apricot and pine nut cake

apricot and pine nut cake

Last month when we were visiting family in Chicago, I cooked a big dinner for my in-laws, my family, and a bunch of friends. My husband, Simon, volunteered to bake a cake, and I recommended a simple upside down one since he had literally never baked a single cake before. Upside down cakes are super easy, because the cake batter is essentially a sweet quick-bread, and doesn’t require a lot of fancy butter creaming or egg beating. It’s all just stirring, pouring, and baking. He did the whole “inspired chef” schtick where you go to the market and see what looks good, and he happened to find some really delicious looking apricots. He used my persimmon upside down cake as a base, and substituted some small apricots that he sliced in half and pitted. And I have to say, for a first cake, or even for a thousandth cake, that was a good one.

apricot and pine nut cake
apricot and pine nut cake

A few weeks later, I revisited his apricot cake to write up a recipe to share here, and I decided to add some pine nuts to the brown sugar bottom, which was a delicious addition. The basbousa-esque styling on this one is kind of a funny story. Just as I was putting the finishing touches on this blog post, Salma Hage posted to her instagram story that she was developing a recipe for a filo almond tarte tatin, which was styled with a single blanched almond in the center of each stone fruit. I sent her a photo of the one I was working on because I was super curious if we were both inspired by the same thing—it turns out Salma also took inspiration from the beautiful pattern of almonds on top of perfect basbousa diamonds. I love that so many of us share the same visual vocabulary and history, and find the same things inspiring. Check out Salma’s books if you haven’t already—she is a marvelous chef and a beautiful soul.

apricot and pine nut cake
apricot and pine nut cake

apricot pine nut cake

yield: an 8-inch single-layer cake
active time: 20 minutes
total time: 1 hour
download a
PDF to print

for the apricot pine nut bottom

  • Butter for greasing cast iron skillet*

  • 55g unsalted butter, melted and cooled (1/2 stick / 4 tablespoons)

  • 100g brown sugar (1/2 cup)

  • 1 pinch salt

  • 330g firm-ripe apricots (about 7 small)

  • 40g pine nuts (1/3 cup), optional**

for the cake batter

  • 200g all purpose flour (1 1/2 cups)

  • 5g baking powder (1 1/4 teaspoons)

  • 1g baking soda (1/4 teaspoon)

  • 0.5g salt (1/4 teaspoon)

  • 2 large eggs, at room temperature (110g total)

  • 100g sugar (1/2 cup)

  • 50g brown sugar (1/4 cup)

  • 55g unsalted butter, melted and cooled (1/2 stick / 4 tablespoons)

  • 120g buttermilk***, at room temperature (1/2 cup)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

  2. Butter one 10-inch cast iron skillet. Cover the bottom of with a parchment round.

  3. Mix together the melted butter, brown sugar, and salt, and pour it over the parchment-covered cake pan. Use your fingers to spread the brown sugar out evenly over the bottom until it's completely covered.

  4. Cut the apricots in half and pit them. Arrange them cut-side-down over the buttery brown sugar, placing 1 pine nut under each one as you go. Sprinkle the rest of the pine nuts around the apricots, and make sure they’re pressed into the brown sugar/butter mixture. Set aside.

  5. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Set aside.

  6. In a smaller mixing bowl, beat the eggs, sugar, and brown sugar together until the brown sugar has mostly dissolved. Add the melted butter and buttermilk to the egg mixture, and stir together until combined very well.

  7. Pour the wet mixture over the dry mixture, and stir just until everything is combined. It won't be completely smooth, and there might be some tiny lumps; this is completely fine—do not overmix!

  8. Carefully pour the batter over the apricots, smooth out the top with a spatula, and bake for about 30-35 minutes. It's done once you can insert a toothpick into the center and batter doesn't stick.

  9. Let it cool for 5 to 10 minutes in the skillet. Then trace around the edge with a thin knife. Place a plate or cake stand upside-down over the cake. Put on your grippiest oven mitts, and hold the plate and cake together so that your thumbs are underneath the cake pan. Carefully and quickly rotate it away from yourself and give it a quick up-and-down shake to release the cake from the pan. Remove the pan and parchment, slice, and serve.

* No worries if you don’t have a cast iron skillet. You can instead use an 8 or 9-inch cake pan (cast iron skillets are measured from their widest point, so a 10-inch pan is more like 8 or 9 inches at its base). The cake will take more like 25 to 30 minutes to cook through if you use a regular cake pan.

** I’ve made this both with and without the pine nuts, and it’s delicious either way. If you don’t have them on hand or if you don’t like them, no worries.

*** You can instead use plain yogurt thinned out with a couple tablespoons of milk (but don’t use Greek or strained yogurt). Measure 120g (1/2 cup) of thinned yogurt in place of the buttermilk.

to make ahead

This cake is best baked the day you plan to serve it (store it at room temperature for less than 1 day), but leftovers keep well in the freezer (cut pieces into individual servings, wrap them tightly, and store them in the freezer for up to 3 months. Use a microwave or toaster oven to thaw and slightly warm them). All cakes stale more quickly in the refrigerator than they do at room temperature, so try to avoid the fridge if possible.

apricot and pine nut cake

sabzi khordan with baked feta

sabzi khordan with baked feta

When we were in grad school in the Garden State, we lived in an apartment in Central Jersey with a decently sized back yard and easy access to community gardens, but for some reason, I decided to wait until moving to Hong Kong to take up gardening on our two-by-six-foot little balcony. I’d love to have a grape vine someday, and maybe some tomatoes, but until then, I’m really happy with the big potted herb planters I’ve got going. Or, I should say, the potted herbs I was growing, until flying back to the US to visit family and leaving little scraggly mint/parsley/basil stubs behind. The week before leaving, I went a little crazy trying to use them up. I dried some mint, put fresh basil in everything, made lots of mint tea, and made an absurd amount of dolma. At the end of the week, I still had a lot of mint and basil, so I did the best thing I could think to do: sabzi khordan! I’ll take any excuse to eat herbs by the fistful.

sabzi khordan with baked feta
sabzi khordan with baked feta

Sabzi khordan, a Persian classic, is simply a big plate of herbs and crunchy, fresh ingredients, which you can serve with feta and flatbread. It’s easy, stunning, and delicious all at the same time, and I’ve recently been throwing it on top of a big sheet pan of baked feta for a fun change of pace.

I don’t super reliably share Persian recipes on here, because it wasn’t the primary food I grew up with at home, and my mind usually goes to Iraqi and Syrian food first. And since many Assyrians are from Iran, this year I’ve been trying to include more Persian recipes. I’ve been off to an okay start, with my favorite date frittata, and Persian love cake-inspired pop tarts. And now I’m so excited to be sharing this one, because it’s one of my family’s favorites. It actually reminds me of the way my grandmother describes the masgouf restaurants in Baghdad. They’d bring the fish out with lots of herbs, scallions, and radishes, and you’d pile as much as you want on top of the grilled fish, squeeze it with some lemon juice, and dig in. In either case, the lesson is the same: eat herbs in heaps and piles, not in sprinkles.

sabzi khordan with baked feta
sabzi khordan with baked feta

sabzi khordan with baked feta

serves about 10 as an appetizer
active time: 10 minutes
total time: 20 minutes
feta roasting technique inspired by
Amanda Hesser at Food52
download a
PDF to print
for a vegan version, see my
whole roasted cauliflower

  • 12 oz piece of feta (340g)

  • 1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced in half (300g)

  • Extra virgin olive oil

  • 2 teaspoons apricot preserves or honey

  • 1 bunch bunch basil, leaves only

  • 1 bunch cilantro, leaves and small stems only

  • 1 bunch watercress

  • 1 small bunch whole chives

  • 1 small handful mint leaves

  • 3 or 4 radishes, sliced

  • flatbread for serving

  1. Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).

  2. Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Blot the feta dry, and place in the center of the sheet pan. Coat the feta with a little olive oil. Coat the tomato halves in a little more oil, and place them around the feta, cut-side-up.

  3. Bake the feta and tomatoes for about 5 to 10 minutes, until the feta softens and starts to melt slightly. Remove from the oven and set it to broil. Brush the feta with the honey or apricot preserves (warm the preserves in the microwave for a few seconds if they aren’t thin enough to brush), and place under the broiler for a couple more minutes to brown the top (keep a very close eye on it—it may only take 1-2 minutes, depending on your oven).

  4. Remove from the oven once it’s warmed through and brown on top. Let it sit at room temperature until the pan is no longer extremely hot, but while the feta is still warm (about 3 minutes). Top the pan with the basil, cilantro, watercress, chives, mint, and radishes. Lightly drizzle the herbs with olive oil. Serve immediately with flatbread, and encourage guests to eat a big heaping pile of herbs with every little bite of feta and tomato.

Note on cook time: I’ve made this with a few different broilers, and they all work very differently. If your broiler is weak and you leave it in longer to compensate, it will become crumbly, and if you broil it less, it will be gooey and spreadable. Either way is delicious, just different. If your broiler runs cold, you might need to bake it longer to get enough caramelization, or you can pull it out before it caramelizes if you don’t want it to get crumbly. Use your discretion, and don’t sweat it too much. But don’t broil it longer than 5 minutes, even if it’s not caramelizing, or it will dry out too much.

Note on herbs: Feel free to substitute your favorite leafy herbs, like dill, fennel fronds, fenugreek leaves, parsley, scallions, or tarragon.

sabzi khordan with baked feta

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