Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Pine Nut Cake

I feel like I need more recipes like this one: made in one bowl, using ingredients commonly found in the kitchen, requiring little to no baking technique, and pleasing any crowd with its moist, light sweetness. The pine nuts sprinkled on top add a little Mediterranean flare, but their flavor is not strong, and the sugar crusted over the top has been whetted down with anisette liqueur, so there's a teeny hint of anise in the crunchy sugar. The simplicity of preparation and flavor (with a little flare) make this cake the perfect last-minute treat for guests; it would go well with tea, or fruit, or after a heavy, strongly spiced meal.

This recipe has a sort of inverted genealogy; I got it from my maternal grandmother, since she really likes to make it, and I tried this cake first at her place. She, however, got the recipe from my mother (her daughter), who had learned it when she was doing her undergraduate degree in Nutritional Science.

I've been thinking recently about how much I rely on my mom for cooking advice; she's the one I call to verify if I need to throw out old dairy products, or to see if I can substitute one ingredient for another, or to determine how altering a preparation technique will change a recipe. I could probably figure out some of this on my own, but it is comforting to me to get an answer from someone whose experience I have absolute confidence in (and in the case of throwing food out, it assuages my guilt in wasting food that I haven't gotten around to using).

For this recipe, I called my mom to discuss the age of the cream in my refrigerator, since I was going to sub it in for the milk in the recipe. I ended up playing it safe and throwing it out, although sad that I had not checked the date on it when I bought it. I also emailed my grandmother to check and see if she really used the anisette liqueur it calls for, and got an emphatic "yes!" back. So you can thank three generations of my family for getting this recipe out to all of you!

The anisette liqueur is the one ingredient some of you may not already have on your shelves, but this cake is good enough to keep some around just in case you decide to make it. I was not willing to pay for the expensive anisette I found at the store, so I made my own from the vodka in my kitchen. Stay tuned for my next post on making anisette!

Pine Nut Cake

3 eggs
2 C sugar
1 scant C vegetable oil (slightly less than 1 C, just estimate visually)
1 C milk (lowfat is fine)
2 C flour
1 tsp baking powder

unsalted raw pine nuts (aka pinolas)
~1/4 C anisette liqueur

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two 8-inch round cake pans by coating them with nonstick spray and flouring the pans.* In a mixing bowl, use an electric hand mixer to beat the eggs until they are well mixed and a little frothy. Add all the remaining cake ingredients and mix until just combined. Divide the batter evenly in the two pans and sprinkle pine nuts liberally on top of each.

Bake for 40 minutes, then remove from oven and generously sprinkle granulated sugar over the top of each cake. Wet the sugar on each cake with the anisette liqueur, making sure that all of the sugar has been whetted (I poured the liqueur into a teaspoon first to help me distribute the liquid evenly). Return to the oven for 5 more minutes, then cool the cakes in the pans for at least 5 minutes. Serve at room temperature.

*To flour a pan, spray with cooking spray, and then sprinkle several tablespoons of flour into the pan. Holding the pan over the sink or garbage can, tap the pan to spread the flour in a thin layer over the bottom and sides of the pan, letting the excess fall out. If you're concerned about the cake sticking to the bottom of the pan, cut out a piece of parchment paper the size of the bottom of the pan and put it in the pan before spraying and flouring it.

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