Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The magic of love cake

First pubished Canberra Times 9 February 2011.
Cassanova and Romeo were said to be in the know and, apparently, so was Montezuma. Whether it is the properties of the food or the power of the mind to conjure up the desired affects, since ancient times we have bestowed certain foods with aphrodisiac and medicinal qualities Most of us are familiar with the run of the mill passion-evoking, sexy foods, such as chocolate, oysters and champagne, but are we as familiar with the ancient mysteries of spices?

Photo by Steve Shanahan
In Arabic cultures, nutmeg was used to treat digestive problems and was valued as an aphrodisiac. In India it was used to combat asthma and heart complaints and the spice is still used today as a sedative. The Hindus also embraced Nutmeg for its more sensual properties as a stimulant in raising body heat, sweetening breath and increasing both libido and potency. My money is on the Chinese, who believed Nutmeg was the sorceress of seduction, with her aromatic fragrance and mild hallucinogenic powers, and often used as the primary ingredient in love potions.

Nutmeg is also a primary ingredient in Love Cake, which was a favourite dessert on the Tuross menu. The cake was an exceptionally popular choice with male customers, who often asked in whispering tones whether Love Cake really worked, when buying a slice for their wife or partner. Steve’s stock response to these sotto voce inquiries was “You’ll have to wait ‘till you get home to see, won’t you?” A disturbing number of partners snorted derisively at this point!

I baked this cake again recently for a family wedding feast on the south coast, where the groom, an unashamed cake-a-holic, requested a selection of cakes to accompany the wedding cake. He wanted the cake table to resemble a CWA meeting, where guests could choose what they wanted for dessert. He is also known to say, his obsession for cake is such, that he would eat cake on toast for breakfast every morning if he could! That’s dedication for you.

The Love Cake is gluten free and is best served with a big dollop of creamy yoghurt mixed with vanilla seeds and honey. It freezes perfectly well in a sealed container wrapped in cling wrap, otherwise it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, as the flavours will improve with age. Oh, and I forgot to say, this cake can be completely prepared in a food processor!

Serves 12

3 cups of almond meal
1 cup or raw sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
¾ tsp salt
120g unsalted butter, softened and cubed
2 eggs, lightly beaten
250g Greek yoghurt, and extra to serve
1 heaped tbsp ground nutmeg
1 tsp ground cinnamon
45g pistachios, chopped
1 vanilla bean, de-seeded
2 tbsp honey

Preheat oven to 180C. Butter and line a 23cm diameter springform cake pan with baking paper. Combine almond meal, sugars, butter and salt in the bowl of a food processor until coarse breadcrumbs form. If you don’t own a food processor use your fingertips to rub the butter into the other ingredients. Spoon half the mixture into the base of the springform cake pan, pressing gently with the back of a spoon to evenly cover the base. Add eggs, yoghurt, nutmeg and cinnamon to remaining crumble mix and pulse in food processor until combined and smooth and creamy. Beat by hand with a wooden spoon if you don’t own a food processor. Pour the mixture over the prepared base, scatter the pistachios on the top and bake until golden, for approximately 35 to 40 minutes. This cake should resemble a cheesecake in texture with a crunchy base. Cool completely in the pan on a wire rack to room temperature. Serve with the extra yoghurt mixed with the vanilla seeds and honey.