There are many appalling things that were done with and to food in the 1970s – for a comprehensive overview I recommend following the 70s Dinner Party on Twitter, but for a sampling consider salad in aspic and grapefruit prawn cocktail as two examples that had plenty of traction in the era of tight, tight pants, handle bar moustaches and macrame bikinis.
However, at the same time the incredible chef, organic food activist and visionary Alice Waters opened her restaurant Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California with co-owner, pastry chef Lindsey Shere. She championed the concept of cooking with fresh, sustainable organic food grown by local farmers and has tirelessly advocated for improved food in American schools, establishing the Chez Panisse Foundation in 1996, with a mission to transform public education by using food to teach, nurture, and empower young people. She has had a number of chefs working in her kitchen over the years, many of whom have gone on to establish stellar careers of their own.
Which brings me to this cake. It is based on one by Devid Lebovitz, renowned baker and cookbook writer, who worked at Chez Panisse for thirteen years, honing his baking skills before moving to France to live and write cookbooks. His recipe, based on one by Lindsey Shere, uses almond paste (not marzipan) which I could not source, so I experimented with my own version using almond meal instead. He also included almond essence, which I have always found almost medicinal and quite unappealing, so I omitted it. Best of all, it is made in a food processor, and there is no creaming of butter and sugar, or separating of eggs involved. Huzzah!
It is just one of the nicest cakes I have ever made, and the texture and flavour superb. It is very simple and plain – and I think that is what I find most appealing. However, the almond and vanilla are intensely present and satisfyingly rich. It needs nothing more than a dusting of icing sugar to finish it, but would be delicious served with poached fruit (I am thinking rhubarb or apricots) and some greek yoghurt mixed with a little honey.
Makes one large cake (serves 12 – 14)
1 1/3 cups sugar
225 g almond meal
140 g plain flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
250 g cold butter, cut into small cubes
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
icing sugar, for dusting
Preheat oven to 165C. Line the base of a 22 cm spring form tin with baking paper and very lightly grease the sides of the pan with a little butter. In a food processor combine the sugar, almond meal, flour, baking powder, salt and butter and process until the mixture looks like coarse breadcrumbs and comes together slightly. Add the vanilla and eggs and process until a smooth batter forms. Tip into the spring form pan and smooth the top until it is even. Bake in the oven for 45 – 50 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes with no clinging crumbs. When the cake is cooked take out of the oven, place on a wire cake rack and cool for about 15 minutes in the tin. Carefully turn the cake out of the tin and leave to cool completely. Dust with icing sugar when the cake is cold. Serve on its own with coffee, or with poached fruit and a dollop of Greek yoghurt.