Sunday, June 3, 2018

Flourless Ottolenghi Cauliflower Cake








Memorial Day came and went, largely unnoticed. It was sleepy, introvert and slightly depressed. I blamed it on the rain, and on the lilacs. They made a brief entrance, and then disappeared, before even coming into the fool bloom, leaving only the faint recollection of the scent behind. And dewdrops. Until the scent too went away, and there was only the rain.

I blame it on the peonies too, because they were simply not as exuberant, as lavish, as decadent as last year.

And I blame it on the Ottolenghi Cauliflower Cake. I spent the entire Memorial Weekend thinking about it. And the Memorial Week to follow. As a matter of fact, I have been thinking about it ever since, and not in a good way.

On Friday before the Memorial Day, we had friends over for dinner. It was a classic "let's kick-off the holiday" gathering, with bubbly and festive cocktails, with tons of finger food, colorful macarons, and some utterly summer-evoking dishes. But that cake, oh-man-that cake, it served a serious blow to my culinary reputation.

I am not sure what happened. Let's start by saying that Ottolenghi Cauliflower Cake is one gorgeous looking and promising recipe. I followed it to the letter, and I mean to the L-E-T-T-E-R. I sifted the flour. I grated the parmesan coarsely (it said coarsely). I added the herbs -- a lot of herbs -- and seasoned it well. I did the entire ritual with sesame and nigella. Once the cake came out of the oven, I let it sit for a quite a while.

It was all by the book.

And yet, the cake was one big, bland disappointment. (And tough as a brick.) I must admit that when it came to the visuals, it was mighty gorgeous; it was even prettier than the creation that graces the back page of "Plenty More". Sadly, this made the whole incident ten times worse, because amidst all other delicacies, everyone went for the cake first, and I was drowning in humiliation.

Ugh.

Needless to say, I took the blame. Because how can an Ottolenghi creation go wrong? My fault guys, totally my fault... It was a long week in the office, I was a pinch overworked, and a pinch frustrated, and I did not cook from the bottom of my heart. I did not give the cauliflower fellow proper love and care. I might have over-mixed the dough. I might have forgotten something. Who knows. The kitchen gods were not with me on that day.

I ended up making the cake three times since the party. It was a matter of kitchen survival. I had to come to terms with culinary gods and understand what had happened. Eventually, I got it right. And I wrote it down for you, because the original recipe -- IMHO -- needs a tiny adjustment.

But there is one more thing. After I made the cake for the third time, trying desperately to be wowed by its greatness, I remembered something. A small episode from my culinary past. I remembered how, once upon a time, I was asked by the good folks from Food52 to review a cake recipe from a book by a Very Famous Chef. I made the cake. Once, twice, three times. I hated the cake. It was drenched in lime. There was sooooooooo much lime in it that it was borderline unpalatable. But, as I sat down to write the review, I fell victim to the chef's celebrity status. Rather than coming out clean, I entirely avoided the subject, and instead of the cake I reviewed the chef. "She is my kind of girl," I dashed. "She wears cute dresses. She pulls turkey meat with her fingers. I want to cook from her cookbook." I barely touched on the lime issue. "The recipe calls for two limes juiced -- for the batter -- and another two for the glaze," I wrote, adding a sheepish comment. "That's where the anal side of me begins to fidget -- I so want this measured in cups!!! Limes are unpredictable creatures, they can be dry, they can be juicy, and they can be a downpour."

Bullshit.

So allow me to correct the mistake of my past. It's time to come out clean and say that I did not like the Ottolenghi Cauliflower Cake very, very much. It was OK, but it was not spectacular. When cold, it is a decent brunch item, but it is not something I would serve to impress my guests. No culinary jingle bells for me here. It was a bit eggy, too. The sesame and nigella went unnoticed...

... and it totally did not need all that flour. As a matter of fact, it did not need flour at all.

Having corrected the mistakes of my past, I made the fourth (and last) cauliflower cake of the Memorial Week. Let's call it the Flowerless Ottolenghi Cauliflower Cake -- for the lack of a better word. So here we go. You be the judge.





Flourless Ottolenghi Cauliflower Cake


* 1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into 1 1/4-inch/3-cm florets (about 500 g)
* 3 tbsp butter, plus some more for buttering the pan
* 1 medium red onion, peeled (6 oz/170 g)
* 5 tbsp/75 ml olive oil
* 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
* 5 eggs
* 9 oz/250 ml sour cream
* 1/2 cup/15 g basil leaves, chopped
* 1/2 tsp baking soda
* 1/3 tsp ground turmeric
* 5 oz/150 g coarsely grated Parmesan or another mature cheese
* 1 tsp nigella seeds
* salt and black pepper



hardware

* 9 1/2-inch/24-cm round baking pan


Preheat the oven to 375ºF/190ºC.

Place the cauliflower florets in a saucepan. Cover with water. Add one teaspoon salt and the butter. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft. They should break when pressed with a spoon. Drain and set aside in a colander to dry.

Cut four round slices, each 1/4 inch/5 mm thick, off one end of the onion and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer the onion to a medium bowl, add the eggs and basil, and whisk well. Add the sour cream, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, one teaspoon salt, nigella, and plenty of pepper. Whisk until smooth. Add the cauliflower and stir gently, trying not to break up the florets.

Butter the pan. Pour the cauliflower mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly, and arrange the reserved onion rings on top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 35-40 minutes, until golden brown and set; a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for about 20 minutes before serving. Serve slightly warm, or close to the room temperature. 






Ottolenghi Cauliflower Cake   
Adapted from Plenty More


* 1 small cauliflower, outer leaves removed, broken into 1 1/4-inch/3-cm florets (1 lb/450 g)
* 3 tbsp butter, plus some more for buttering the pan
* 1 medium red onion, peeled (6 oz/170 g)
* 5 tbsp/75 ml olive oil
* 1/2 tsp finely chopped rosemary
* 7 eggs
* 1/2 cup/15 g basil leaves, chopped
* 100 g all-purpose flour, sifted
* 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
* 1/3 tsp ground turmeric
* 5 oz/150 g coarsely grated Parmesan or another mature cheese
* 1 tbsp white sesame seeds
* 1 tsp nigella seeds
* salt and black pepper



hardware

* 9 1/2-inch/24-cm springform cake pan


Preheat the oven to 400ºF/200ºC.

Place the cauliflower florets in a saucepan. Cover with water. Add one teaspoon salt and the butter. Bring to a boil, and simmer for 15 minutes, until the florets are quite soft. They should break when pressed with a spoon. Drain and set aside in a colander to dry.

Cut four round slices, each 1/4 inch/5 mm thick, off one end of the onion and set aside. Coarsely chop the rest of the onion and place in a small pan with the oil and rosemary. Cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, stirring from time to time, until soft. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool. Transfer the onion to a medium bowl, add the eggs and basil, and whisk well. In a large bowl, combine flour, baking powder, turmeric, Parmesan, one teaspoon salt, and plenty of pepper. Slowly add the egg mixture into the flour mixture. Whisk until smooth but try not to overmix the batter. Add the cauliflower and stir gently, trying not to break up the florets.

Butter Line the base and sides of a with parchment paper. Brush the sides with melted butter, then mix together the sesame and nigella seeds and toss them around the inside of the pan so that they stick to the sides. Pour the cauliflower mixture into the pan, spreading it evenly, and arrange the reserved onion rings on top. Place in the center of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, until golden brown and set; a knife inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave for at least 20 minutes before serving. It needs to be served just warm, rather than hot, or at room temperature.

2 comments :

  1. Maybe cauliflower is to blame, it could be tasteless... But cake looks perfect

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  2. It was DELICIOUS!! I added blue cheese so about 50grams of Parmesan and tiny cubes of Roquefort cheese at about the same. I also added a sprinkling of chilli flakes, it was a big HIT! So thank you for the flowerless suggestion I totally agree!

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