Cherry Hazelnut Cake

  Cherry Hazelnut Cake

There’s something about me you might as well know, as sooner or later you’ll figure it out even if I try my best to keep it under wraps. My name is Melissa and I’m a chronic recipe evader. You may laugh, but I have what I can only describe as a pathological inability to follow recipes, despite the fact that I can’t cook without them. You see, on the one hand, I hoard them, panicking if I can’t find the one I need, and going to great lengths financially and physically ("Ma’am, do you know your suitcase is eighteen kilos overweight?") to make sure I have as many as humanly possible. On the other hand, once I have them, they’re ignored. It’s scandalous, I know. Do you think there’s any hope for me?

Take, for example, the popular and widely-acclaimed recipe for flourless orange-almond cake, variously attributed to people like Nigella Lawson, Claudia Roden, and Trish Deseine. It uses five ingredients, involves nothing more complicated than boiling water in a pot and pressing the food processor’s ‘on’ button. If any recipe in the world can be followed it should be this one. Now despite the fact that I love both oranges and almonds, both separately and together, (and here you will start to understand the frightening depth of my disorder) I could not follow this recipe. It’s not that I found it too complicated, fiddly or time-consuming, it was just, well, already written. I took one look at it and the following conversation occurred in my brain:

Me: This looks good, I’ll make it tonight.
Voice from the blue: But so many people have already made this same recipe. Why would you want to be a copycat?
Me: Because if they’ve all made it then it must be good! I don’t want to tamper with a sure thing.
Voice: What if Thomas Keller and Heston Blumenthal believed that?
Me: Uhhh, well…
Voice: Think outside the box! Stretch the boundaries of your creativity that have been bullied into submission by decades of conforming to the Standard Gastronomic Paradigm!
Me: Well, I suppose I could maybe substitute another fruit for the oranges, I mean, they’re not in season here anyway…
Voice: That’s the spirit! Think of things you’ve never used before: mangosteens, loquats, ugli fruit!
Me: And I suppose any nut should work…
Voice: Yes, yes! Charoli nuts, cashews, chestnuts!
Me: I’ve got it! Cherries and hazelnuts! It’ll be divine!
Voice (fading): Mission control, we have success, I repeat we have success, another recipe has bitten the dust…

Well, at least my bastardized version worked. In fact, it worked very well. The beauty of this recipe is that it appears to infinitely adaptable, as there are no complex chemical reactions going on that depend on precisely the right amount of starch, acidity, etc. Just blend up cooked fruit pulp in roughly the same quantity as the oranges, substitute any ground nuts for the almonds, adjust the sugar for the sweetness of your fruit, and toss it in the oven for an hour. It really couldn’t be simpler. And if you make this cake, please do me the favor of not following my recipe too closely. It would really make me feel ashamed.

Cherry Hazelnut Cake
Serves: 8

1 1/2 lbs. fresh sweet cherries, pitted (weight before pitting)
9 oz./250g hazelnuts
1 cup/200g sugar
6 eggs
1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
Optional: some grated orange zest and/or a splash of Frangelico to boost the flavors

Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast them in the oven for about ten minutes, or until they smell fragrant and the skins have started to crack. Remove, let cool, and rub the skins off as well as you can.

Put the pitted cherries in a pot with 1/2 cup of sugar, bring to a boil and simmer for about 25 minutes, or until reduced by about 1/3 in volume. Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Put the hazelnuts in the food processor with the remaining sugar and process until finely ground. Then add in all the remaining ingredients and pulse to a pulp. Butter and line an 8 inch springform pan.

Pour the cake mixture into the prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean; you’ll probably have to cover with foil after about 40 minutes to stop the top burning. Remove from the oven and leave to cool on a rack. I found this to be good warm and cold, with yogurt and with whipped cream.