Easter is looming and so I thought I’d make a cake. I’m also going to see a friend and her sparkling new baby, so that is another contributory factor. Between the two things, I feel there is great significance: new life, risings, resurrection, eating cake... plus the sun is coming out (and it’s a change from hot cross buns, which I love but I’m getting those from Harts Bakery, who know much more about them than I do).
Sometimes if I come across a really interesting cake recipe, I write it down in my book. Savoury dishes can be invented off the cuff and are much more arbitrary but desserts need to be weighed and measured and there’s a science to them. I don’t know what that science is, but I often play around with it by substituting ingredients and adding some, which seems to work, and this is one such recipe.
Perhaps the religious aspect of Easter which, being brought up a Catholic never leaves you, has spurred me on to bake and I think that rosemary must have some kind of auspicious significance. For starters, it was found throughout the Middle East during the time of Mary and Joseph, although it’s not mentioned in the Bible. In those days, rosemary was a utilitarian herb used for maintaining a household. One if its many uses was to repel insects. It would be strewn on the interior floors, and especially incorporated into straw mattresses. I use it in cooking a lot – mostly because I have an enormous rosemary bush in my garden.
As I write this, the cake is in the oven and I’m hoping it will be a success as I’ve swapped the butter out for extra virgin olive oil and added rosemary and a liberal sprinkling of sea salt to bake it.
6 tablespoons pinenuts
250 ml extra virgin olive oil
220 g cater sugar
Seeds from 2 vanilla pods or 1 vanilla pod and substitute half the sugar for vanilla sugar
100 g plain flour
120 g ground almonds
Zest of 2 lemons
Juice of 1 lemon
A sprig of rosemary
Here’s how to make it:
I always put my used vanilla pods in a kilner jar full of cater sugar so I’ve substituted half the sugar for vanilla sugar and used one pod instead of two.
Roughly chop half of the pinenuts. Chop the rosemary, saving a few sprigs to decorate. Whisk the olive oil and sugar together vigorously for a few minutes (I do it in a Kitchen Aid), then add the eggs, one by one, and whisk well. Add the lemon zest and lemon juice, rosemary and pinenuts and mix well. Then fold in the flour and the ground almonds.
Pour into the lined tin and sprinkle with the remaining pinenuts and tuck in a few little sprigs of rosemary here and there. Sprinkle liberally with a good flaky sea salt.
Bake in a loaf tin (22cm x 12cm, 6cm deep) lined with parchment at 150oC for at least an hour or until a skewer comes out clean.
It’s out of the oven and despite the recipe having no raising agent whatsoever, it’s risen like a dream – it must be a miracle! Happy Easter!