This is an extraordinary and astonishingly simple spice cake made with basic store cupboard ingredients put together in in an unusual way. Like the Torta di Nocci from Lake Garda posted earlier, there is a crisp shortbread base with a soft, intensely flavoured cake layer on top, decorated with chopped walnuts.
Laurie Colwin was an American novelist and food writer published frequently in Gourmet Magazine and The New Yorker and treasured by everyone who came to know her. Sadly, she died far too young, of a heart attack at 48. Fortunately her food pieces were put together in two delightful books: Home Cooking, A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking, A Writer Returns to the Kitchen, both with chapters like "Turkey Angst" and "Desserts that Quiver". I know, you love her already.
I discovered her only recently, reading through archive posts by another favourite food writer and cookbook author, Arthur Schwartz. In his Food Maven blog, he describes meeting Laurie only a short time before her death; her nutmeg cake recipe was given to him by the friend who introduced them, saying she felt Laurie would want him to have it.
As Arthur says, it is truly a great cake – full of character from the large amount of freshly grated nutmeg and from the caramel sweetness and added texture of a crisp bottom layer of brown sugar shortbread.
NOTE: if you put “nutmeg cake” into Google, you will find several recipes for “Armenian nutmeg cake” from Australia and New Zealand, similar to Laurie’s. As always, there are variations – light brown sugar vs dark, with milk or orange juice, etc. Perhaps the most interesting was in the notquitenigella blog with a honey glaze and chopped pistachio and edible rose petals decoration. Very pretty!
Laurie Colwin's Nutmeg Cake (via Arthur Schwartz’s Food Maven blog)
Makes 1 10-inch cake (a 9” cake pan would be fine too)NOTE: The mixing technique here is unusual. A portion, about half, of the butter-flour-sugar mixture, which is combined by cutting the butter into the dry ingredients, is used to make a cookie-like base for the cake.Then the remainder of the mixture is blended with the spices, yogurt, egg and the leavener, which is baking soda. You'll end up with a light, but rich cake top over a crisp cookie base.
ALL YOU NEED IS:
1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups firmly packed dark brown sugar (I used have light/half dark)
4 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup yogurt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
Butter the sides only of a 10-inch springform pan. (I covered the bottom with a buttered parchment disc.
In a large mixing bowl, combine the butter, cut into 6 to 8 pieces, with the flour and dark brown sugar. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour and sugar until the mixture resembles fine meal.
Measure out 2 1/2 cups of this mixture and spread it evenly in the bottom of the prepared pan. With your hand flat, firmly compress the mixture evenly into the bottom of the pan.
Add the spices to the remaining dry ingredients. Mix well.
In a small bowl, stir the egg and yogurt together to mix well. With a wooden spoon, stir the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Finally, sprinkle the baking soda over the surface of the batter and gently but thoroughly stir it in.
Spread this batter over the mixture that was pressed into the bottom of the pan, and with a rubber spatula, smooth the top of the batter.
Scatter the chopped walnuts on top.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 50 to 55 minutes, or until a wooden cake tester comes out clean from the center of the cake, and the sides of the cake have shrunk slightly away from the pan.
Cool in the pan, on a rack, for 5 minutes. Then slid a thin-bladed knife around the circumference of the cake to make sure there are no spots still attached to the sides of the springform pan. Remove the sides of the pan and cool the cake completely.
The cake can be easily removed from the springform pan. When serving, cut down hard through the shortbread bottom.