Blueberries have been on sale for the last few weeks around Melbourne which means I have been buying a lot of them. I can never resist buying berries in Spring; the season is so short and I try to eat most things when they are in season, grown locally, and therefore in their prime in terms of freshness and taste. I usually end up throwing berries in a smoothie with yoghurt for breakfast but as I had so many of them, I thought I should try to bake with them. I have been trying to make fewer cakes (as I ate so many of them in Italy) but I thought that one cake with berries cannot hurt.
So began the week of blueberry cakes. It more like ten days. And it was not just one cake but FIVE. All of them (except the last one, the one that you see in this blog post) had flaws. I should have looked up recipes with blueberries or at least tips on how to bake with them because I kept encountering a problem…. They tasted good but there was no way other people would be happy making flawed cakes. I posted a photo of cake v.1 on Instagram – it was a “blueberry almond yoghurt cake”. It was quite heavy on the berries and fell apart completely. It tasted nice, though dry in parts and too wet in others. So I changed it into a ricotta based cake. I posted a photo of v.2 on Instagram – a gluten free “ricotta cake with blueberries”. The main problem with this one was that the blueberries released so much liquid that the centre of it was quite soft. Many of you gave me tips so I made it again (cake number 3), this time with almond meal in it (the texture just didn’t work) and then again (cake number 4) when I stewed the berries briefly and used gluten free flour. It was still too soft (though I must admit my husband loved it). I almost gave up but I had made a promise on social media about posting a recipe for a gluten free blueberry cake. So I had to try one last time…
I got one of the many cookbooks off my overflowing shelf: “Du pain, du vin, des oursin” by Nicholas Stromboni. My publisher Paul from Smith Street Books had given me a copy when I was about to start writing Adriatico. Smith Street Books had just agreed to translate it into English and he had a few copies in French which he was happy to give away. It is full of gorgeous photos and recipes from Corsica. The only problem was that it was in French. I did four years of French at school, but hadn’t thought much about the language for at least 20 years (ok a few more than 20…). I used the recipe for Biscottu Brocciollu on page 262 to inspire this recipe. I had to look up a few things up on google translate, but really, I was quite proud of myself as I managed to make it (of course I may have got it wildly wrong without realising it!). The recipe uses brocciu which is a ewe’s milk Corsican cheese, a little bit like ricotta and is has a simple ground hazelnut and butter base. It didn’t have blueberries but it looked just gorgeous and if I could just keep those blueberries from bursting it might just work.
One of the tips I had been given on Instagram was to roll the blueberries in flour before baking. I was keen to make the cake gluten free so was very interested when tapioca flour was mentioned. It was a last minute thing: a “will I or won’t I add it” moment. I knew that if this didn’t work, I would have to give up on my blueberry cake experiment (as six cakes without really being happy with any of them is waaay too many). In the end I decided I would add it: I rolled the washed and dried blueberries in a tiny bit of Tapioca starch and placed them onto the filling. I kept watching the oven to make sure the tapioca flour was dissolving into the blueberries as the tart baked. The result: only some of the tapioca flour dissolved (so I dusted the warm ricotta filling with icing sugar to make it all blend in), but the berries stayed intact (finally).
I changed the base from that suggested in the Corsican recipe, adding an egg to help it stay together. As the nuts in the base are roasted, the crust has a lovely darker colour and remains quite crumbly. You could simplify the recipe by using ready made almond meal instead of roasting the almonds and then processing them, but the taste would not be as complex and I think that it is worth the extra bit of effort. You could also make the crust with half roasted almonds and half almond meal. The cake is not that sweet either; so if you have a sweet tooth, add more sugar to either the base or the filling or both. You can taste both of them as you go and add a bit extra if needed.
- PODCAST – I just love listening to podcasts when I am driving! Here is one for you to download for your next long-ish drive: a few weeks ago I did a recording with the delightful chef Robbie Bell (who has the BEST accent) for his podcast series Cooking the Books. We had a great time chatting about Italian food and my books. Robbie has a terrific style so please give it a listen (even if he DOES mispronounce my name – as many do – I forgive you Robbie x). The series has chats with lots of fabulous people in the food industry including Julie Jones (the lady on Instagram who is an incredible baker) Here is a link to the series (which you can download from iTunes)
ADRIATICO APERITIVO – two and a half more weeks until this event at the rather cool Joanie’s Baretto in Thornbury. Ticket price includes a welcome drink and a range of snacks from the book. And I will be chatting a bit about the book too; so head on down to Joanie’s for an aperitivo on Tuesday 20 November at 6.30pm. Click HERE for tickets and more information.
TOURS – there are still places on my Southern Adriatic Puglia Tour in April 2019 and the 2019 Trieste Tour in May. Click here to go to my tours page.
roasted almond tart with ricotta and blueberries
275g almonds (or 150g almonds and 125g almond meal)
50g unsalted butter cold from the fridge and cut into small dice
1 small egg
60g plain Greek yoghurt
one lemon, zest only
15ml brandy (or lemon juice if you do not want to use alcohol)
25g gluten free flour
90g blueberries, washed and dried
1 scant tsp tapioca flour
icing sugar for dusting
extra blueberries for serving (optional)
To roast the almonds (either all of them or 150g if doing a half roasted/half natural crust), tip them onto an oven tray and place into a 180C preheated conventional oven for 10-12 minutes or until you can smell that lovely roasted smell. Remove from the oven and tip the almonds onto another tray to cool down. Once they have cooled, tip them into a processor and process until they form a reasonable fine crumb. Don’t process them for too long or they will start releasing their oils. You can do this a few hours (or days) ahead if you like.
To make the tart: preheat the oven to 150C (conventional). Line the base and side of a 25cm tart tin with a removable base.
Place the butter, processed almonds (or processed almonds plus almond flour), 20g sugar and salt in a bowl and mix well with your fingers until crumbly and homogenous. Add most of the egg (keep some aside as it may make the mixture too wet; only add it in if you need it) and mix with a spoon until it comes together into a ball. You could do this in the food processor but I use my fingers and hands to make the pastry. Press onto the base and sides of the lined tin with the back of a large spoon and your finger tips. Make it as even as possible. Chill in the fridge until needed.
Place the ricotta, yoghurt, lemon zest, sugar, eggs (plus any leftover egg from the crust, if you have any), corn starch, GF flour, pinch salt and brandy in a the bowl of your kitchen mixer and combine for a few minutes until smooth (I used my Kitchenaid and the paddle attachment). Pour into the chilled tart base and tap lightly on your kitchen bench to make it even.
Toss the washed and dried berries in Tapioca flour. Wipe of some of the flour so only a very thin coating remains then dot them on the ricotta mixture. I pushed them in slightly until they touched the base of the tart.
Bake for 55-60 minutes until the ricotta is lightly coloured and firm to touch. Place on a wire cooling rack and dust lightly with icing sugar. Allow to cool completely before removing from the tin.
Serve with extra blueberries (optional). Store covered in the fridge for about 3 days.