Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Heavenly Cake Bakers: Catalan Salt Pinch Cake

This week's cake for the Heavenly Cake Bakers was the Catalan Salt Pinch Cake. Despite the name, there's no salt at all in the recipe. But the "pinch" part is because the traditional way to eat it is to pinch off pieces with your hands.

How could I resist? I love eating with my hands -- to the despair of my parents and now my husband.

I did make a few changes to the recipe -- I used Trader Joe's almond meal, so I didn't have to grind up the almonds. I just spread the almond meal out on a baking sheet and toasted it in the oven until it smelled nice and "toasted almond-y" -- about 7 to 10 minutes. I used 6 tablespoons of Turbinado sugar, after grinding it in my food processor and sifting it to remove any larger crystals that were still left. For the rest of the sugar, I used regular white sugar, also ground fine in the food processor. And I added about 1/4 teaspoon of salt, because how could I make a cake called a "salt" cake without salt? (OK, OK, Rose says it's the name of a bakery and a village. But I still wanted the salt.)

This is a simple sponge cake using a mixture of ground almonds and flour, and a mixture of whole eggs and egg whites. You beat the egg whites to soft peak stage first, then add in a whole lot of sugar and beat again. I had a moment of panic at this point, because the egg whites became very liquid and runny. It was plain they were never going to get back to "soft peak" stage, let alone to "firm peak" stage. But wait! Rose doesn't say they should! You just have to beat until they are "very thick." OK, I can do that. They looked like marshmallow fluff sauce. Then stir in the almond meal and remaining sugar.

Now we beat in the whole eggs (and salt, in my case). Easy? Not easy if you only have a hand-held electric have to beat the eggs in very slowly, taking 20 to 25 minutes. Even with switching hands, I was getting tired of holding that mixer! The scene from "Like Water for Chocolate" came to mind, the one where she is beating the batter for her sister's wedding cake and weeping into the batter. My love life is in much better shape than hers, but I was feeling a bit like weeping too.

Really, what did people do before electric mixers? Maybe they only made egg foam cakes for very special occasions -- or if they had servants to beat the egg foam for them.

I think I must be developing some "cake intuition" -- after about 25 minutes of beating, I could see a change in the egg foam and it seemed "done." It was light and foamy, and had thickened enough to show the marks of the beaters.

OK, fold in the lemon zest and flour. Pinch out any lumps of flour. (Did I mention I love using my hands?) At this point I remembered (too late) that Shirley Corriher has some useful tips on folding flour into sponge cakes in her new book "Bakewise." One of them is to reserve some of the sugar and mix it with the flour. Oh well, maybe next time.

Into the pan and into the oven. After 20-some minutes, my "cake intuition" told me the cake was not quite done -- and so did the toothpick test. Bake a little longer, ah, now it looked and felt done. It had puffed up nicely and hadn't started to fall -- but it did fall in the center once it came out of the oven.

We had great fun pinching off pieces and eating them! Other than that, though, Jim was just lukewarm about this cake. He is just not a fan of sponge cakes. I liked it better -- I am a fan. I love the open, springy texture and airy lightness of sponge cakes. Still, I thought this one was a touch too sweet and had a faint "eggy" taste that I didn't like. The lemon flavor was barely there, the toasted almond flavor and the raw sugar flavor were present but not strong. I'd like this better with more flavor, at least when eaten by itself. I'm thinking a touch of almond extract, and maybe some orange zest and cinnamon. And I'd also like to test it with a fruit topping. Sponge cakes are so great at soaking up those fruit juices...

But truthfully, I'm not sure I'll make this exact recipe again. If I'm going to spend a long time beating an egg foam, I think I'd prefer an almond génoise -- because I get to add lovely browned butter! Can I still eat it with my hands? Please?


ButterYum said...

Ugh... I can't believe you made this cake with a hand held electric mixer. Wow... did your arms feel like jello after?


Rozanne said...

Wow! Barbara, you are amazing. I cannot imagine making this cake with a hand-held mixer.
I didn't use the lemon zest in my cake. I used vanilla extract and almond extract instead.

Vicki said...

Your cake looks great! And I love eating Indian food with my hands, the proper way as they do. It's so much fun. I think your idea of a fruit topping would be delicious.