucepan. I weigh mine straight into a pan, to avoid any sticky complications. Plus, if you only have set honey, heating it will make it runny, and if you’re using runny honey, it’ll make it runnier, so it’ll seep through the sponge better. While the cake’s hot, drizzle over the honey.
9. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm with cream, ideally clotted, for a pudding or at room temperature at teatime.

Wholemeal honey cake

Excuses excuses
I’m not going to deny I got some sinkage in the middle on the cake photographed here. It doesn’t affect the taste of course, but in terms of aesthetics, and perfectionism, it’s annoying. That said, if you look at F-W’s version on that Guardian page, it’s sunk in the middle too, so I’m in good company.

Potential causes of cakes sinking in the middle are:
1. Too much raising agent. It can cause cakes to over-rise then collapse.
2. Not baked quite long enough. However, if the cakes is pulling away from the edges of the tin and a skewer comes out clean, it generally means it’s done.
3. Overbeating the mixture.
4. Wholemeal flour is trickier than white flour. With all that (lovely, nutritious) bran and whatnot, it doesn’t lend itself to retaining a nice delicate structure.

I’m going with option 4, with a bit of option 1 on the side, for today’s excuses. I’ve made this cake again since this entry, and reduced the baking powder again and had much better results.

 

* Or 145g wholemeal flour with, total, 5g 0r 1 tsp baking powder.

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Justin Gellatly almond cake

Gellatly almond cake slice

This is my first recipe from the book Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding by Justin Gellatly, formerly of St John now of Bread Ahead bakery, London. It’s a book I needed on my shelf, really, given the overlap with my area of interest – and the name of this blog. So thanks Rachel for the gift.

Gellatly lists this as Swiss almond cake, but I can’t quite bring myself to do that. Thing is, I’m sure this is a version of toscakaka – a Swedish almond cake (here’s a version on Poires au Chocolat). Either way, it’s delicious. A huge, almondy beast with an absurdly rich, crunchy, buttery almond topping. As with the classic toscakaka, you partially bake the batter, then add the topping, then continue baking.

Topping mix
200g butter
200g caster sugar
4 tbsp milk (full fat)
40g plain flour
50g ground almonds
200g flaked almonds

Cake mix
200g unsalted butter
260g caster sugar
400g plain flour (I use Stoate & Sons stoneground, which isn’t that pale bleached colour of more mainstream flours)
1 tsp baking powder
100g double cream
1 1/2 tsp almond extract or essence*

1. Grease and line the base and sides of a 26cm springform cake tin.
2. Preheat the oven to 160C.
3. Make the topping mix by gently heating together the butter and sugar in a saucepan. When melted, add the milk, flour, ground almonds and flaked almonds and stir to combine. Put aside.
4. Make the cake batter, starting with melting the butter.
5. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and caster sugar until the colour lightens and the mix is airy. (I reduced the sugar from 300g to 260g and it was still very sweet!)
6. Beat in the melted butter, then the cream and essence (or extract!).
7. Sieve together the flour and baking powder then fold this into the batter.
8. Pour the batter into the cake tin, then bake for 25 minutes.
9. Carefully take the cake out of the oven, and gently spread the topping on.
10. Increase the heat of the oven to 180C then put the cake back in and bake for another 40 or so minutes. It’s tricky to judge when this cake is done, as the skewer may come out of the cake itself clean, but the topping will still be smeary. You want the topping itself to be browned nicely.
11. Cool in the tin for 20 minutes then remove and either serve warm with cream or whatever you fancy, or allow it to cool completely.

Gellatly almond cake

Oh, and you might want to invite friends over to help you as it is substantial. The best bit is the edge of the topping where it’s caramellized against the tin. Good stuff, thank you Mr Gellalty.

Gellatly almond cake side

* I’m not going to try and explain the difference here, just use what you have – preferably a natural not synthetic product)

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Gooseberry and thyme cake

Slice of gooseberry thyme cake

We’ve not had a kitchen for just over a week now. We’re having building work done on our house, and although the original plan was to only remove the kitchen half-way through the three-month schedule, on the first day the builder turned to me and said it’d be better if they did it straight away. Immediately. Post-haste. Subito. Or at least the day after.

So I baked my final cake and final two loaves of bread, then set about removing the units. It was a hideous kitchen, and far from practical, but not having a kitchen at all is, to say the least, even less practical. Only so much baking I can do with a kettle and a microwave. Indeed, I never really use microwaves for anything other than softening butter for making cakes, so I don’t know what else you can do with them. Apparently you can “bake” in a microwave, but I can’t really imagine how. Not in a metal cake tin – unless I actively want to add exploded microwave to the chaos.

Just before the demolition started, I was moving some shrubs from the area where we were building. One of these was a much-neglected gooseberry bush, which, despite being basically in the shade, had managed to produce a fair crop, just shy of a kilo. So that final cake had to involve gooseberries.

Now, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the “spiny grape”, as it’s called in Italian (uva spina). I used to eat them when I was a kid in the 1970s and early 1980s, but I have a feeling they’re slightly out of fashion these days. Despite how popular “retro” and “vintage” may be, I don’t hear people talking excitedly about gooseberry fools, an old-fashioned British summer recipe.

I can suffer a fool, gladly, but rather than just defaulting to using the gooseberries to make one, I wanted to try a cake. I found some good recipes from both Nigel Slater and Diana Henry, two cookery writers who are proponents of great British produce. Henry had one featuring thyme, which intrigued me. Even though I don’t have lemon thyme as her recipe suggests, my own herbs have been doing very well in this year’s shockingly pleasant south of England summer, so I used some good old Thymus vulgaris, common thyme. (Though I think my variety is the French, narrow-leaf, not the English.)

Herbs

Henry’s original recipe can be found here on the Torygraph site. I’ve tweaked it a bit.

The fruit:
350g gooseberries
60g caster sugar

For the cake:
125g butter
120g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp thyme leaves, chopped (ideally lemon thyme)
1 lemon
100g plain flour, sifted with
1t baking powder
75g ground almonds

For the syrup:
50g granulated sugar
2 large lemons, juiced [I used 1 lemon, 1 orange], about 100g juice
2 small sprigs of thyme

Top & tail

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Grease and base-line a 20cm spring-form cake tin.
3. Top and tail the gooseberries then toss with 60g of caster sugar and leave them to macerate slightly.
4. Beat the butter and 120g caster sugar until pale and fluffy.

Creaming
5. Add the egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If it curdles at all, add a little flour.
6. Finely grate the zest of the lemon. I also used some orange zest. Just cos. Finely chop the zests together with the thyme to free up all those lovely essential oils.

Zest and thyme chopped together
7. Add the zest and herbs to the batter and combine.
8. Sieve in the flour and baking powder, then fold to combine, along with the ground almonds.
9. Spoon, pour and scrape the mixture into the tin.
10. Spread the gooseberries over the top of the mixture.

Add fruit
11. Bake for 45 minutes and test with a skewer.

Baked
12. While the cake is still warm, make the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the lemon juice, with the thyme.
13. Pierce the cake with a skewer then pour over the syrup, removing the sprigs of thyme.
14. Leave to cool then serve. You can just with icing sugar, and serve with crème fraîche, cream or ice cream.

Henry also has another one here, with flaked almonds. I think that could be nicer as the crunch of the almonds would contrast with the eyebally squish of the cooked fruit. Next year perhaps. Or perhaps Slater’s recipe, which involves a kind of crumble. Or perhaps I’ll just revisit the fool.

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A British Captain America tea party

Spread, lit candle

Our young nephew Ellis turned five on Monday. He’s a little bit obsessed with superheroes, particularly Captain America. He spends a lot of time in a Captain America outfit. He must be the only Captain America with an English (/slightly Welsh/slightly midwestern) accent.

Although I’m really not a cake decorator, and I really really really don’t like artificial food colourings, I couldn’t say no when sister-in-law Sharon said we had to make Ellis a Captain America birthday cake. Especially as I’m a big comics geek.

Captain America sugar paste figure

This involved a late-night session making one of those cake-dec bobble head figures. It was a collaborative effort: I did the head and some trimmings, Sharon the body, Fran the shield. We were all quite pleased with it. Partly as it was fun to do, but partly as our Captain America is amusingly portly, like he’s retired and taken to the beer. Even his belt and the stripey part of his costume looked more like a girdle or corset. Oh, and we’d had a little booze too: the girls on local Missouri wine from Pirtle in the historic town of Weston, me on beer from Boulevard Brewing Co in Kansas City (which is also in Missouri, mostly).

Really enjoying their bottle-conditioned beers. (I’m drinking one now too.) Like the sound of the brewery too. “Boulevard’s mission is simple: to produce fresh, flavorful [sic] beers using the finest traditional ingredients and the best of both old and new brewing techniques.” That’s what I like to hear.

Slightly bemused that US beers seem to have to carry the government health warning but don’t have to include the ABV on the bottle though.

We’ve tried Boulevard’s Unfiltered Wheat Beer, which is 4.4% according to the site, and surprisingly mellow for a wheat beer. Apparently it’s also the “best-selling craft beer in the Midwest.” Their 5.5% Pale Ale, meanwhile, is also pretty mellow, but with a really well balanced hoppy tang and caramel maltiness. As for what I’m drinking now – not sure. The brother-in-law said the label came off after a session in the chilly bin/eski/cooler/cool box (delete according to nationality) and he can’t remember; and I can’t find it on the brewery site.

Covering cake

Anyway.

The cake. Although I can’t really eat coloured sugar paste, I made a nice chocolate cake underneath. I used one of my favourite recipes. It’s originally based on a cardamom cake by Mollie Katzen of Moosewood, but it’s such a great recipe it can be varied according to inclination and occasion. Here’s a metric version of the original US recipe on Cake-off, a site I used to do with my friend Jo. The chocolate version I did left out the nut mix, and replaced about 50g of the flour with cocoa. I also added some finely chopped dark chocolate. It’s such a good cake: dense but moist.

Ellis Capt America

For the party we also did some pizza. This was an interesting challenge, as was making a loaf of bread later on. Like when I first moved to Italy, I find myself in a country where the types of flour, and their packaging, are entirely unfamiliar. And here a lot of the flour is made with GM grain. At least a badge that indicates the non-GMO options seems to be a legal requirement.

Heidi pizza

A lot of the flour, sadly, is also bleached, and packed with gratuitous additives. Still, there’s also some organic available – even in the dreaded Walmart, that poster child for the problems of the industrialised food chain and a place I visited for the first time this week.

Perhaps more problematic in practical, rather than ethical, terms, however, was the way the packages labelled protein content – there was no percentage. So I really couldn’t get a great sense of what was a high protein bread flour. Still, Fran did a sterling job of making pizza dough… until we baked it and managed to totally burn the bottom of one. Our oven in Rome similarly had very fierce bottom heat, but Sharon was possibly even worse; never mind any confusion from being faced with ye olde daffy Fahrenheit after years of using nice sane Celsius.

Still, it all went off well. The cake was a hit with Ellis and the kids; the (unburnt) pizza was avidly consumed, with several of the other ex-pats here being very appreciative of a freshly baked bread product; and me and Sharon even managed to make a decent wholewheat tin loaf too.

Oh cripes. Another rambly post. I’m sorry. I’m not sure I’ll get any structure or succinctness back into this site until I’m settled back in England at the end of the year…

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Mocha ricotta marble cake

Marble cake 2 slices

I don’t drink coffee. There, I said it. I live in Italy, but I don’t like the national drink/quotidian drug. It’s a slight problem for me, as really, the caffè (café) is all about the caffè (coffee), right down to sharing the same word. Having said that, I don’t mind a little bit of coffee flavoured cake-action. I think it’s a fond memory of my grandmother’s coffee-walnut cakes, which I’d happily eat as a small child, while never actually developing a taste for the actual drink.

Oddly, though, I do like really bitter ch ocolate, and other bitter flavours. People have told me this is silly, as the bitterness of a serious dark chocolate is not unlike the bitterness of a good coffee. (My favourite chocolate at the moment is 73 percent cacao with cacao bean nibs.) Although I realise I miss out on a major factor in the Italian socio-cultural dynamic, in many ways it’s good I never developed a taste for it: I’m a fairly twitchy person and a bad sleeper at the best of times. A caffeine habit wouldn’t help.

Anyway. One of my Christmas presents was Short & Sweet, a collection of baking recipes by Dan Lepard, some of which from his ever-reliable column in The Guardian. I had some butter than was threatening to go rancid, so I had to bake something, subito! (Which is Italian for “immediately”, even though in English we use the Italian word pronto – meaning “ready” – to mean “immediately”. How did that switcheroo happen?) It was unsalted, and I suspect they hadn’t washed the buttermilk off the fat sufficiently well.

uniced 2

Browsing the book, I found his Coffee and ricotta marble cake. There’s something eminently satisfying about the mottled crumb of a marble cake, plus coffee and ricotta are quintessentially Italian. We have some wonderful fresh ricotta available to us here. At the farmers’ market in the Ex-Mattatoio in Testaccio (open 9am to early evening Sat, 9am to around 2pm Sun), you can get sheep, cow or goat milk ricotta. Possibly even buffalo ricotta, as you can get buffalo mozzarella (bufala) – the best type, ahead of cow’s milk mozzarella, which is distinguished by being called fiore di latte, “milk flower”.

Dan L’s recipe divides the mixture, and mixes one with strong coffee, the other with marsala or rum. Given my attitude to coffee, I wasn’t entirely convinced by this, especially as I didn’t think it’d make the sponge distinctly dark enough, so I made a coffee/cocoa mix instead. Hence it’s a mocha ricotta marble cake. Which, frankly, has a lovely ring to it too. I knocked back the sugar in his recipe too as quite so much didn’t seem necessary.

Recipe
10g ground coffee
10g cocoa powder
25g boiling water
125g unsalted butter
175g caster sugar
200g plain flour
150g ricotta
3 medium eggs (about 50g each)
2 teaspoons baking powder
25g marsala or rum

1. Preheat the oven 180C.
2. Grease and line a deep loaf time, around 18cm long.
3. Pour the boiling water onto the coffee and cocoa powder.
4. Cream together the sugar and butter.
5. Add about 50g of the flour to the sugar and butter mixture and beat in.
6. Sieve together the remaining 150g flour with the baking powder.
7. Beat the ricotta into the sugar and butter mixture.
8. Beat in the eggs, one at a time.
9. Gently beat the remaining flour/BP into the mix.
10. Divide the mixture in two. You don’t have to weigh it unless you’re especially pedantic.
11. Mix the mocha liquid into one half, the marsala into the other.
12. Put alternating spoonfuls of the mixtures in the tin, smooth down the surface with wet knuckles, and run a skewer or spoon handle through the mixtures to create some marbling. .
13. Bake for around 50 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean.
14. Cool in the tin for around 20 minutes, then remove and cool on a rack.

To serve
You can serve it dusted with icing sugar or drizzled with a smooth basic water icing made with around 50g icing sugar and cold water. Add the water in tiny amounts and blend until you have a slightly runny consistency.

I did my icing  with a small paper piping bag. They’re nifty little items. This video shows you how to make them, but I would say divide the initial triangle into two smaller triangles as you only need a small bag for such a small amount of icing. Also, for small bags (I’m talking about the length of a finger), you don’t need a nozzle either, just snip the very end off to make a whole of around 2mm and it’ll be perfect for drizzling.

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