Almond, lemon and berry cake

2 weeks ago, as I was going through my kitchen notes, a yellowed piece of paper fell into my hands. There was a handwritten recipe on it, written in that basic style that a cook uses only for herself. I am sure you know the style, just so much information that you – and only you – understand what the outcome should be. Almond meal, lemon juice and sour cherries were involved. A google search didn’t bring up anything similar, so I have no idea where this recipe came from – if you recognize the recipe below, please let me know, I’d like to give due credit.

With the prospect of a dvd filled late-afternoon in our cool, air-conditioned bedroom behind closed shutters (this July has been brutal in Rome), I dared the idea of turning the oven on. The kitchen was already terribly hot (no AC here), so I thought “in for a penny, in for a pound” and cranked up the oven.

Since I was born with the CFR-syndrome* (and because I didn’t have everything at home and there was no way I was going outside to the 44°C / 111°F heat), I made some changes. The cake turned out lovely and I have since repeated the success and even made some little tweaks. This is an uncomplicated cake with a surprisingly multi-layered taste – the almonds give a slight crunch and a nutty taste, lemon juice and powder make it fresh and underline the berry taste.

Almond, lemon and berry cake
source: a little yellowed out piece of paper, with some changes by me

prep: 10 mins
bake: 40 mins
cool: 10 mins

all purpose flour, 135 g
baking soda, 1 tsp (5 g)
almond flour**, 85 g
citrus powder***, 3 tsp (substitute fresh zest)
butter, 185 g
sugar, 200 g
lemon juice, 60 ml (I obtained that amount from 1 very juicy big lemon)
Vanilla extract, 10 ml
eggs, 2
berries, 125 g (any berries you have or even sour cherries)

Heat the oven to 180°C / 360°F, line a loaf cake pan with heat proof paper (with overhang!) and butter it liberally.

Mix the flour, baking soda, almond flour and citrus powder/zest. In a casserole type pan, mix butter, sugar, lemon juice and vanilla extract, let it completely melt and dissolve on low heat. Add slowly to the flour mixture and mix with a spatula to just combine. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until completely incorporated. Fill the (runny) batter into the lined and greased pan. Scatter your fruit on top – no need to push down, they will sink!

Bake for 40 minutes (a skewer should come out clean). If you are using frozen berries, it will take up to 20 minutes longer.

Take the loaf pan out and let cool on a rack for 10 minutes. You can then remove the cake from the pan easily by just grabbing the ends of the lining. Eat at room temperature. Some whipped cream on the side is a lovely addition. Keeps in the fridge for at least 3 days (the longest we had some left over).

This is not a very fluffy cake, rather a bit on the dense and coarse side but not unpleasantly so. The size is just right to serve it to a couple of friends for coffee and maybe have leftovers for the next day. No one has been able to eat less than 2 slices!

* Can’t Follow Recipe
** so much better to make your own than buy: just pulse whole blanched almonds for 20 seconds in a food processor or similar. Some coarse crumbs are perfectly ok, it doesn’t have to be too fine.
*** Take an untreated, preferably organic citrus of your choice (orange, lemon, mandarine…), slice into really thin rounds and dry in the oven for a few hours at a low temperature with the fan on. When they are perfectly dry and crisp, grind them to fine meal / powder in the food processor. I made mine in the winter with perfect oranges and have been using it in pasta sauces and salad dressings. You can substitute fresh zest of the lemon you are using for the juice.


Simit – For Those Who Miss It


Sigrid from the fabulous “il cavoletto di bruxells” was in Istanbul (where she took great pictures, not only of food, that brought tears to my eyes), and the first thing she asked when she came back was a recipe for simit, the savory sesame rings with just a hint of sweet. Simit is the omnipresent street food in Istanbul, and she seems to have fallen in love with it.

If you live in Turkey, skip this post, go out and buy yourself a simit from the simit-boy. Simit, just like pizza, is one of those foods you shouldn’t attempt at home unless you have no other means of obtaining it. Why? Because, most probably, you don’t have a wood burning stone oven at your home. If you do, like I did for one and a half very happy years in my life (in Liguria), you should bake a pizza or bread everyday!

But I do know how it is when you crave a specific food, so here is a recipe to help you till the next time you go to Turkey; it comes as close as possible to the simit in Istanbul. Go put that teakettle on the stove and then start with it, your tea and the simits will be done at the same time, so quick and easy it is. Oh, have to go buy some kasar cheese, these will be perfect for breakfast!

Note: This recipe yields the street-type, crisp simit; not the soft “pastane” type.

adapted from various sources
makes 8 – 10 simit rings

prep: 10 mins + 15 min for the dough to rest
bake: ca. 10 mins at 250°C (or as hot as your oven gets)

flour, type 550 (all-purpose/bread flour in the USA, not instant!)*, 1kg
fresh yeast, 10g (or instant yeast 4g or dry yeast 5g)
salt, 2-3 tbsp
water, ca. 550 ml, lukewarm
pekmez, 3 tbsp (or molasses)
sesame, ca. 75 g (use “simit susamı” if you can find, or Japanese roasted sesame “irigoma shiro”, these are darker than the normal white sesame)

Turn your oven heat to maximum. In my oven this is 250°C.

In a big bowl, mix the flour and the salt. Dissolve the yeast in about a cup of the measured lukewarm water. Add the yeasty water to the flour, then start adding the rest of the water, while kneading. You want to achieve the most famous “earlobe” consistency. You may not need all of the water, but also you might need up to 100 ml more than stated. It depends on a lot of factors like your flour, the weather etc., but don’t get discouraged, even a non-baker like me managed this. I needed exactly 550 ml of water. Knead till everything comes together and feels smooth, around 10 minutes. At the end you have an elastic and non-sticky dough. I don’t have a mixer or the like in this apartment, so I kneaded by hand, but you could let the machines do the work as well! Just watch for the consistency. Let the dough stand in a warm place, covered, for 15 minutes.

Sesame seedsIn a small bowl, mix pekmez with 2-3 tbsp of water**. If you can’t find pekmez where you live, use molasses, it is perfectly fit for this recipe. Place your sesame seeds on a shallow plate.

Simit, unbakedDivide the dough into 8 to 10 tennis ball-sized pieces. Push your thumb in the middle to make a hole, then slowly turn the “ring” around, with both hands, in the air, gently kneading and squeezing to enlarge and thin-out the dough to finger thick, while the hole in the middle gets bigger.

Brush the simit rings with the pekmez mixture and then, one by one, dip the rings into the plate with the sesame seeds, so that they are covered all over. Place the rings on a baking sheet*** and bake for ca. 10 minutes, till a darker shade than golden.

* For more on how the different types of flours in Europe and the USA correspond to each other, read this, this and this.

** Some recipes let you make a thinner pekmez mixture (1 tbsp to 1 liter of water) and dip the rings into it. I tried the first simit with this method, but wasn’t happy with the results, the color was too light and the taste was not pronounced enough. Simit is not a sweet, but there should definitely be a sweet undertone which goes perfect with the sesame seeds. Yet other recipes let you boil the rings in this light mixture before baking them, but this results in a softer texture, like a bagel or a “pastane simidi”. For real street-style simit, brushing the rings with slightly diluted pekmez delivered the best results.

*** I froze some rings (fully coated) and will try to bake them later. Will update the post as to how that goes! Update: Freezing makes no problems. Just take the unbaked simit out of the freezer an hour before baking. If you don’t have that time, you could also bake from frozen, but you’ll need to bake longer (check after 20 minutes).