Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Cake by Any Other Name

Mix flour, eggs, sugar, and vanilla with a few other things, pour the batter into a pan, bake it, and you'll have a cake.   There are so many options:   chocolate, vanilla, lemon, coconut...I can change the taste with different flours, I can change the texture by adding nuts or bits of fruit.  All these mixes will come out of the oven and they will still be cake.  But sometimes the final result seems so special, so different, that I feel a need to call it by the French word: un gâteau. It helps when the recipe comes from the book, 'On Rue Tatin:  Living and Cooking in a French Town' by Susan Loomis.

It also helps you use an ingredient that might turn people off by the mere mention of its name, but call it by the new incarnation (thank you, marketing and PR), soak it in a little brandy and amaretto and the cake becomes worldly and continental.  Prunes...or as they're called now, dried plums.  I know, I know...prunes remind you of your grandparents, say, about 20 years ago.  It was old people food...like having a bowl of bran every morning.  But these same prunes, sorry, dried plums, make a spectacular cake.  This is the kind of cake that makes me want to bring out the nice china and have tea and cake, sitting at a table in a gazebo, surrounded by blossoming magnolia and jacaranda trees.

At the same time, I don't see it as a fussy cake.   The fussiest thing you have to do is melt butter and let it cool before adding it to your batter.  There's no buttercream to whip up, no layers to build...just bake in a loaf pan and dust it with confectioners' sugar.  Less time fussing with a cake and more time to sip tea under the trees.

Brandy Soaked Prunes and Almond Yogurt Cake
(Adapted from the Gateau Au Yaourt recipe by Susan Herrmann Loomis 'On Rue Tatin')

1 cup pitted prunes, chopped
1/2 cup roasted almonds, chopped
2 tbsp brandy
1 tbsp amaretto liqueur
1 ½  cups all purpose flour
¾ tsp baking powder
Pinch of sea salt
3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
½ cup plain yogurt 
1 tsp almond extract
6 tbsp unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Confectioners’ sugar, optional

In a small bowl, add the prunes, almonds, brandy, and amaretto.  Mix well and let sit for 30 minutes to an hour to let the flavours mingle.

Line a loaf pan with parchment, allowing a couple of inches to hang over the edges and butter lightly.  Pre-heat over to 375 degrees.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl or on a piece of parchment.  

In a small pan, melt the butter and let cool.  Whisk together the eggs and sugar in a large bowl until light and pale yellow.  Gradually add the flour, whisking thoroughly to incorporate into the eggs and sugar.  Fold in the yogurt, almond extract, and the cooled butter.  

Add the prunes and almonds (with the liquor) and mix until well-combined.  Pour batter into loaf pan and bake until a toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 50-60 minutes.  Allow to cool for 15 minutes on cooling rack in pan before removing from pan.  Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar. 

Notes:  I used non-fat Greek yogurt and think you'll be fine using whatever yogurt you have on hand.  The loaf pan I used measures 9.5 x 3 inches.  Watch your baking time with a smaller loaf pan, as you'll probably need less time.  You can also bake this cake in a round 9-inch cake pan, in which case your baking time will be around 35-40 minutes.  

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