Despite the common belief, it wasn’t Marie Antoinette who said about the bread-starved peasants, “let them eat cake”. The phrase was coined by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his autobiography “Confessions” (written when Marie Antoinette was only nine, so unlikely to be making patronising remarks about peasants). Be that as it may, there’s really no contest between bread and cake. Bread may be the staff of life, but cake’s the stuff that makes it worth living. Inspired by my recent acquisition of a Breville Scraper Mixer Pro, I’ve embarked on a bit of a baking frenzy, the fruits of which I’m sharing with you.
The Cake Bible
Gay Bilson in her book “Plenty: Digressions on Food” mentions a delicious sounding pumpkin and walnut cake, the recipe for which she found in Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Cake Bible”. Pumpkin has always appealed to me as the perfect winter food, perhaps because of its sunny ochre colour and its rich texture. So I was instantly attracted to the idea of this cake, even more so after reading what Bilson says about Beranbaum and “The Cake Bible”:
It is so meticulous in its measurements and instructions that it is the West Point of cake-training academies, albeit with a maternal air … she treats eggs by weight instead of number, a reassuring habit … she tells us how tall or short the cake should be, guides us on texture, gives pointers for success, her instructions are in the right order. In fact she wants you to make a good cake and it’s pretty damn hard not to from her recipes. … When you make some of the cakes, you see that she knows the way to a person’s heart.
I was sold and immediately resolved to get my hands on the book. I haven’t as yet, but thanks to Google managed to find the recipe for the pumpkin and walnut cake reproduced on the blog, Kitsch in the Kitchen. Cake is probably rarely thought of as a highly nutritious food, but this cake really is. Chock full of pumpkin, walnuts and nut oil, it’s got to be up there in the superfood stakes.
The making of the cake
A couple of unexpected things occurred during the making of this cake, as they sometimes do in my kitchen. Firstly, as a cook who likes to improvise, I decided to substitute coconut oil for the macadamia oil stipulated in the recipe. Coconut oil has attracted a lot of positive publicity in recent times, to the extent Choice recently conducted an investigation to see whether it warranted the hype it’s generated. The testing team concluded that while it may have some health benefits, most of the exaggerated claims are just that. However, it’s not bad for you in moderation and has a nice nutty taste that I like, so I went ahead anyway.
A word of caution if you decide to follow suit – coconut oil is solid at room temperature and thus didn’t blend in at all well with the sugar and eggs. And once the pumpkin puree was added, the mixture took on an alarming resemblance to very dark scrambled eggs. Mixing in the dry ingredients fixed that fortunately, but you could possibly avert what looks like potential catastrophe by warming the coconut oil first. Also, thinking to conserve wrist power, I decided to cook the pumpkin unpeeled, but again, think twice. Trying to get the slippery peel off hot chunks of equally slippery pumpkin is an unnecessary exercise in frustration. The one thing I changed that I would recommend is I added powdered ginger to the spice mixture.
The tasting of the cake
I wasn’t sure of the quantity the recipe would make as the original one was intended for six one cup cake tins, however my end result exactly filled an eight inch round cake tin. In my fan forced oven at 180 degrees, it took longer than the recommended 25-30 minutes to cook. After that time it was still wobbly, so I gave it about another ten minutes. I have to say, Gay Bilson’s glowing account of the cake was well justified. Not only did it taste wonderful – very moist, subtly spicy, with the crunch of the walnuts giving it an extra pizzazz – it had a wonderful aroma when baking. It was so good in fact, you could easily dispense with the cream cheese frosting if you wanted (and if you aren’t addicted to it like me). All in all, a successful first attempt with the mixer (which made the whole exercise a breeze) and a cake that I’ll definitely be making again. And watch out for “Let Them Eat Cake Part 2”, coming soon to a kitchen near you.
- 125g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 60g coarsely chopped walnuts
- 2 eggs
- 165g brown sugar
- 110g macadamia oil (or other nut based oil)
- 240g pureed pumpkin (I used fresh butternut)
- For frosting:
- 250g Philadelphia brand cream cheese
- Half cup icing sugar
- Extra chopped walnuts
- Preheat oven to 180 degrees C
- Grease one 8 inch round cake tin and line base with baking paper
- In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, spices and walnuts. Mix to blend.
- In a large bowl, beat the eggs, sugar and oil until very smooth (about 2-3 minutes)
- Add the pureed pumpkin and beat until just smooth
- Add the flour mixture and beat until it is smooth
- Scrape the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the top comes out clean.
- Remove cake from the oven and cool for 10 minutes in the tin.
- Invert onto a wire rack and cool to room temperature
- To frost - whip cream cheese and icing sugar until light and fluffy, spread over cake and top with extra chopped walnuts
by Anne Green