Wherein we continue to head in a vaguely Middle Eastern direction, with some promising initial results.
One of my stand-by choices for Sunday baking is the French yogurt cake I originally discovered on Chocolate and Zucchini, which yields grandmere levels of deliciousness from box-mix levels of effort, just the thing when I want cake now. It’s so simple and so good that I’ve used it in my class for foreign students with zero baking experience, and they were able to reproduce it perfectly all by themselves the very next day.
To take to work on Monday morning, I used the basic recipe to make cupcakes iced with an espresso and cardamom infused ganache inspired by Turkish coffee, and decorated along the edges with ground pistachios. They were fine, but considerably less interesting than I had hoped. In particular, the ganache was too rich and bittersweet for the chiffon texture and mild flavor of the cake and the pistachio flavor was negligible.
Since I still liked the idea of combining yogurt, cardamom and pistachios, on Monday evening I decided to try again. I put the pistachios inside the cake by replacing part of flour with ground nuts, and spiced it with a hint of cardamom and cinnamon. I added a few more regional elements to reinforce the theme: honey, a splash of orange flower water, and a compatible addition from a little further up the Mediterranean, in the form of Tuaca, an Italian liqueur with vanilla and citrus flavors that I find very handy to have around for baking.
This slightly different approach worked much better. The cake was nutty but not aggressively “pistachio” in flavor, and the honey, spices and extracts added a hint of perfume without evoking potpourri, which can be a real danger with flower water. The plain cake was summery and fresh served with a salad of figs, peaches and blueberries in a very simple syrup that moistened both the fruit and the cake. The addition of a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream, while not necessary, certainly didn’t hurt.
Unusual but not outre, this would be a nice end to a meal featuring Northern African, Eastern Mediterranean, Middle Eastern or Indian dishes.
Pistachio Yogurt Cake with Fig, Peach and Blueberry Salad
1 cup plain whole milk yogurt
14 tablespoons granulated sugar (1 cup minus two tablespoons)
2 tablespoons strong-flavored honey
1/3 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 tablespoon Tuaca or brandy
1/4 teaspoon orange flower water
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup finely ground raw, unsalted pistachios
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon each ground cardamom and cinnamon
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 cups water
1/3 cup Tuaca or brandy
Juice of 1 lemon
1 pint blueberries
6-8 fresh figs, cut into wedges
2 peaches, peeled and diced
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a 9-inch nonstick cake pan with parchment.
In a large bowl, whisk yogurt, sugar, honey, oil, eggs, Tuaca and orange flower water until homogeneous.
In a separate bowl, sift or whisk together the flour, pistachios, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Stir dry ingredients into the yogurt mixture, gently but thoroughly, until no dry flour lumps remain.
Pour batter into prepared pan and bake until top is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 30-35 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes in pan, then turn out, remove parchment, and let cool completely on a wire rack.
While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup by combining sugar and water in a small saucepan and bringing to a boil. Simmer for two minutes, then decant into a heat-proof liquid measuring cup and cool to room temperature. Stir in the liquor and lemon juice. Combine fruit in a large bowl, pour over enough syrup to just cover the fruit, and allow to macerate in the refrigerator until ready to serve the cake.
Spoon a generous portion of fruit and its soaking syrup over each slice of cake before serving. Garnish with sweetened whipped cream if desired.
The extra syrup can be used to sweeten iced tea, lemonade, cocktails, or any other summertime beverages. If not using immediately, cover tightly and store in refrigerator.