Over the weekend, I treated myself to a day in the kitchen.
Despite the dry, bright weather it was obvious that TLC wasn't budging from the sofa (we had, admittedly, gone hard on the cocktails the previous evening; curse you, Brown's and your reasonably priced martinis) and we really couldn't face the wreckage of the garden.
So, we breakfasted on bacon and proper puffy buttermilk pancakes drowned in maple syrup, and dined on pastitsio, a Greek layered dish of macaroni, bechemel and a tomatoey lamb filling, baked with lots of cheese and breadcrumbs on top. Rib-stickingly good for a cold night.
I fancied doing a bit of baking in the afternoon. Our Christmas treat to each other was a decent, solid stand mixer–not the classic and pricy KitchenAid, sadly, but the Kenwood KMix, which has more or less the same specs and a significantly less hefty pricetag. It's a powerhouse that makes light work of bread, cakes and meringues.
We also, courtesy of a new CostCo membership that had me wandering the food department in a quasi-religious trance (the meat! the sweets! the sausages!), have a catering-size bag of pine nuts. No, I don't know what I was thinking. Perhaps I had a vision of whipping up huge vats of pesto. However, what's done is done and I must needs do the best I can with what I have. To me, my Google. Pine nut recipes.
I love nuts in cakes, so with that in mind my search was pleasingly brief. Pinolata is a simple and delicious cake from Italy that's simple to whip up and worth trying out.
Before we begin, a side note on Rob's Tau of Baking. Cake making is anathema to my way of cooking. I subscribe to the handfuls and pinches school that doesn't worry too much about measurements. However, you have to be precise to make a decent cake, and it's good to get everything prepped up before you start. Once you do, I'm always surpised how quick the process of getting a cake in the oven can be. But I do have to force myself to be organised. I'm a convert to using the American cup system, which means a bit less weighing out. I have a 200g plastic thing that came with the breadmaker we bought 10 years ago that still does the job sans muss ou fuss. Get yourself one. It makes life a lot easier.
On your marks, get set, bake. If you don't have a stand mixer, grab a big bowl and a sturdy spoon and prepare for a workout. But first up, toast your pine nuts, as they need your undivided attention. Throw a third of a cup of pine nuts into a hot, dry, frying pan and toast them until they have golden patches. Keep the pan moving, and don't take your eyes off them. Those little suckers burn in an instant. This should only take five minutes or so.
Now, into the bowl goes a cup and a quarter of sugar, half white, half soft brown. Follow that with three eggs, and beat the lot until pale in colour and double in size. Next, add half a cup of extra virgin olive oil (for a British twist, might I suggest cold-pressed rapeseed oil? It's all I use in the kitchen these days, but if you must be authentic, olive oil it is), the zest of a lemon and a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Beat again briefly to mix that all in.
Add a cup and a quarter of flour, along with a pinch of salt to the mixture, and gently mix the lot together. Add your toasted pine nuts, and give it all one final stir until the nuts are evenly distributed.
There, cake mix. Spoon-licking good.
Pile your batter into a greased cake tin (I have a 12″ silicon job that does sterling service) that has greaseproof paper on the bottom (you might want to Google the fine art of making a cartouche for an easy way of fitting a square sheet into a round tin–or use a square tin), smooth it off, and scatter over another third of a cup of untoasted pine nuts. Into a pre-heated oven at 180C for about 40 mins. Gives you time to tidy up. Cake making is a messy business.
The end result is dense and sticky, but not too sweet, and somehow honeyed. It's pale gold, elegant and absolutely lovely warm from the oven. I don't know why, but it feels like something that a Greek cafe would serve up with a strong black coffee for elevenses. I could get a serious habit for this cake.
I'd suggest tweaks at this point, but to be honest I can't think of anything I'd want to change about pinolata. It's perfect just as it is.
Now, if anyone has any suggestions for what to do with 500g of pine nuts…