I’ve been very selective about my baking of late, so only the most exceptional recipes are under consideration, so it’s lucky that I bought Ottolenghi’s book, Sweet. This Rose and Pistachio cake was made for a very special 50th birthday. I’m a huge fan of polenta cakes. This one uses both polenta and ground almonds making it the perfect vehicle for the rose and lemon syrup which soaks the warm cake. The result is a beautifully moist and flavoursome cake. I was expecting a stronger rose flavour, so next time I would swap the quantities of lemon juice and rose water in the syrup. The crystallised rose petals on top are easy to make and can be baked in the oven while you are preparing the cake mixture. I think they are worth the effort as they give the cake that little bit of pizazz.
3 cardamom pods
150g shelled pistachio kernels, plus an extra 20g, finely chopped, to serve
100g ground almonds
170g fine semolina
1 and 1/4 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
300g unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed, plus extra for greasing
330g caster sugar
4 large eggs, lightly whisked
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon (1 tsp), plus 1 tbsp lemon juice
100ml lemon juice
80ml rose water
100g caster sugar
Crystallised Rose Petals (if using)
1 large egg white
10g pesticide-free red or pink rose petals (about 40 medium rose petals)
25g caster sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 100°C/80°C Fan/Gas Mark ¼. Line a baking tray with baking parchment and grease a 23cm springform cake tin and line with baking parchment.
2. To crystallise the rose petals, if using, whisk the egg white by hand until frothy, then, using a small pastry brush or paintbrush, very lightly paint over both sides of each petal with the egg white: do this in two or three small batches, brushing and then sprinkling lightly over both sides with the sugar. Shake off the excess sugar and lay the petals on the lined baking tray. Place in the oven for 30 minutes, until dry and crunchy, then set aside to cool.
3. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C/160°C Fan/Gas Mark 4.
4. Use the flat side of a large knife to crush the cardamom pods and place the seeds in the small bowl of a food processor: you’ll have just under ¼ teaspoon of seeds. The pods can be discarded. Add the pistachios and blitz until the nuts are finely ground – the black cardamom seeds won’t really grind down – then transfer to a bowl. Add the ground almonds, semolina, baking powder and salt. Mix together and set aside.
5. Place the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place. Beat on a medium-high speed until fully combined but take care not to over-work: you don’t want to incorporate a lot of air into the mix. With the machine still running, slowly add the eggs, scraping down the sides of the bowl a few times and making sure that each batch is fully incorporated before adding the next. The mix will curdle once the eggs are added, but don’t worry: this will not affect the end result.
6. Remove the bowl from the machine and add the dry ingredients, folding them in by hand and again, taking care not to over-mix. Next fold in the lemon zest, juice, rose water and vanilla and scrape the batter into the tin. Level with a palette knife and bake for about 55–60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean but oily.
7. Start to make the syrup about 10 minutes before the cake comes out of the oven: you want it to be warm when the cake is ready. Place all the ingredients for the syrup in a small saucepan over a medium heat. Bring to the boil, stirring so that the sugar dissolves, then remove from the heat: don’t worry that the consistency is thinner than you might expect, this is how it should be.
8. As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, drizzle all of the syrup over the top. It is a lot of syrup, but don’t lose your nerve: the cake can take it! Sprinkle over the finely chopped pistachios and set the cake aside in its tin to come to room temperature. Remove from the tin and scatter the rose petals over the cake. Serve with a generous spoonful of cream alongside.