An apricot cake for all seasons
Expats develop strangely obsessive attitudes towards food. After a few months in a foreign country, spot something that screams “I’m from your home country!” off the shelves of a cash-and-carry and there’s a good chance you’ll pick it up and take it home, whether you need it or love it. In my Moscow apartment, I’m lucky enough to have this rare thing in Russian urban living: a pantry. It’s not sprawling, but its shelves are full of all kinds of culinary trash that I have pounced on and lugged around home like a cat could a defeated field mouse. Most of these items are already past their expiration date, and yet I hold on to them, although a can of microwave-safe popcorn or a dusty can of Heinz baked beans does not belong in a cuisine where the emphasis is on seasonal ingredients. embellished with exotic ointments and Caucasian spices. But I find it heartbreaking to part with any talisman in the house.
Maybe that’s why I started cooking and writing about food – to create touchstones of the house. Or maybe it’s actually a matter of control: in a messy country where it’s nearly impossible to control anything – whether it’s rush hour traffic, Byzantine bureaucracy, or the blinding blizzard of spores from poplar that covers the city at this time of year – the ability to recreate an iconic dish from another time and place takes on an almost magical aspect.
Becoming a parent raised these issues. Raising a bi-cultural child is a daunting prospect, especially if you are the parent of the “other” culture. Throughout her childhood, I went to great lengths to ensure that my daughter enjoyed both cultures, including cooking, and cooking became the front line of this battle. In a silent but deadly struggle to compete with Babushka’s borshch, I stayed awake late to bake oversized, chewy, and irresistible chocolate chip cookies (using M & Ms instead of the impossible to find chocolate chunks) for the ” Annual Pot-Luck International Luncheon. at my daughter’s school. And while sticking little American flags on them earned me scorn from the Scottish Shortbread Mafia, I took comfort in the rush to my offering and how quickly my cookies were gone.
Time has passed and Russia and I have become more ecumenical about the ingredients. And we got closer as I developed recipes that mixed my carefully collected ingredients from my old house with the growing list of ingredients I found in my new one. Learning this basic rule that is essential in any country – to eat with enthusiasm whatever the season – I have been inexorably drawn into the mighty vortex of the Russian agricultural cycle. And what emerged was a set of hybrid dishes that combined the best of both worlds.
So it’s with this week’s recipe. It started with a nostalgic longing for classic American coffee cake, with a topping of streusel, but gradually incorporated other influences. Originally designed as the centerpiece of a quiet brunch, this cake has become the quintessential sweet thing for any occasion, perfect for breakfast, a late-night snack, and just about anything in between. both. Over the years the dough has become more lemony and, influenced by one of my first Russian culinary discoveries – the vast dried fruit section of the Danilovsky Market – it has turned into a tea cake. In winter, it is sprinkled with rehydrated apricots, prunes and cherries. During stone fruit season, it’s simply referred to as ‘the cake’ as fresh apricots, nectarines and peaches each take their turn the star of this addicting cake, which makes their flavors intense and their flesh deliciously jammy.
It’s an easy cake to make, especially if, like me, you keep a stash of streusel topping in your fridge (you do, right?). Substitute a punnet of fresh berries for the stone fruit: blueberries, blackberries and sweet pitted cherries have all found their place in this cake with equal success. Another staple of the Danilovsky Market is the secret ingredient: candied ginger, which gives the streusel filling an unexpected zest.
I would be hard pressed to pick just one flag to plant in this cake. Its origins are German, its ingredients are Russian and its raison d’être is American. Is there a flag for expats?
Maybe it’s time we invented one.
For the cake
- 8 tablespoons (118 grams or 1 standard stick) butter, softened at room temperature, plus more for buttering the springform pan
- 2 tablespoons of fine breadcrumbs (or flour)
- 2 ½ cups (590 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoon of baking powder
- ½ teaspoon of baking soda
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon of salt
- 1 cup (300 ml) sugar
- 3 tablespoons of lemon zest
- 3 eggs
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- 1 cup (236 mL) room temperature milk
- ⅓ cup (80 ml) lemon juice
- 12-14 ripe apricots, halved and pitted
For the streusel filling
- ¼ cup (60 mL) butter, cut into small cubes, very cold
- ½ cup (125 mL) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon of ground ginger
- ½ cup (125 mL) granulated sugar (white)
- ½ cup (125 mL) light brown sugar
- ⅓ cup (80 mL) candied ginger, finely chopped
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Butter a 10-inch (25 centimeter) springform pan and sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
- Make the streusel by cutting the butter into the rest of the ingredients or by mixing everything in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Refrigerate until use.
- Mix the milk and lemon juice together and set aside. Don’t worry if the milk curdles.
- Place the sugar and lemon zest in the bowl of a stand mixer and beat with the whisk for 2-3 minutes until the zest and sugar are combined.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and ginger.
- Switch to the stand mixer paddle attachment and add the butter to the sugar and beat until smooth. Add the eggs one by one, then the vanilla.
- Add the three-part flour mixture, adding half of the milk mixture between the flour additions. The dough will be thick.
- Add about a quarter of the dough to the prepared springform pan. Arrange the apricot halves on the dough, then cover them with the remaining dough. Top the cake with the streusel, pressing it briefly between your fingers to create small lumps.
- Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes or until a wooden skewer is clean. Let the cake cool for 1 to 2 hours before releasing it from the spring ring.
- Serve plain or with ice cream.