Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Spice Cake for a Sunday Afternoon (The Review Series: 2.1—David Tanis’ Heart of the Artichoke)

This Sunday was April first, April Fools’ Day. When Andrew had his back turned, changing a record, I splashed soya sauce into his coffee. It was a giggly, silly, rainy afternoon.

It was also a perfect afternoon to have a long, lazy drawn out lunch. We had a friend, Daemon, come over. I made some fat chunks of tuna braised in chickpeas, and a crunchy green salad.

I also made this David Tanis cake. It’s dense and interesting. Works wonderfully with strong coffee and some oranges.

A note on the book: It’s called Heart of the Artichoke, and I love, love, love it. For the most part, it’s built on menus – spring, summer, fall and winter menus, and menus for large groups.  I sometimes use David Tanis’ books as launch pads for my own menus. If, for instance, I already know I’m making roast chicken, I’ll go see what Tanis serves with his roast chicken. It gives me ideas, if not a recipe itself.

Here’s a sample of what Tanis’ menus look like. From his Spring Menus, “Reclaiming Arugula”:

-Fennel Soup with a Green Swirl
-Pork Scaloppine with Lemon, Capers, and Chopped Arugula
-Zucchini Pancakes
-Italian Spice Cakes

There was arugula and fennel in the salad I served that afternoon, but if I was in keeping with this menu, it was accidental. I did, however, serve tangerines.

Italian Spice Cake
Adapted from a David Tanis recipe in Heart of the Artichoke

A wonderful thing about this cake is that you barely get anything dirty. Once you’ve simmered your sugars in a large saucepan, you can mix the rest of the ingredients directly into it. You never end up dirtying a bowl.

The list of ingredients is long, but it’s mostly the spices. If you’re missing one or two, don’t rush out and buy it just for this cake. A small omission won’t make that much difference.

½ cup water
½ cup sugar
¼ cup honey
The zest of an orange
The zest of a lemon
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of grated nutmeg
A pinch of cayenne powder
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
2 eggs, beaten
½ cup golden raisins
1 cup whole almonds
1 cup unbleached white flour
½ cup almond flour

Pre-heat the oven to 375 F. Grease a 9 or 10 inch tart pan with butter.

In a large saucepan, bring the water, sugar and honey to a simmer for a minute or two.

Take off the heat and mix in the zests, the spices and the cocoa. Now add the eggs, mixing to a smooth, uniform consistency. Now, add the nuts and raisins, and stir. Finally, add the flours, alternating between the two types.

Pour the batter into the cake pan, and smooth in all directions with a wooden spoon. Bake it for 30 to 40 minutes, or when a toothpick comes out dry. After about ten minutes of cooling, unmold the cake, and set on a cooling rack. This cake is good the day after, too.

A quick note to readers:
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