Thursday, 3 September 2009

Apricot and Hazelnut Cake

Or - Adventures in Gluten- and Dairy-Free Baking

I've made flourless chocolate cakes before, where ground nuts provide the only 'floury' element. I've even made a gluten- and dairy-free cake - the one where you boil whole oranges and pulp them. However, there are additional limitations on this exercise - no chocolate and I can't use citrus fruit as the main flavour. The hunt is on for a birthday cake, where the recipient can't eat chocolate, one of the guests is gluten-free and one can't eat gluten or dairy or citrus fruit in large quantities.

One of the books I bought fairly recently, but haven't cooked much out of yet, is Annie Bell's 'Gorgeous Cakes'. For some reason the thought of cooking a 'special diet' recipe from someone who is an acknowledged cake expert seemed better than using a recipe from someone who is an expert on special diets. I'd expect the cake expert to concentrate on getting a really good quality cake, indistinguishable from a 'normal' cake, whereas a dietary expert may just be concerned with making something vaguely edible from the allowed foods. So a recipe in the book, for an Apricot and Hazelnut Cake, using puréed dried apricots, hazelnuts, sugar and eggs seemed a good starting point.

I was slightly disappointed, comparing my cake to the picture in the book. In the book it looks cake-like in texture - spongey, light and well risen - just what I needed. The thing I baked was dense and moist and had sunk back, more so in the centre, after baking, to the texture of a heavy cheesecake. The flavour was fine, excellent, in fact - delicately spiced and fruity - and it was a very pretty colour, but with the sunken centre it looked like a dessert, not a cake I could use as a Birthday Cake.

I have some suspicions as to where I went wrong; the cake looked well risen when it came out of the oven, and only sank as it cooled, so it may have been under-baked, even though it tested as done. I've also found a very similar Annie Bell recipe online, for a Chocolate Apricot Cake and that adds baking powder! Most similar recipes, using ground nuts and fruit purées, add baking powder, so maybe there's a mistake in the recipe printed in the book. The recipe I tried separates the eggs and whisks the egg whites until stiff before folding in - I thought this would be enough to raise the mixture. I should have trusted my instincts; after nearly 40 years of baking I still think the recipe writers are always right!
Anyway - here's the recipe if anyone's interested, or can make suggestions for improvement.
225g ready to eat dried apricots
1 x 7cm cinnamon stick
5 cloves
5 green cardamom pods
finely grated zest and juice of 2 lemons
6 large eggs, separated
125g golden caster sugar
50g light muscovado sugar
125g ground hazelnuts

Put the apricots, spices, lemon zest and juice and 150mls of water into a small pan and bring to the boil. Simmer over a low heat until the water has been absorbed - this will take about 30 minutes. Watch towards the end of cooking, to prevent the fruit drying out and burning. Remove the spices and purée the fruit, however is most convenient for you. I used the bowl of a mini-processor. Leave to cool.
Preheat the oven to 180C/Fan oven 160C/Gas 4. Grease and base-line a 23cm springform tin.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar together until pale and creamy, then fold in the ground hazelnuts followed by the apricot purée. Whisk the egg whites until stiff and fold it into the egg mixture, in three parts.
Transfer to the prepared tin, level the top and bake for about 50minutes, or until a test probe is clean. Run a knife around the edge (I forgot to do this which might account for the uneven sinking) and cool in the tin.


Debs said...

Far from it for me to give suggestions on minor details LOL. Looks fab to me

Suelle said...

It is really delicious, Debs, and would make a lovely dessert with the cinnamon and honey flavoured yogurt suggested in the recipe, but from the accompanying picture I was expecting a cake which I could ice and put candles onto! I think it's difficult sometimes to get a sense of scale in book photos - it was hard to judge how deep the cake would turn out.