I am returning today from a three-week cooking hiatus. It started with my discovery of Hello Fresh, was exacerbated by Easter break and was neatly wrapped up by a 10-day visit to Austria where I happily scoffed down sausages and fries for many, many days. I accept that taking a long break from cooking isn’t a luxury every mother-of-three has but in my defence, I enter into evidence the fact that I frequently, and insanely, cook multiple items in a day so I think that in the end it balances. Most importantly I feel no guilt.
I wish I could say that I made really good use of my time off. I wish I could show you evidence that I churned out articles and that my creative juices flowed like a champagne pyramid but no, neither happened. I just kind of filled the days doing stuff. I knocked off things like booking travel for the rest of the year, decluttering the living room, catching up with friends in the US and having long text message exchanges with my dad. Also my father-in-law is in the hospital for a few weeks and so my husband has been away a lot. Solo parenting is surprisingly fun but definitely exhausting, mostly because I binge watch House of Cards in the evenings. (I should be supervised at all times.)
Eventually, as was bound to happen, I got to the end of Instagram, had no friends left to text and had even managed to ship a few boxes of Christmas gifts the US. I was really scraping the bottom of the admin barrel when I felt the tingle return. I had the unmistakable desire to get back in the kitchen. To look around, inventory ingredients and think about how to pull them together into something fabulous. The need to pour a steaming hot cup of coffee and sit with a stack of cookbooks turning their pages, touching their pictures and marveling at their creativity and photography. There was no denying it. The tingle was the kitchen calling me home.
My first project was an Everything Cake.
I think that having an Everything Cake in your repertoire is as important as knowing how to bake brownies, which is to say not life-supporting but definitely useful if you enjoy entertaining. The everything refers to the fact that you can serve it with everything, not that it has everything in it. Quite the opposite: 6 simple ingredients that you probably already have. This is not a birthday cake. Not a cake to be layered or frosted. This is a cake that can be served warm or cold, for lunch, brunch, tea or dinner. Serve it with a big glob of fresh whipped cream and sliced strawberries in the summer or a scoop of ice cream for kids. Serve it with fresh diced mango tossed with mint or serve it with a drizzle of spiced cranberry coulis with a dollop of creme fraiche in the fall. Really, anything goes. It is sophisticated and simple and, most importantly, really, really delicious.
The thing to get your head around, the first time you make it, is that the paste you make with the almond flour and egg yolks is pretty dense and a little hard to work with. If working with egg whites causes you angst, I would encourage you to read this entry from The Joy of Cooking website. It gives a good breakdown of terminology and process without being overly scientific and making your eyes pop out of your head.
After conquering the egg white / almond paste thing the only other warning I have is that cooking time and temperature should both be carefully observed. Because the cake is served fairly plain there is no covering mistakes with frosting or layers or fancy flowers. The end result should be a dense cake that is about the color of toasted almonds, lighter in the middle than the outside edge and just the slightest bit resistant when you touch the top to check it for doneness.
It only just dawned on me that the texture is similar to a slump cake – and while I don’t consider my 3-week cooking hiatus a “slump” the coincidence that this is what got me back into the kitchen is definitely not lost on me. Good things are happening now at the stove and in the oven and if only I could finish House of Cards…
- 3 eggs at room temperature - separated
- 175g (6oz) ground almonds
- 150g (5 1/2 oz) caster sugar (1 tablespoon set aside for egg whites)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- Zest and juice of one lemon
- Pinch of cinnamon
- Confectioner's sugar for dusting
- Preheat your oven to 180C / 360F. Grease the sides and bottom of a small, shallow cake tin about 7" in diameter. Line the bottom with a disc of parchment paper and grease that as well.
- Using a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment mix the egg whites at medium speed until they are foamy and holding soft peaks. Then, with the mixer running, add 1 tablespoon of the sugar and continue to whip until the whites are glossy with stiff peaks. Scoop out into a large bowl and set aside.
- Changing the mixer attachment from the whisk to the paddle (but don't worry about cleaning the bowl) add the egg yolks and the rest of the sugar and beat for 60 seconds until the yolks are pale and the sugar has partially dissolved. Add the vanilla, lemon zest, lemon juice and the ground almonds and blend for 2 minutes. It was be a thick paste at this point.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in a quarter of the egg whites in order to lighten the mixture. Then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Do not overmix, streaks of white are good.
- Pour into prepared cake tin and bake for 30 minutes. The cake is done when it is just barely firm to the touch and a bit darker on the outside of the cake than in the middle. A little gooey is okay. The finished cake should be the color of toasted almonds in the middle.
- Gently cover with foil for the last 10 minutes of baking if it is getting too brown too quickly.