Some recipes are just meant to find us.
When I borrowed my sister’s copy of Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache, the “healthy cake” cookbook I reviewed the other day, she informed me that she’d “decided” I should make this recipe: Sunken Apricot and Almond Cake. Seeing that it called for tinned apricot halves, I immediately rejected the idea (if there’s anything I dislike more than cooked fruit, it’s canned fruit). Instead, I turned my attention to finding something else to make.
Perusing the book’s pages over the next few days, I resolutely ignored this cake, considering several other recipes and even trying a couple. Eventually, I had to admit it: this apricot-topped, almond-scented cake was calling my name. The flavours were Mediterranean in feel, the ingredients were (almost) all in my cupboard, and it even used my favourite vegetable, butternut squash.
Swallowing my pride, I got to work. I couldn’t bring myself to buy the tinned apricots, so I opted for dried instead. I always have them around, and they seemed more suited for the time of year, anyway. In the summer, I imagine that fresh would also be delicious.
I’m not going to lie: baking without butter requires more investment than you might care to make. Grating the butternut squash for this recipe was a mind-numbing, painstaking, fingernail-endangering job (I’m not so dextrous with a grater). Certainly more work than measuring out some butter.
I have to say though- in this case, it’s definitely worth the extra effort. The finished cake had an unbelievable texture- moist and dense but far from heavy. The butternut squash is undetectable as a flavour, good news for those who aren’t yet convinced by the vegetable-desserts concept. Instead, it combines with the eggs, almonds, vanilla and spice to make a cake far greater than the sum of its parts.
My sister agreed that it was the best recipe she’s tasted from the book. Thank goodness we’re past the age for “I told you so”.
- No-Butter Apricot and Almond Cake
- adapted from Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache by Harry Eastwood
- makes 16 pieces
- 16 dried apricots
1 tsp. vanilla extract
3 large eggs
180g caster sugar
200g peeled and finely grated butternut squash
1 tsp. almond extract
60g plain flour
200g ground almonds
1 1/2 tsp. mixed spice
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
icing sugar (to serve)
- 1. Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F. Lightly butter the sides of a 8″ x 8″ square baking pan. Cut a piece of parchment paper to cover the bottom and two sides of the pan, and butter this as well. (Don’t skip this step, even if your pan is non-stick; because there is no butter in this cake, it’s prone to sticking.)
2. Put the apricots into a small bowl with half of the vanilla extract, and just cover with boiling water. Set aside to soften.
3. Using an hand blender or stand mixer, beat the eggs and sugar together for 4 minutes, until very light and fluffy. Add the butternut squash, almond extract and the rest of the vanilla extract, and beat to combine.
4. Add the flour, ground almonds, mixed spice, baking powder and salt, and give the mixture a good final whisk, to make sure everything is well combined.
5. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and shake to distribute evenly. Drain the apricots and squeeze them dry, then place in a grid formation over the surface of the cake, so that there will be one in each piece once cut. (Alternatively, you could chop them finely and scatter them over the surface- this will make the cake easier to eat, but perhaps a bit less pretty.)
6. Bake the cake in the middle rack of the oven for 35 to 45 minutes, until lightly browned on top and springy in the middle. Let the cake cool in its pan for ten minutes before running a knife along the sides and gently removing it (using the parchment paper to “lift” it) to a cooling rack. Once completely cool, dust with icing sugar and cut into squares to serve.