I spent Christmas with my sister Barbara at her beach house. After a long difficult year of being apart, it was a joy to have nearly everyone in the family in the same room at the same time. 2020 was a year of endings and beginnings; we sadly farewelled my mother but happily welcomed three little people into our family, baby Leo (the eldest by 3 weeks) and twins Neve and Nello, the “nipotini”. If you follow me on Instagram you may have seen that Christmas Day was a feast of seafood antipasti, glazed ham and stuffed duck; as was the next day (the highlight was a massive paella) and the one after that (I made palacinche – Istrian crepes – for breakfast). We continued our tradition of a pasta-making class on Christmas night (I teach the family a different pasta shape each year, this year it was orecchiette), which we eat with freshly made basil pesto (made with a mortar and pestle). My brother in law’s garden is looking lush and green this year, with raised beds full of tomatoes, zucchini, cucumbers and herbs, with capsicums on the way. And the apricot tree was full of ripening apricots, well-netted and waiting to be picked.
On our last day, Barbara made a sensational upside down apricot cake. It was full of the fruit we had picked from the tree in the backyard and had a lovely texture. There is nothing as good as backyard apricots when you eat them freshly picked. The ones from the shop, picked many weeks prior to ripening, taste bland when eaten as they are but taste wonderful when baked. Once I arrived back home, I couldn’t wait to make the cake. I followed the recipe my sister had given me almost to a tee, but adding almonds and vanilla. I was tempted to use almond flour instead of plain flour as there is so little of it in the cake; I will probably do so next time. It would also work very well with gluten free flour.
In other news,
- COOKBOOKS – I have submitted the manuscript for my third cookbook, Istria, to my publisher Smith Street Books (hooray!). It has been edited and we are now in the design phase. I am very excited with the draft cover and book layout and cannot wait to share it with you. It will be published in October 2021. My first baby Italian Street Food (2016) was published in German a few months ago but is still available in English. Adriatico (2018) is also still available. You can buy both books signed directly from me if you are in Australia, or else online at Amazon, Booktopia and other online booksellers.
- COOKING CLASSES – I have updated my cooking class schedule for 2021. I have kept a few online classes (one per month at this stage), as I so enjoyed them, and have a small number of in-person classes. I am keeping the number small as there is still a world-wide pandemic and there is always a chance that rules around people gather may change. If nothing else I have learnt that as long as the virus is raging somewhere in the world, and we are not vaccinated, then you can expect things to change at short notice. if you wish to check out what classes I am running (in person and online), click here
Buon anno – happy new year – to all my readers; may 2021 be a healthy and happy year for you and your family.
upside down apricot cake
600 – 700g apricots (depends on size)
115g unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 large eggs, separated
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tsp pure vanilla essence
1 tsp baking powder
80g plain flour (or 70g gluten free flour)
handful of slivered or flaked almonds
I used a ceramic/pyrex tin measuring 200 x 290 x 50 mm:
Preheat the oven to 180C conventional. Smear the butter on the base and sides of your tin so that the surfaces are well covered. I used the back of a spoon to spread it evenly. Scatter the sugar on the base (not the sides). Depending on the size of your apricots, cut them in half and remove the stone and then layer them gently on the sugar layer, cut side up. They should be a snug fit. My apricots were larger so I cut them into quarters and squashed a few eighths into the sides. Place in the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until the apricots are cooked through but not yet collapsing.
A few minutes before the apricots are ready, start working on the rest of the cake. Place the egg whites in a clean bowl, add a pinch of salt and whisk until medium to firm peaks form (I use a whisk attachment on a hand held stick blender). Add the lemon juice and sugar and beat for a few more minutes until the mix is firm and glossy.
The apricots should be cooked by now. Remove from the oven and allow to rest 5 minutes.
In a separate bowl, briefly beat the egg yolk and vanilla essence lightly with a fork to combine and break the egg yolks apart. Add the beaten egg whites and fold gently, using a spatula until homogenous; you don’t want to lose aeration. Sift the flour and baking powder over the eggs and gently fold using a spatula. Spread the batter evenly over the (slightly) cooled apricots. Place back in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Check the colour and if it is darkening quickly (as mine was), reduce the temperature to 170 – 160C for another 12-15 minutes. The cake is cooked when it is golden and a skewer inserted comes out clean. Place on a wire rack to cool.
After 5 minutes, run a butter knife around the edge of the cake to loosen it from the tray. Using oven mitts, carefully flip the ceramic tray onto a rectangular serving plate. Scatter the almonds on the apricots and allow to cool 20 – 30 minutes before serving. The cake is lovely warm, or at room temperature. Lasts 2-3 days in a sealed container in a cool spot.