Orange Semolina Cake

All over the Middle East you will find recipes for semolina cakes. This Orange Semolina Cake is exceptionally moist and the perfect end to a well-spiced meal. The recipe is from Paul Hollywood’s visit to Nicosia,Cyprus on his show City Bakes. As with most semolina cakes, this one is soaked with a delicious sugar syrup. But unlike other semolina cakes that I have eaten, the ingredients call for mastic.

My only familiarity with mastic is as chewing gum, so I was skeptical at first. But I have come to trust Paul Hollywood. He has the joie de vivre and puckishness of Julia Child and is fastidious in his baking. So if he said to use mastic…. Apparently, it is not uncommon in Greek and Cypriot cooking. Also known as the “Tears of Chios,” which sounds much more poetic than “gum,” it is a tree resin with a unique, refreshing flavor. While I am willing to adapt recipes to my own tastes and preferences, when I can, I try respecting the traditions and cultures that I am mimicking as long as they don’t conflict with mine. This Cypriot Shamali cake (known as Basbousa in other parts of the Middle East) is an example.

If you don’t wish to purchase mastic (mine came from Amazon) the cake should still be delicious without it, although you might want to increase the amount of orange zest. The flavor of the mastic was quite subtle and not like anything I could easily identify. It was definitely there, however, and quite nice. And since travel seems unlikely anytime in the near future, I was willing to spring for this (for me) unusual ingredient. As an armchair traveler, it seemed a relatively cheap investment.

Because semolina cakes are soaked in syrup, they hold up well and are even better the next day when everything has melded. You need to pour the syrup over the cake while the cake is hot from the oven. This will help the cake absorb all of the delicious orange-scented syrup. And you don’t want to miss a drop. It will seem like an enormous amount of syrup, but don’t get scared off. The cake will absorb all of it. And surprisingly, for all of the sugar, the cake is not extremely sweet.

The measurements are as I found them. I own a small, relatively inexpensive kitchen scale and have learned that conversions from weight to measures is not always accurate. No matter how you pack your measuring cup, however, 200 grams will always be 200 grams.

This cake is lovely and easy to make. Try it soon. You won’t be disappointed.

For other delicious semolina cake recipes:

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Recipe

Yield: 8 very generous servings

Ingredients

For the cake

190g caster (granulated) sugar

400g semolina flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp mastic, crushed to a powder

Zest of a large orange (I used a navel)

170g natural yoghurt

2 medium eggs (I used large eggs and it was fine)

120ml sunflower or Canola oil

For the syrup

250g caster (granulated) sugar

300ml water

Juice of an orange

Garnish

25g chopped raw pistachio nuts

Directions

1. Line the base of a 20 cm. spring form cake tin (I used an 8-inch spring form tin which is just slightly larger) with baking parchment. There is no need to grease the tin.

2. Heat your oven to 190°C/Gas Mark 5. (375 degrees F.) Place all the cake ingredients into a mixing bowl and beat with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth thick mixture. You could use a mixer if you like. Transfer the batter into the prepared tin, smooth the top to level. Bake for about 40 minutes until the cake is risen and when a skewer is inserted it comes out clean.

3. To make the syrup heat the sugar, water and orange juice. Bring to the boil then lower the heat and simmer for 3 minutes.

4. Remove the cake from the oven and place on a cooling rack on top of a pan with sides (to catch the drips.) Score the cake into 8 serving pieces. Pour over the hot syrup. It will look as if the cake is drowning but almost all of the syrup will be absorbed within 10 minutes. Once most of the syrup has been absorbed, scatter the chopped pistachio nuts over the top. Leave to cool completely before serving.

Moravian Coffee Cake

If you are looking for the ultimate coffee cake look no further. This Moravian Coffee Cake is moist, fragrant, sweet and utterly scrumptious.

Today I have a guest blogger – my husband and partner of 36+ years. For most of those years Andrew never did ANY cooking or baking. Now that we are retired, he has taken up the measuring spoon and rolling pin! And I am the proud and happy beneficiary of his efforts. This Moravian Coffee Cake is one such very, very delicious example. So while this blog is called Lisa and Frances Cook, I’m thinking of changing the name to Lisa and Andrew Cook!

Hi! I’m Andrew, Lisa’s spouse, and I’m writing today about how I baked a Moravian Coffee Cake. Gosh, that’s such an unlikely sentence! Let’s put aside for now how it was that I finally started to learn how to bake after all these years, and start our story on page 124 of James Beard’s Beard on Bread, where he presents a recipe for Moravian Coffee Cake. It sounds really good, and it yields two loaves, baked in 9 x 5 x 3-inch bread pans. The addition of mashed potatoes makes a uniquely moist cake that holds up beautifully.

But…

Lisa and I have been enjoying the Great British Baking Show: Masterclass. One night we were watching how Paul Hollywood made an apricot couronne and I thought, wouldn’t it be great to make a coffee cake that looked like that? So I tried it and got a large ring, a bit flattened, but it tasted great!

But…

Wouldn’t it be even better if we added some nuts? And if it was baked in a tube pan?

Here’s the result!

For other lovely coffee cake recipes:

Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake

Sour Cream Coffee Cake

Apricot Almond Cake

Lisa’s Vegan “Honey” Cake

Gateau Breton – French Shortbread Cake

Recipe

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

    4 to 4½ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

    2 packages active dry yeast (or 4½ tsp)

    ½ cup lukewarm tap water

    ½ cup granulated sugar

    1 stick (8 Tablespoons) unsalted butter

    ½ teaspoon kosher salt

    2 large eggs

    ½ cup mashed potatoes (I used a Yukon Gold potato cooked in the microwave)

    1 cup somewhat finely chopped walnuts

    ½ cup dark brown sugar (Light brown sugar is fine too.)

    2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

    ½ cup melted butter

   Confectioner’s sugar icing (Optional – but highly recommended! – see below)

Directions

Put ½ cup warm water in a mixing bowl, then add 2 tsp of the granulated sugar, whoosh it around, then add the yeast. Let the yeast proof for 8 to 10 minutes.

Then stir in 2 cups of the flour, the rest of the granulated sugar, the butter and the salt. Beat until smooth, either 300 strokes by hand OR use a dough hook and stand mixer on low for a few minutes.

Blend in the eggs and mashed potatoes, then add 1 cup flour and beat 150 strokes by hand OR a minute on low in the mixer with a dough hook. Stir in more flour to make a moderately stiff dough. Either turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand, or run it on low in the stand mixer until the dough is smooth and satiny, about 8 to 10 minutes. Shape it into a ball and place in a lightly buttered bowl, turning to butter all sides. Cover and let rise in a room temperature, draft-free place until doubled, about 1½ hours.

Punch the dough down, divide in half, and let rest 10 minutes. Mix together the nuts, brown sugar and cinnamon.

Roll out each portion of dough into a roughly 13 x 10 in. rectangle. Brush with melted butter, then sprinkle each rectangle with about one third of the nut mixture.

With the long edge facing you, roll the dough up tightly into a log.

Repeat for the other portion. Butter the inside of a 10 to 12 cup tube pan with straight sides and a removable bottom. Scatter some of the remaining nut mixture on the bottom. Place one of the rolls into the pan, starting at the center and spiraling outwards. Brush with some melted butter and sprinkle on some nut mixture. Place the second roll in the pan on top of the first roll, starting at the center and spiraling outward in the opposite direction. Brush with some melted butter and sprinkle with the remaining nut mixture.

Let rise, covered with a cloth at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.

Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 45 minutes. If the top seems to be browning too quickly, lightly cover it with some foil and continue baking until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake sounds a bit hollow when tapped with a wooden spoon. Cool in pan five minutes. Remove from pan. When the cake is completely cooled, you can ice it.

Confectioner’s Sugar Icing

2 tbsp milk or water

a pinch salt

1 cup (and a bit) confectioner’s sugar

½ teaspoon vanilla

Put milk and vanilla in bowl. Add 1 cup confectioner’s sugar. Whisk until smooth. The icing should be thick enough to not completely run off the cake, but thin enough to drizzle and cascade down the sides a bit. Add a bit more sugar if too thin or a bit more liquid if too thick. Drizzle over the top and let it run down the sides. It’s best to do this over parchment or waxed paper so that you don’t make a mess. Let your inner Jackson Pollack out! Allow the icing to set before cutting. To store, wrap the cake up well or place under a cake dome. This can also be frozen.

——————-

Q. and A.

Q. Why roll out the dough into two tubes? Can’t I just roll it out into one?

A. Sure. I did the dough in two portions because they’d be easier for me to handle.

Q. Do I have to put the dough into the tube pan in alternating spirals?

A. Nope. You can put it in any way you want. Mine turned out to look like a fossil nautilus shell, but I didn’t know that when I started.

Q. Andrew, would it be OK to not use the tube pan? I want to use this dough to make a couronne like Paul Hollywood did.

A. Absolutely, go for it.

Summer Ricotta Cheesecake

I hesitated posting this week. Somehow it seemed so frivolous. The world watched in horror while an unarmed Black man, begging for his life, was murdered by a white police officer – on camera – with others standing by. The aftermath of anger and despair provided an excuse for looting and destruction as well as a catalyst for worldwide peaceful protests demanding change. And I watched with continuing shame our country’s president as he made matters worse, instead of helping a nation already battered by the pandemic.

But summer has started here and much of the country is beginning to open up after three months of a punishing lockdown. And we still have to eat. This Summer Ricotta Cheesecake won’t cure Covid 19 or any of the other societal problems. It will give, however, an opportunity to smile and remember that there are still small pleasures out there – even if they are transitory.

I read a LOT of recipes and many get filed away to try “some day.” This particular recipe was on hold until eggs were no longer being rationed at the grocery store. We appear to be past that stage now so I wasn’t afraid to make a dessert that called for 6 eggs. And let’s face it, dessert makes everything just a bit better.

Nothing could be simpler than this Summer Ricotta Cheesecake. There are very few ingredients, the flavorings are adaptable and there is no pastry or crust to deal with. The filling cooks in such a way that it forms a very thin crust. If you can whip eggs whites and fold them into a batter then you can make this dessert.

The result will be a light, flavorful cheesecake that is the perfect end for a summer dinner. But because there are so few ingredients, make sure that you only use a good quality whole milk ricotta and fresh eggs. If you don’t have these ingredients, then wait until you do. You can play with the flavorings but not the basics of this recipe.

This can be made ahead and refrigerated which is perfect when your time in the kitchen is limited and is best parceled out. A homey recipe that isn’t at all fussy and an end product that is a summer delight. It’s speckled with zest and needs nothing more than a few fresh berries to smarten it up. Don’t worry about cracks. Just say that it’s rustic!

For a ricotta cheesecake to make when you have more time and want to fuss a bit (but oh, so worth it!) try the Crostata di Ricotta that I recently posted.

Recipe

Yield: 8 servings (One 9-inch cake)

Ingredients

3/4 cup granulated sugar (150g) plus about 2 Tablespoons for the pan

1.5 pounds (750g) whole milk ricotta at room temperature

6 large eggs at room temperature

1/4 cup (30g) all-purpose, unbleached flour

Zest of two large oranges and one lemon (See below for other flavoring suggestions)

1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

1 Tablespoon Rum (dark or light) or Marsala

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F/180 degrees C.

Generously butter (or spray) a 9-inch springform pan and dust with the 2 Tablespoons of sugar, shaking off any excess.

Mix the ricotta and zest in a large bowl. You can beat it for a minute for a smoother texture, but frankly I didn’t bother to do that.

Add the flour and about 1/2 of the sugar to the ricotta. Mix it well (That means half of the 3/4 cup. Eyeballing is fine.)

Separate your eggs. Put the yolks in with the ricotta mixture and put the whites and 1/4 teaspoon salt into a clean, dry bowl. Either use a stand mixer or a hand mixer to whip the whites and salt until soft peaks form. Then gradually add the remaining half of sugar (a Tablespoon at a time) to the whipped whites and beat until you just have stiff peaks. Do not over beat or the whites will collapse.

Meanwhile mix the egg yolks with the ricotta mixture.

Use a spatula and mix about 1/4 of the egg whites into the ricotta mixture to make sure that it is nice and loose. Then carefully fold in the remaining whites in about 3 additions. Do not over mix. You want the lift that the egg whites give.

Carefully pour the mixture into the prepared pan using the spatula to help. (Don’t pour from a great height or it will deflate. I learned this from Mary Berry!) Gently smooth out the top. Place the springform pan on top of foil or a baking pan to catch any oozing from the butter.

Bake for about 50 to 55 minutes or until it is golden on top but the center of the cheesecake still wiggles. It will continue baking after it is removed from the oven and the center will set. (I promise.) The cake will sink some and crack as it cools. This is fine.

Allow it to cool for 10 minutes on a cooling rack and then carefully run a knife or off-set spatula around the edges to make sure that it does not stick anywhere. Do NOT open the springform, tempting though it may be! Allow the cake to cool completely. Then wrap it in foil or plastic wrap and refrigerate it for a few hours or overnight. Remove the ring of the springform and voila!

Now my husband and I have been watching a LOT of British Baking Master Class with Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. Next time I make this, I may try to turn off the oven at 45 minutes and allow the cake to cool down in the oven as I have seen Mary do with other cheesecake. Supposedly it prevents cracking. We’ll see. Honestly, though, I don’t think the cracks really detracted from the final product. So just a thought.

Baking Note

For other possible flavorings, you could try a mix of citrus zests. Or ground spices like cinnamon, cardamom or nutmeg. Instead of rum or Marsala, you could use extracts: pure vanilla, coffee, almond or aniseed.

Crostata di Ricotta

Crostata di Ricotta is a prized cheesecake from the Garfagna region of Tuscany. This post was supposed to have been ready ahead of the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary to eat dairy meals during the holiday so I thought this wold be perfect. However, I’m afraid that I was only able to actually get it made in time for us to enjoy it for the holiday. So keep this in your pocket for next year.

But who am I kidding? This delicious cheesecake, permeated with raisins soaked in Marsala and redolent of the grated zest of an orange is perfect any time. The recipe comes from Carol Field’s book The Italian Baker. She got the recipe from Joyce Goldstein who was a chef at Cafe Chez Panisse. I know – two Jewish women and not an Italian name in sight!

But when you smell this tart with its buttery melt-in-your-mouth sweet crust and bite into the airy, custardy Marsala-scented filling, you will think you are in Tuscany. I was brought up on and love a really good New York cheesecake – so dense and rich that a fork could stand up in it. This Crostata di Ricotta isn’t that. So rid yourself of any preconceptions and enjoy this ricotta tart for what it is – amazing.

Making the Crostata di Ricotta isn’t difficult and it is one of those things where you can make the pastry the day before. I really urge you not to use bought pastry dough for this recipe. Yes, it’s a little more work but the result is so worth it. And if you have a food processor, it actually comes together in no time.

There are many different pastry doughs that would work here as long as they are a rich, sweet dough. I normally like to use a Pâte Sucrée with eggs, but since I was running low on eggs, I made a Pasta Frolla from The Italian Baker that didn’t require any. That is the recipe below. It was not a recipe like any I had made before, but it did come together easily. And while rolling it out proved to be a bit problematic, I was able to pat it into place with my hands and knuckles. The finished product is beautiful and delicious.

My husband and I LOVED this. The crust is fragrant and incredibly delicate – just melting in your mouth with every bite. It is so delicate that it seems to disappear before you even have time to swallow. Oh and let’s not forget the filling. Ahhhhhhhh, the filling. It’s like eating the most flavorful, custardy cloud you can imagine. I’m really not doing justice to how delicious this is. Many things I think are too fussy and not worth the effort. This is absolutely worth the effort.

Carol Field suggests eating the Crostata when still warm or at least the day it is baked. However, if you make it ahead and refrigerate it, she says that it can be warmed in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I would like it warm, but it was amazing eaten a few hours after it had come out of the oven. And even eating it right from the fridge was still pretty great. But your first bites should be from the fresh tart.

Recipes

Yield: One 9.5-inch cheesecake; 8 to 10 servings

For the Pasta Frolla

Ingredients

1.5 cups (200 grams) all-purpose, unbleached flour

3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (100 grams) potato starch

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

Pinch of kosher or fine sea salt

1.75 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature and just malleable

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Grated zest of 1 lemon

Grated zest of 1/2 navel orange (the other half will be used for the filling)

Directions

Place the flour, potato starch, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once to mix.

Cut the butter into small chunks and scatter over the flour. Process with about 6 long pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the vanilla and grated zest. Process until the dough just starts to come together but before it forms a ball. Knead the dough by hand very briefly until it comes together in a ball that is no longer sticky. I did not have to add any flour to my surface to do this, but if you must just add a small amount. Form a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.

When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the fridge for about 10 minutes so you can work with it.

For the Crostata di Ricotta

You will need a deep-sided tart pan with a removable bottom that measures 9.5 inches across the top. Absent that, you could use a spring-form pan but it won’t be quite as pretty as if you have the fluted sides.

Ingredients

1/2 cup (80 grams) golden or other raisins

4 Tablespoons Marsala (I only had a very fine dry Marsala instead of a sweet Marsala. It worked out fine.)

1 pound (450 grams) whole milk ricotta

1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature

1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream (I only had half & half so used that)

1/4 cup sour cream (I actually only had creme fraiche which has a higher fat content than sour cream. I figured it made up for not having heavy cream.)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of 1/2 navel orange

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt

Directions

Soak the raisins in the Marsala for at least 15 minutes (I did overnight). Drain and reserve the Marsala.

Roll out your dough (Mine kept breaking but it actually was quite malleable and I was able to work it with my hands into the pan with the end result being beautiful!) Refrigerate the pan with the dough until you are ready to fill it. This keeps the dough from shrinking.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Place the ricotta, heavy cream and sour cream (or creme fraiche) in the processor and pulse until smooth. Add the flour and sugar and pulse until mixed. Now add the egg yolks, reserved Marsala and vanilla. Pulse until well combined. Add the raisins and pulse once to mix through. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.

In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the ricotta mixture and then gently fold through the remaining whites. Don’t overdo this. You don’t want to deflate the whites.

Remove the tart pan with the pastry from the fridge. Place the pan on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to catch any butter drips. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture and even out the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling just barely wobbles. Turn off the oven and open the door part way. Leave the cake in the oven for 30 minutes to cool down slowly. This prevents too much cracking and allows the cake to fully set. After 30 minutes remove the cake to a wire rack.

Once it is cool enough to easily handle, you can remove the tart from the baking ring. The easiest way is to place the tart pan over a large can. The outer tart ring falls off and the tart remains on the bottom. Be standing by to hold onto the Crostata. Then mangia!

Valentine’s Day Cake

Celebrate your love with this deceptively simple yet extravagant Valentine’s Day Cake. Once you have tasted this luscious cake made with dessert wine and olive oil, you will forget all about chocolate.

I’ve been married for over 35 years. And during that time, my husband a and I send each other love notes and texts daily. So I tend not to get too worked up about Valentine’s Day, if I’m being honest. We usually buy or make cards for each other and maybe I’ll make a special dinner or dessert. If I’m in the mood.

However, when I came cross this recipe in the Wall Street Journal by Aleksandra Crapanzano a few weeks ago, I knew that it was going to be my Valentine’s Day Cake this year. It’s everything that I love in a cake. It uses top ingredients but there is nothing fancy or precious about it. There are no sprinkles or cloyingly sweet, artery-clogging frostings. This is a cake for adults. And best of all, it comes together quickly!

Dessert Wines

I became a fan of dessert wines when I was introduced to them on a cruise throughout the Mediterranean years ago. They still haven’t taken hold in the United States the way they have in Europe and that’s a shame. While some can be very pricey, there are lovely and affordable ice wines, Tokaji and Muscat wines. The worst are overly sweet and syrupy, but the best are as light as a kiss on a summer’s breeze.

For this cake, don’t choose a dessert wine that is too light in flavor. You want something that is lovely and fruity. So if you are unfamiliar with dessert wines, ask your local wine store for suggestions. While delicious immediately, the flavors of the wine and the citrus will develop even further if you make this a day ahead of serving.

Moments of Perfection

So go ahead and take a bite. Then just close your eyes for a moment and inhale the amazing flavors and wonderful moist texture. Remember, if your dessert is wonderful, it’s okay if the rest of the meal isn’t perfection.

If you simply cannot imagine Valentine’s Day without chocolate, however, try this Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Glaze or this Chocolate Amaretti Torte.

Cupid Cutout Image #1

Recipe

Yield: About 6 Servings

Ingredients

For the cake:

2 cups flour

1 tablespoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon fine sea salt

1¼ cups sugar

3 large eggs

¾ cup mild extra-virgin olive oil (I actually used an orange EVOO to bump up the orange flavor)

½ cup Sauternes, ice wine, Tokaji or Muscat de Beaumes de Venise (I used Beaumes de Venise)

¾ cup whole milk

Zest of 1 lemon, preferably organic

Zest of 1 orange, preferably organic

For the syrup: SEE NOTE

½ cup sugar

½ cup Sauternes or alternative

For topping:

1 cup heavy cream

1 cup crème fraîche OR 1 additional cup of heavy cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Splash of Sauternes

1 to 2 Tablespoons of Confectioner’s sugar (to taste)

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (325 for convection). Grease a 9-inch springform pan and line with parchment. Sift together flour, baking powder and salt.

2. Use an electric mixer to beat together sugar and eggs until pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Add oil, wine, milk and zests, and beat to combine, 1-2 minutes. Then add sifted ingredients and beat until just combined, about 1 minute. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake until a knife emerges clean, 35-45 minutes. After 12 minutes open the springform and remove the outer ring. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack before inverting onto a cake plate.

3. Make the syrup: In a small pot over low heat, dissolve sugar completely with a few spoonfuls water. Bring syrup to a simmer and cook until almost golden. Resist the urge to stir the syrup! You are trying to lightly caramelize the sugar and that simply won’t happen if you stir. Immediately remove the pan from the heat and stir in the wine.

NOTE: Okay, full disclosure. I had a terrible time with this syrup and I have caramelized LOTS of sugar. As soon as I added the wine, the sugar formed into the ball stage and I had to rewarm the mixture to dissolve the sugar crystals. It also spattered everywhere, burning me slightly in the process. SO BE CAREFUL! Honestly, I thought the cake was delicious on its own with just the whipped cream, but after eating it with the syrup, it puts things over the top.

4. Before serving, whip cream(s) until billowy with a heaping tablespoon or two of confectioner’s sugar, vanilla and a splash of Sauternes. Sprinkle cake with confectioner’s sugar, if using. Serve slices with a generous drizzle of syrup and a dollop of whipped cream.

FURTHER NOTE: While this cake is wonderful as set forth, it would also be great with some sort of stewed or roasted fruit or with some fresh berries.

Lemon Poppy Seed Cake

This Lemon Poppy Seed Cake is for anyone looking for some real lemon love. Whenever I come across a recipe with “Lemon” slap dab in the beginning of the name, I have to take a look. And this recipe really layers in the lemon – first in the batter, then in the sugar syrup and finally in the light glaze. For other truly memorable and very lemony cakes, also try:

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Tarte Citron Mama

While I am admittedly not a mega-fan of most celebrity chefs, I decided to try this Lemon Poppy Seed Cake, an Ina Garten recipe. The problem I have with so many of these celebrity chefs is that because they have to produce so much content in this digital age, many of their recipes are simply not that special. And worse, they are not accurate. My oven is calibrated and bakes as I expect. However, while Ina’s recipe said that the cake takes 40-50 minutes to bake, mine actually took almost 75 minutes. Small differences I expect but that is pretty major, especially for novice cooks.

Other than that glaring difference, this cake was not difficult to make. But I wouldn’t attempt it unless you have an electric mixer. And I wouldn’t eat it right before a mandatory drug test!

Except for the poppy seeds and the large number of lemons, most of the ingredients should already be in your pantry. And while I always have buttermilk in my fridge, there are acceptable alternatives. You could easily swap it out with a non-Greek style whole milk yogurt. Or take any milk (dairy or non) and “sour” it with a teaspoon of distilled vinegar or lemon juice.

This Lemon Poppy Seed Cake should hold up for a week if covered or wrapped well. Just wait until the glaze has hardened before wrapping.

Recipe

Yield: 10 to 12 servings

Ingredients

1 cup buttermilk, shaken

1/3 cup poppy seeds (1.75 ounces) [I went by weight with the seeds]

Nonstick baking spray with flour, such as Baker’s Joy 

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature 

2.5 cups granulated sugar, divided 

4 extra-large eggs, at room temperature 

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract 

1/3 cup grated lemon zest, loosely packed (4 to 5 large lemons) 

2.75 cups all-purpose flour 

1/4 cup cornstarch 

1 teaspoon kosher salt 

1/2 teaspoon baking powder 

1/2 teaspoon baking soda 

3/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice, divided 

For the glaze:

1 cup sifted confectioners’ sugar

1.5 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice 

Directions

  1. Pour the buttermilk into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup, stir in the poppy seeds, and set aside at room temperature for at least 2 hours.
  2. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Thoroughly spray the inside of a large Bundt pan with the baking spray and set aside.
  3. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and 2 cups of the granulated sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until light yellow and fluffy. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at a time, the vanilla, and lemon zest, scraping down the bowl with a rubber spatula.
  4. Sift the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and baking soda into a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the lemon juice to the buttermilk mixture. With the mixer on low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture in thirds, beginning and ending with the flour. Scrape the bowl with a rubber spatula to be sure the batter is well mixed. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smooth the top, and bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean. [My cake took almost 75 minutes, which is what I imagined a cake of this size and density to take.]

5. Meanwhile, place the remaining 1/2 cup of granulated sugar and the remaining 1/2 cup of lemon juice in a small saucepan and cook over high heat until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. When the cake is done, allow it to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a baking rack set over a large plate or baking pan. Spoon the warm lemon syrup slowly over the cake, allowing it to be absorbed into the cake. Set aside for at least 30 minutes to cool.

6. For the glaze, whisk the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice together in a small bowl, adding a little more sugar or lemon juice to make a smooth, thick, but pourable glaze. Let your inner Jackson Pollock out! Drizzle over the cake, allowing it to drip down the sides. You can garnish with some additional lemon zest or poppy seeds, if desired.

Tarte Citron Mama

Tarte Citron Mama appeared in the June, 1979 Bon Appetit magazine. It was described as a 14th century French dessert and wasn’t quite like any other dessert I had ever seen or tasted – then or since. I have not been able to find anything like it online, although it does sound as if it may be similar to a recipe found in The Lutece Cookbook. Thankfully I wrote the recipe down years ago because I can no longer locate the magazine in my bookcase….

This is a lemon and almond tarte but without conventional pastry or custard. And while I am not normally a huge fan of meringue, when it is mixed with the ground almonds, I found it transformed. The resulting tarte is just a little bit sticky, a little bit chewy, incredibly moist, bright and light with the fresh taste and fragrance of citrus and almonds. Tarte Citron Mama is the perfect ending to a rich meal.

While it is easy to come by ground almonds these days, I like to grind my own for this recipe. The almonds won’t be quite as fine when I do it, but that is part of their charm. Making this dessert takes a bit of patience, but the steps are easy to follow. And unlike a lemon meringue pie, the meringue here is a relatively thin layer. On the day I made it, there is a little crispness to the meringue and each of the layers is easily discernible, whereas on the second day some magical alchemy takes place and all of the layers meld together. However you enjoy it, this luscious tarte won’t last long.

And while I made use of 21st century appliances, since this dates back to the 14th century it can be made entirely by hand – and with a LOT of elbow grease! So when you have a little time and you want to give your friends or family a delightful and totally surprising dessert, try this 14th century tarte.

I don’t know what lemons were like in the 14th century, but I find that most lemons these days – even organic ones – tend to have thick skins, a lot of pits and pith and not a great deal of fruit. Meyer lemons are sweeter, thinner skinned and less acidic, which is perfect for this recipe. It’s seeking them out if you plan to try this. And I encourage you to do so.

Recipe slightly tweaked by me

Yield: One 9-inch tarte (about 6 generous portions)

Ingredients

3 extra large eggs, separated

1 cup granulated sugar

grated zest of one lemon

1.75 cups raw almonds with skins, finely ground with 2 teaspoons of the sugar

1 Tablespoon of flour

Generous pinch of kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Approximately 6 lemons (Meyer lemons work best, in my opinion), with all of the skins and pits removed and cut into thin slices

2 extra large egg whites (Use the left-over yolks in your next omelette)

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

For garnish (Optional but really nice)

Strips of lemon peel with all of the white pith removed (I use a boning knife to achieve this) from 1/2 a lemon

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup water

2 Tablespoons granulated or castor sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. VERY generously grease a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Pay special attention to the inside rim.

Combine the 3 yolks and 3/4 cup of sugar in a large bowl and whisk until the yolks become very pale and will “ribbon” when you lift up the whisk. Add the lemon zest, salt and 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract and mix through.

Blend in 1 cup of the ground almonds and the Tablespoon of flour.

Beat the 3 egg whites until stiff. Stir 1/4 of the whites into the yolk and almond mixture to loosen things up. Then carefully fold in the remainder of the whites.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes or until the cake is lightly browned.

Remove the base of the tarte from the oven, but leave the oven on to maintain the temperature.

Cover the top of the tarte base with the lemon slices, overlapping them slightly.

Beat the remaining 2 egg whites until soft peaks form, Gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract. Continue beating until stiff peaks form. Gently fold in the remaining ground almonds.

Using a spatula dipped in cold water, carefully spread meringue evenly over the top, covering the lemon slices completely.

Return the tarte to the oven for about 20 to 25 minutes or until the meringue becomes golden.

Remove the tarte from the oven and allow it to cool for at least 20 minutes before trying to remove it from the tart ring. Don’t worry if the meringue cracks. When completely cooled you can add the garnish to the tarte.

For Garnish

Make a simple syrup by combining equal parts sugar and water in a small pot on a medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Add the thin strips of lemon peel and cook on a low heat for about 10 minutes. The peel should have softened.

Remove the peel from the syrup and roll the pieces in the granulated or castor sugar. Spread the sugared peel on a piece of waxed paper to dry. This same process can be used to candy orange peel. The remaining flavored simple syrup can be refrigerated to use later in a variety of mixed drinks or even added to homemade lemonade.

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

As anyone who follows my blog knows, I absolutely LOVE Middle Eastern food. I love it’s use of fresh, seasonal vegetables and bright spices. And I love it’s use of lemon. So for my dinner tonight I made lamb burgers with a tahini yogurt sauce, hummus with garlic naan and za’atar, freekeh, chickpea and herb salad and this luscious lemon semolina almond cake. It doesn’t get any more flavorful than this.

After successfully making Basbousa, I was looking for another Mediterranean dessert that used semolina flour. The problem wasn’t finding one, but rather deciding on which one to make. This recipe had the added advantage of using almond flour which I happened to have a lot of and wanted to use up.

As with many Middle Eastern desserts, this one has a lovely sugar syrup that gets poured over the still warm cake. The syrup permeates the cake with the result being an almost custard-like interior. Despite the syrup, the cake is not overly sweet. The original recipe called for adding rose water to the syrup. However, my husband finds that the rose water makes him feel as if he is eating fancy hotel soap. Not what I was going for. Since he is my primary audience, I left it out. And if I am honest, I didn’t want any distraction from the lemon. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cointreau

This cake is not difficult to make but don’t skimp on the lemon and use a good quality and slightly fruity olive oil. The smell was intoxicating and we dove in while the cake was still warm! It cut like a dream after cooling for about 30 minutes. I’m sure that it will be equally delicious several days from now, although I have serious doubts that it will last that long.

Tip

For an extra special treat, macerate some fresh berries in confectioner’s sugar and Framboise, Cointreau or other fruity liqueur and serve alongside.

Recipe by Edouard Massih

Yield: About 8 servings

Ingredients

Lemon-Semolina Almond Cake:

  • 1 cup almond flour or almond meal
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp kosher salt
  • 3/4 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 lemons
  • 3 large eggs

Simple Syrup:

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 lemon, juiced
  • 2 tbsp rosewater (Optional)

Candied Lemon:

  • 1 lemon, thinly sliced and any pits removed

Directions

Lemon-Semolina Almond Cake:

Preheat your oven to 350 F.

Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and line bottom and sides with parchment paper. Grease parchment. Sift together the almond flour, semolina flour and baking powder in a medium bowl. Add salt to the mixture and whisk everything to combine.

Using an electric mixer with a whisk attachment, whisk oil, sugar, and lemon zest from 2 lemons together, about 3 minutes on medium high. With motor running on low, gradually add eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate, about 1 minute. Add dry ingredients and juice of 1 lemon and whisk everything to combine, about 1 minute. Do not over-mix.

Transfer batter to prepared loaf pan. Place the cake on the middle rack, and bake until golden brown, approximately for 60 minutes. Lightly press the top of the cake to test — it should feel lightly springy when done. Let cool for 20 minutes or so in pan before removing and transferring to a cooling rack.

Spoon all of the syrup (See below) over the cake. I like to put a pan covered in foil under the cooling rack to collect the inevitable dribbles and to make clean-up easier.

Simple Syrup & Candied Lemon:

  1. In one easy step, combine water, sugar, juice of 1 lemon, and rosewater, if used, in a pot. Cook it over medium-heat until the sugar is fully dissolved, for 4-5 minutes.
  2. Add thinly-sliced lemon to the simple syrup, and cook it on medium-low heat for 10-12 minutes until the lemon is tender.
  3. Carefully transfer candied lemon to a wire rack.

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Semolina cakes soaked in a flavored sugar syrup are ubiquitous in the Middle East. Depending on the country and even the family, the proportions and flavorings will vary. Some were made with almond meal and flavored with a combination of rose water and orange blossom water. Several cakes were made without any eggs. There is no one single proper semolina cake.

The version below is a particularly rich and moist cake, with the addition of coconut and pistachio nuts. One thing that all of the Basbousa cakes have in common is that they are quite sweet – the perfect ending to a well-spiced meal.

The other night my husband and I watched about five different YouTube videos of people making their version of this delicious cake. Each one looked wonderful. I also checked out Jerusalem: A Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. However, my recipe comes from The Jewish Soul Food Cookbook From Minsk to Marrakesh by Janna Gur with a few tweaks from me.

Measuring

Normally I do not weigh my ingredients when I bake even though I know that it is a more accurate measure than using cups and teaspoons. I figure that as long as I always “mismeasure” the same way, I’ll be fine. However, since this recipe was almost certainly made by weighing things in grams and I had never made it before, I decided to weigh things out. It’s a good thing that I did, because the weight in grams seemed very off from the measurements given in cups.

If you don’t own a kitchen scale, you should. They are not terribly expensive (the one I use costs less than $10) and these days you can purchase one that takes up almost no space at all. I increasingly find having one to be useful.

When it came to liquid measure, I was less concerned about using cups so I give both measures below.

Pan Size and Serving

Pan sizes vary and what is standard in the United States may not be standard in Europe or the Middle East. The recipe called for a 40 x 25 cm. pan which is about 15 x 10-inches. A standard pan in the U.S. is 13 x 9-inches which is a bit smaller. As long as your pan is at least 3-inches deep it shouldn’t be a problem although you may have to adjust your baking time slightly.

Because the cake is soaked in a sugar syrup, you may want to serve it with a bit of unsweetened whipped cream, creme fraiche or thick yogurt. You could also serve it with a slightly tart fruit preserve to act as a counter balance to the sweetness. However, if you decide to just eat it straight, I certainly won’t tell you no!

Recipe

Yield: About 12 servings

Ingredients

For the cake

3/4 cup bland vegetable oil (180 ml.)

1.5 cups half & half (single) cream (350 ml.) [You can substitute coconut milk for a non-dairy version.]

100 grams shredded, unsweetened coconut

160 gr. unbleached, all-purpose flour

250 gr. semolina flour (or cream of wheat)

55 gr. ground pistachio nuts [I like to grind my nuts with a little of the sugar. It keeps the nuts from turning to paste.]

4 teaspoons baking powder

6 large eggs

300 gr. granulated sugar

A generous pinch of Kosher salt

For the sugar syrup

1.5 cups of water

300 gr. granulated sugar

1 scant teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C)

Combine the vegetable oil and half & half in a large bowl. Stir in the coconut, flour, semolina, ground pistachios, salt and baking powder until well combined.

Beat the eggs and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high speed for 8 minutes or until the mixture is pale and fluffy.

Gently fold the egg and sugar mixture into the semolina batter. Pour the batter into a greased rectangular pan.

Bake for about 35 minutes or until the cake turns golden and a toothpick inserted un the center comes out clean. If a few crumbs adhere to the toothpick that’s perfect. [Mine took close to 50 minutes. Ovens vary and my pan was smaller and deeper.]

While the cake is baking, make the sugar syrup. Bring the water, sugar and cinnamon to a boil in a small saucepan. Lower the heat and simmer, uncovered for 15 minutes. Cool slightly.

As soon as the cake is finished baking, remove it from the oven and pour all of the syrup evenly over the warm cake.

Allow the cake to cool completely before serving. This is even better if made a day ahead. It will last in an airtight container for up to a week. Who are we kidding? It will be eaten long before.

Carrot Loaf Cake

Best Laid Plans

Last week I made this truly beautiful spice marble cake that I was going to share with you. It was a little bit of a production, but it didn’t take any special skills. I was so excited because it was so impressive looking and wasn’t the expected chocolate marble cake that I grew up with.

Unfortunately, I just really didn’t like the flavor profile of the light part of the batter. So before I can give you this recipe, it needs some work. But Passover begins next week so don’t look for it any time soon.

Last Pre-Passover Cake

Passover is one of the most important Jewish festivals. It commemorates our liberation from slavery in ancient Egypt by God and our freedom as a nation under the leadership of Moses. During the holiday, we don’t eat any leavened bread or anything that contains grain that has fermented. Since I need to clear my house of all of these products, this carrot cake is my last leavened product before the holiday.

Cooking With Andrew

These days it would be more accurate to call my blog “Lisa and Andrew Cook.” Andrew is my husband of more than 34 years and the man who takes most of my wonderful photographs. Since we are both pretty much retired, we are getting to spend a lot of quality time together.

Andrew has taken up some of the cooking. He now makes brunches and occasionally even is making dinner. This recipe is from the Bon Appétit website and thought that we could have fun making it together. I was right! With a couple of tweaks, it turned out beautifully. Unlike the layered carrot cakes with LOTS of frosting and those marzipan carrots on top, this is an easy, casual loaf cake that anyone can make. The result is a dense, moist, fragrant cake.

Recipe


Ingredients for One 9 x 5 inch Loaf

1 lb. cream cheese (2 8-oz. packages

¾ cup vegetable oil, plus more for pan

2¼ cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp. baking powder

¾ tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. ground ginger

2 tsp. ground cinnamon, plus more for dusting

1 cup chopped walnuts

1¾ tsp. kosher salt, divided

¾ lb. carrots

1¾ cups sugar, divided

2 large eggs

3 tsp. pure vanilla extract, divided

2 teaspoons Bourbon (Optional)

Directions

Do Ahead

First things first, we need to get that 1 lb. cream cheese to room temperature. If you don’t have time to let it sit out on the counter for several hours, cut it into 1″ pieces and place on a heatproof plate on top of your stove. Alternatively, you can microwave the plate of cream cheese in 10-second increments until just softened but not melted, about 30 seconds total. [I left mine out overnight in a cool kitchen and it was perfect.]

Place a rack in middle of oven; preheat to 350°. Lightly grease a 9×5″ loaf pan with vegetable oil or cooking spray. Line pan lengthwise with parchment paper, leaving about a 2″ overhang. This will help you lift the cake up and out of the pan. [Important note! If you are using a smaller pan, you’re going to need to hold back some batter—you’ll need at least a ½” between the batter and the lip of the pan to account for oven rise, otherwise your cake will overflow. You can bake remaining batter in muffin tins if you have them.]

Down to Business

Whisk 2¼ cups all-purpose flour, 2 tsp. baking powder, 2 tsp. ground ginger, ¾ tsp. baking soda, 2 tsp. cinnamon, and 1½ tsp. Diamond Crystal or (1 tsp. Morton) kosher salt in a medium bowl.

Peel ¾ lb. carrots and cut off knobby end. Grate on the large holes of a box grater right into bowl of dry ingredients or use the large-holed grater of a food processor. Use your hands to toss until well coated. Add the chopped walnuts.

Scrape half of cream cheese into a large bowl. (This is for the batter and the other half is for the icing!) Using a spatula or the back of a wooden spoon, spread cream cheese around sides of bowl, working it a few times to help soften. Add 1½ cups sugar and keep working with the spatula to completely incorporate until it’s no longer gritty and all of the sugar is dissolved, about 15 seconds. Crack 2 large eggs into a bowl; then whisk until mixture is very smooth. It might look separated and chunky at first, but whisk vigorously and it will eventually come together. Slowly stream in ¾ cup vegetable oil, whisking constantly to homogenize. Add 2 tsp. vanilla extract and whisk again to combine.

Fold dry ingredients into egg mixture with your spatula until almost no streaks of floury bits remain.

Scrape batter into prepared pan, smoothing top with the back of a spoon or spatula.

Ready to Bake

Bake cake until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean, 80–90 minutes. (I used a 9×5 inch pan and baked it for 80 minutes; then turned off oven and opened the door a little. I left the cake in the oven for an additional 10 minutes and it was perfect.) Let cool 20 minutes, then remove from pan using parchment overhang. If the edges are sticking, slide a butter knife around the edge to help release. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

Making the Frosting

While cake cools, make your icing. Scrape remaining 8 oz. cream cheese into a medium bowl. Similarly to what you did earlier, use a spatula to work it around sides of bowl. Add remaining ¼ cup sugar, 1 tsp. vanilla, and ¼ tsp. Diamond Crystal (or a pinch of Morton) kosher salt and Bourbon, if using. Mix with spatula to bring everything together, paddling it as necessary, until icing is very smooth and shiny. (This will take some elbow grease, but don’t give up!) Cover and keep chilled until cake has cooled.

Place cooled cake on a platter or board. Dollop cream cheese frosting on top and make swirls and swooshes with the back of a small spoon as you spread it out to make it look cute. Dust lightly with more cinnamon. Slice with a sharp chef’s knife (not a serrated one) to serve.

Store cooled cake in the refrigerator. I used a clean, clear plastic shoe box that I lined with waxed paper. It will keep for several days.