A matter of crust with quince and almond cake
In this story
This cake is notable for the way it gets a nice crust as well as a creamy interior. The recipe is based on a French frangipane cake, which is usually a mix of almonds, butter, eggs and sugar. But the addition of pastry cream to this produces the creaminess, making the mixture moister than it would otherwise be.
I’ve used poached quince for this recipe, but poached pear or poached apple also works well. As the seasons change, so can the fruit. Apricots would be worth a try. Maybe plums.
This recipe came from Brent Savage, who I worked with years ago. He was a talented and generous cook who surprised us constantly with his unique and sometimes bizarre repertoire.
When working in restaurants, you’re exposed to base recipes in each kitchen that make their way around to other restaurants as chefs constantly move from kitchen to kitchen. Like chefs, recipes are nomadic. They have evolved and improved with sharing, and changed in other people’s hands.
Brent came to Melbourne from Sydney 10 years ago, and brought with him a lot of recipes we hadn’t seen before. He had worked in many kitchens and been exposed to a lot of different recipes – which he passed on.
There is a dialogue in kitchens that is quite generous. And in my time in kitchens I’ve seen culture change to allow much more sharing. The basic truth is that all chefs have learnt from someone, and are willing to teach someone else.
As I’m typing this, I can hear two chefs in the restaurant kitchen, talking about how you can “make a dulce de leche in a pasta cooker”. I’m not sure about this, but it is part of the way chefs share with each other.
Brent cooked this cake one day, and I’ve been cooking it since. I was stunned by the crisp exterior. Up until that point, I had only eaten frangipane-type cakes in a tart shell or casing. This opened the dessert up and added a whole new dimension. The cake cooks for a long time – longer than seems natural. You might be tempted to take it out too early but, unless it is dark and smoking, resist.
This winter, I’ve been drinking a lot more tea than alcohol. And this cake goes very well with tea. Almonds and butter, sugar and a subtle fruit, scream for a cuppa. This is the only time I drink a milk tea. In this case, Earl Grey.
– 125g butter
– 125g castor sugar
– 1 egg yolk
– 1 egg
– 125g pastry cream (recipe below)
– 150g almond meal
– 3 poached quinces or pears, cut into thick wedges
In an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar until the sugar dissolves and the mixture is pale and creamy.
Add the egg yolk followed by the whole egg, beating well after each addition.
Mix in the pastry cream, stirring until it is thoroughly incorporated before folding the almond meal through the batter with a spatula.
Grease a springform or loaf tin with a little soft butter and line with baking paper.
Lay the quince pieces on the bottom of the cake tin and spoon the almond batter over the top.
Bake at 180ºC for one hour. The cake will develop a rich crust and be pudding soft on the inside.
Leave the cake to cool in the tin for 15 minutes before turning out onto a serving plate.
This will make a little more than you need for the cake. If you like, you can combine the remaining pastry cream with whipped cream and serve it alongside the cake.
– 3 egg yolks
– 3 tbsp sugar
– 2 tbsp flour
– 1 tbsp cornflour
– 1 cup milk
– 1 tsp pure vanilla extract
Beat the egg yolks and sugar for a few minutes until pale and slightly thickened.
Whisk in the flour and cornflour until smooth.
Place the milk and vanilla extract in a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer.
Slowly pour the hot milk into the egg mixture, whisking all the time, then return the mixture to the saucepan and bring it to a simmer, stirring continuously to prevent lumps. Continue to cook for two minutes until the custard is thick and glossy.
Pour the custard into a clean bowl and place a piece of baking paper on top to prevent a skin forming. Refrigerate to cool.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 27, 2015 as "A matter of crust". Subscribe here.