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Archive for May, 2010

We came back from a weekend in Mahabaleshwar with a box of strawberries. Strawberry season is almost over in Bombay, but I’ve barely had my fill. Strawberries grow in Mahabaleshwar, and as a matter of habit, my mom-in-law buys them only when she goes there, from a particular vendor in the market, because she believes that his are sweeter, and smaller, and juicer, with a true strawberry taste.  Mahabaleshwar strawberries are delivered by truck to Bombay, but because my mom-in-law doesn’t know the farmer that grew them or the vendor selling them, and because the ones we see in Bombay are often abnormally large, she doesn’t buy them here. I admire her dedication to eating not only seasonally but also locally- and therefore, this year, I haven’t eaten too many strawberries.

With the strawberries at hand, I began scouting the internet for recipes. Many of them called for rhubarb, which I don’t think we get in Bombay. All of them looked delicious, but I wasn’t inspired. I thought of French yogurt cake, and then that’s all I wanted- French yogurt cake with strawberries. I had made a yogurt cake with figs before, so I looked it up, and surprise, surprise, it’s been a few days over one year and here I am, craving yogurt cake…again. I guess, as I mentioned last year, the oppressive May heat makes me long for gentle spring weather, and to me, this cake represents that season.

Lemon rind and ground almonds give it a wildly flowery aroma and taste, and the cake is a great showcase for any seasonal fruit. Then, inspiration struck! I remembered the insanely delicious olive-oil gelato topped with strawberries we ate last summer at Otto. The combination of the smooth and fruity olive oil and the juicy strawberries was unbelievable, out-of-this -world-good, so I thought of using extra virgin olive oil instead of the “flavorless” oil that the yogurt cake recipe calls for. I’m not one to make many substitutions in baking, but guys, this cake is killer. It’s addictive. I used an lovely olive oil and its flavor shines through, but doesn’t overpower, the sweet-tart layer of strawberries. And as I did last year when making the fig version, I sprinkled lemon juice on top of the cake when I took it out from the oven.

This might sound like a lot- yogurt, strawberries, ground almonds, olive oil, lemon….but I found that together, they made a luscious combination of floral and fruit- just like the spring, like cherry blossoms and new grass and a slight breeze. It’s also quick to make, and doesn’t require a blender. It’s the perfect antidote to muggy May in Bombay.

Olive Oil Yogurt Cake with Strawberries

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (Indian refined sugar has bigger crystals than American refined sugar. When I’m baking, I usually stick my sugar in a mixer/grinder so the crystals become finer and resemble American sugar. I have no idea if this makes a difference to anything but I do it. Don’t grind it too much or you’ll make confectioner’s (or powdered) sugar.)
grated zest of 5 Mumbai limes (or 1 American lemon)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup sliced strawberries
juice from one Mumbai lime (about 1 Tbsp of lemon juice)

Center a rack in the oven and preheat it to 350 degrees F (or 175 degrees C). Generously butter the bottoms and sides of a 9 x 2 inch round cake pan.

Whisk together the flour, ground almonds, baking powder and salt.

With your fingertips, mix together the sugars and zest in a medium bowl until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the yogurt, eggs and vanilla and whisk vigorously until the mixture is very well blended. Add the dry ingredients in 3 steps, whisking after each addition. Use a rubber spatula to wipe down the edges of the bowl and fold in the olive oil. You’ll have a thick, smooth batter with a slight sheen.

Pour 3/4 of the batter into your prepared cake pan, using the spatula to spread it all over. Place as many strawberry slices as will fit all over the batter, and then pour the remaining batter over the strawberries trying to hide all the pieces. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer the pan to the counter and let it cool for five minutes, then take it out of the pan and let it cool some more. Sprinkle the lime/lemon juice all over the cake (optional). Serve at room temperature.

Note: this cake has kept in our fridge for 2 days; however, I like to eat it at room temperature because I find that’s when the flavors really pop.

a cake for the spring

Bombay is high on heat and humidity. When I was melting in October, people just muttered cryptically. October was an oven, but it was the infamous “May in Bombay” that would be the test of my survival in this bright, blistering city. The heat is brash and inescapably agitating. I’m waiting for June’s promise of ominous skies and cold, sudden rains. Oh, the things I look forward to now.

I bide my time and divert my mind by making and eating cake.

DSC_1013

Ostensibly, I made this sort of plain looking lemon-yogurt cake with figs for my mom-in-law, for Mother’s Day. She really liked it (whew), but when I ate my first piece, I literally felt transported -to a balmy place where my only thoughts were about the mild perfume of ground almonds, the dusty pink of fresh figs and the fragile subtleties of spring, all that is the opposite of a brazen Bombay summer. So I ate another piece, and then another, marveling at the cake’s dewy lacing of lemon and frankly, it’s a good thing I made this cake for my mom-in-law and not for myself because that means there’s still some remaining at her house right now, where I’m going for lunch in an hour. There, I’ll have another soft slice of the season that Mumbai’s missing: the spring.

It’s a simple path to happiness for me. Dorie Greenspan, whose recipe I adapted, says that this French yogurt cake is “absolutely foolproof and shamelessly easy.” I tweaked her recipe by folding in the fresh figs (you can make it with any other fruit or no fruit at all), upping the amount of lemon rind, and substituting brown sugar for half of the white sugar. And at the very end, I squeezed the juice of one lemon all over the top of the baked cake and let it slowly seep through the moist, freckled layers to give it a very faint, tart tinge. DSC_1011

Don’t be alarmed if it looks squat; this is a low, short cake, something you would eat around tea time, or for breakfast or lunch. Or even for dessert, with some whipped cream, fresh fruit, or jam. But I like to eat this spring cake plain, to savor the scents of almond, lemon and fig. Dorie says the cake is best the day after it’s made, which is when we ate it.

A Cake for the Spring, or Lemon Yogurt Cake with Fresh Figs
adapted from Dorie Greenspan

1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup ground almonds
2 tsp. baking powder
pinch of salt
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar (Indian refined sugar has bigger crystals than American refined sugar. When I’m baking, I usually stick my sugar in a mixer/grinder so the crystals become finer and resemble American sugar. I have no idea if this makes a difference to anything but I do it. Don’t grind it too much or you’ll make confectioner’s (or powdered) sugar.)
grated zest of 5 Mumbai lemons (or 1 American lemon)
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 large eggs
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup flavorless oil, such as canola or safflower (I used sunflower because that’s what I had)
4-5 fresh figs, sliced in 1/4 inch rounds, then halved
juice from one Mumbai lemon

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