Today sees the publication of the beautiful Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook, and I am thrilled to say that on page 116 it contains one of my recipes.
Torta Colombina, as I have called it, is an intensely orange-flavoured cake, with a topping of almonds and sugar that is crunchy on top and slightly squidgy underneath. It was inspired by the Italian Easter bread, Colomba Pasquale, which is similar to panettone, but baked in the shape of a dove. The real thing uses a brioche-like dough, and whilst it is certainly worth the 18 or more hours it takes to make, I wanted to devise something that evoked some of its flavours and textures but was quicker and easier to make.
I struggled to find a name for this cake that summed it up without being too prosaic or lengthy, and in the end went for the exotic-sounding Torta Colomba, which in Italian would most naturally mean dove-like cake, but could also mean Colomba-like cake. I hope any Italians reading this will forgive me!
The Clandestine Cake Club is the brainchild of Lynn Hill, a lovely lady of seemingly boundless energy, enthusiasm and dedication. In December 2010, ten bakers got together in a secret location to share the cakes they had made and brought along, all without any hint of judging each others efforts. The idea clearly chimed with the renewed national enthusiasm for baking, and since then the excitement on social media and widespread coverage in the press, on television and radio have all fuelled the extraordinary growth of the club, and there are now well nearly 200 groups all over the UK and in far flung parts of the globe, with more groups being created every week.
In early 2012, just after I had signed up as a member, Lynn put out the call for recipes for a Clandestine Cake Club Cookbook. I don’t often make big cakes, and one of my reasons for joining the club was to encourage me to make more. But as it happens I had just made this cake, and so I tentatively submitted it to Lynn. To my surprise she loved it. The rest, as they say, is history.
I know that Lynn has put an enormous amount of work into making the book a reality, and she and the publishers, Quercus (who also published the Girl with a Dragon Tattoo series!) must be delighted with the results. It is a handsome book, with 120 recipes for cakes ranging from the familiar to the exotic, almost every one illustrated with a beautiful photograph.
Waterstones are holding a number of book launch events all over the country. You may find there is one in your area. As well as taking a look at the book, you will be able to meet members of your local CCC group, and sample some of their cakes. Who knows, you may even be inspired to join up and get baking cakes!
For the Cakes
- 175g soft unsalted butter
- The finely grated zest of 2 oranges
- 175g caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
- 1/8 teaspoon (a few drops) bitter almond extract
- 3 medium eggs
- 2 medium egg yolks (save the whites for the topping)
- 175g self raising flour
- 50g ground almonds
For the Topping
- 80g ground almonds
- 80g icing sugar (vanilla if possible)
- 2 egg whites
- 30-40g whole almonds
- 30-40g pearl/nibbed sugar (or crushed sugar cubes)
For the Filling
(Double these quantities if you want to coat the sides of the cake as well as filling it)
- 75g good quality orange curd
- 75g icing sugar
- Two 18cm loose-bottomed sandwich tins, about 4cm deep
Preheat the oven to 180C / 350F / Gas Mark 4 (adjust for fan oven). Butter the sandwich tins, and line with baking parchment.
Beat the butter with the orange zest and caster sugar until light and creamy. Mix in the almond and vanilla extracts, then add the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and adding a little flour if the mixture starts to curdle.
Using a large metal spoon, fold in the ground almonds, followed by the flour. You should now have a light, but stiff mixture. Divide this equally between the sandwich tins and level the surface.
For the topping, mix together the ground almonds, sifted icing sugar and egg whites to make a rough paste. Dot this over the surface of one of the cakes, and then spread it out carefully, disturbing the sponge mixture underneath as little as possible. Scatter the whole almonds on top, followed by the nibbed sugar.
Bake for about 20 minutes, until the uncoated cake is well risen, firm to the touch, and coming away from the edge of the tin. Leave the topped one in for 5-10 minutes longer, until the topping is a light golden brown colour all over. It may still be moist and sticky below the crunchy surface, so if you are testing the cake for doneness with a skewer just make sure there is none of the yellow sponge mixture on it.
Leave in the tins for 10 minutes before removing and cooling on a wire rack. With some careful juggling, you should be able to get the topped cake clear of its tin and lining without turning it over and so risking cracking the crust.
To make the filling, mix the orange curd with the sifted icing sugar. Add a little more curd or icing sugar as required to get a consistency like butter icing. Sandwich the cakes together, and if desired, ice the sides of the cake as well. Dust the top very lightly with icing sugar, to give a frosted effect to the almonds.
You might be tempted to make the cake mix using the all in one method, but such mixtures tend to have a looser texture, and this could make it dificult to spread the topping on top.
You can make your own vanilla icing sugar by putting some icing sugar in an airtight container with a vanilla pod (you can use one you have scraped the seeds out of).
The cake made and photographed for the book is simply sandwiched with the filling. In the one shown above, I decided to coat the sides of the cake with the filling mixture as well (and so made a double quantity of the filling). I’ll confess that I did this to rescue the look of the cake, as I had been rather clumsy in removing the cakes from their tins and one ended up with chunks missing from its side.