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

stone fruit banana trifle with orange blossom custard

stone fruit banana trifle with orange blossom custard

Last summer, my friend Mary brought a trifle to my parents' house for dinner, and I haven't stopped thinking about it since. She was visiting her mom in Chicago at the time, and in her words she "just threw it together with whatever was around the house." And being an amazing Assyrian baker, her mom had orange blossom water on hand, which found its way into the trifle's whipped cream and custard. It was just so perfect, and when Mary offered to leave the leftovers, I don't think I even did one of those "oh I couldn't possibly!" false protests, and just said "yes please!"

So this summer, with peaches, plums, and nectarines at their peak, I made this stone fruit and banana trifle. Orange blossom water works beautifully with all stone fruits, but there's really no better combination than orange blossom and banana—the flower water really highlights the ripe banana flavor that we're always looking for more of when baking and cooking with them.

stone fruit banana trifle with orange blossom custard

A quick note on Middle Eastern and North African trifles in general: I sometimes come up with recipes inspired by the flavors and techniques of classic Middle Eastern food, but this trifle isn't done "with a Middle Eastern twist," because it's something that's actually cooked in Iraqi and Egyptian kitchens. So I just wanted to take this opportunity to highlight some of the Middle Eastern and North African trifles out there, because there are some amazing ones, and it's August, and high time to make all the trifles:

Maryam's Culinary Wonders' lemon trifle
Amira's Pantry's tropical fruit trifle
Nadia Barrow's Iraqi trifle

stone fruit banana trifle with orange blossom custard

notes on adapting this recipe to be more and less set

I love this trifle the way it is and hope you will too, but you might prefer a more set dessert, so I've put together some advice on adapting it to suit your preference. First, a quick description, so you can determine whether this version is for you:

This trifle has a texture similar to classic banana pudding, which means that it scoops more like pudding and less like a custardy cake. I personally don't prefer trifles where you can see the distinct spoon imprint after scooping out a serving (e.g., trifles with a texture more like panna cotta)—but on the flip side, you don't want your trifle to rush in to fill the gap when you scoop some out (that would be way too watery for anyone). This trifle is somewhere in between—definitely not watery or soupy, but also not super firm.

Here are some things you can do if you'd like a more cakey, set trifle:

  • Substitute poundcake or angel food cake in place of all or some of the cookies.

  • Trifles with a lot of fruit tend to be on the puddingy side, so to prevent this one from getting watery, I ask you to macerate the fruit and then strain it. No one should skip this step, because there's a fine line between puddingy trifle and trifle soup, and stone fruit contains a lot of liquid. But if you want it to be a bit more set, let the fruit macerate even longer, and strain it extremely well for several minutes. You could also use more bananas in place of some of the stone fruit, which don't give off juices to the same degree (but I really like it with the full amount of stone fruit, especially this time of year). Even if you're going for a puddingy texture, make sure you don't use over-ripe stone fruits (as I mention in the recipe).

  • Whip the cream to stiff peaks, and then pipe it onto the top. Stiff peaks are much firmer, but they don't dollop well at all, so you'll need to pipe it with a star tip or something pretty that'll give it the right kind of texture (otherwise it'll look grainy and awkward). I like the more casual look of dolloping soft peaks.

stone fruit banana trifle with orange blossom custard

stone fruit banana trifle with orange blossom custard

download a PDF to print
serves 16 (i.e., makes a gallon, so feel free to halve the recipe)
active time: 45 minutes
total time: 2 hours 15 minutes
see the above notes if you'd like this recipe to be less puddingy and more set.

orange blossom custard

  • 2 1/2 cups cold whole milk (567 g)

  • 1/3 cup sugar (72 g)

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt (1.5 g)

  • 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoon cornstarch (59 g)

  • 3 eggs (150 g) + 2 yolks (30 g)

  • an instant-read thermometer

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons orange blossom water (8 g), or to taste

  • 2 tablespoons butter (28 grams)

  1. Whisk together the milk, sugar, salt, and cornstarch (no eggs yet!) in a medium saucepan off the heat. Turn the heat to medium or medium-high, and stir constantly as you bring it to a simmer. As soon as it comes to a simmer, it will thicken noticeably. Simmer and stir for another 30 seconds to 1 minute to fully thicken, then remove from heat.

  2. Immediately temper the eggs: Beat the eggs and yolks together in a medium mixing bowl over a wet paper towel (to keep it from skidding). Take a whisk-full (or about a couple tablespoons) of the hot thickened milk and quickly beat it into the eggs until the mixture is relatively smooth with some tiny lumps. Keep whisking in small amounts of the milk into the egg mixture, and continue until the eggs smooth out completely. Now you can start adding big spoon-fulls of the milk, until you've added about half of it to the eggs.

  3. Once you've whisked in about 1/2, slowly pour the egg mixture back into the milk mixture while whisking. Set this over medium-low heat, and cook, whisking constantly, until it's 165-170° F.

  4. Once it's done, immediately stir in the orange blossom water and butter, and whisk together until the butter melts and completely incorporates. Chill in the refrigerator for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it's cool, but not too cold. Work on the fruit while you wait.

macerated stone fruit

  • 8 cups ripe stone fruit cut into bite-sized pieces (nectarines, peaches, cherries, apricots, plums, etc.)*

  • 3 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 pinch salt

  1. Combine the cut up stone-fruit with the sugar and salt, and let it sit in the refrigerator for at least 45 minutes while you prep the rest of the ingredients. Once it's given off a decent amount of juice, strain it very well.

* Measure the fruit by filling a 2-cup liquid measuring cup up to the 2-cup line 4 times. Or if you want to go by weight to be more exact, this is 1230 grams, or 2 pounds 11 ounces. Use stone fruit that's ripe, but not extremely ripe. E.g., you don't want the kinds of plums that feel like water balloons.

whipped cream

  • 1 pint cold heavy whipping cream

  • 2 tablespoons sugar

  • 1 teaspoon orange blossom water

  • 1 pinch salt

  1. Move the bowl of your stand mixer to the freezer or refrigerator, and chill until you're ready.

  2. A few minutes before assembling the trifle, combine the cream, sugar, orange blossom water, and salt in the chilled bowl. Whisk at medium speed until soft peaks form.

assembling the trifle

  • 1 big glass bowl or trifle dish (4-quart container)

  • macerated stone fruit, strained and liquid discarded

  • 4 bananas, sliced (they should be yellow with a few small brown flecks)

  • orange blossom custard

  • orange blossom whipped cream

  • 7 to 10 ounces amaretti cookies (or Nilla Wafers or lady fingers—any dry cookies)

  • 2 stone fruits sliced into pieces for the top

  1. Slice the bananas and combine them with the strained fruit.

  2. Whisk the custard very well until it's smooth and spreadable.

  3. Layer the ingredients in whatever order you want, ending with a layer of whipped cream.** Top with the additional sliced stone fruit.

  4. Let it chill for about 15 minutes, and then dig in.

** Styling suggestions: Place the fruit around the perimeter before filling in the center, and let it kind of fall down the sides of the container, instead of trying to push it out to the sides (this will give you cleaner lines, instead of accidentally smushing all the custard to the edges). After you do the second fruit layer, wipe out the top portion of the sides of the trifle dish to wipe away the fruit juices (this will look much neater than trying to wipe down the sides after you've already topped it with whipped cream). Spoon whipped cream and custard around the edges and then in the center, without letting it fall down the sides. When you do the final whipped cream layer, don't try to make it even and smooth—just dollop it in the center and give it a few swoops, and it'll look much better.

stone fruit banana trifle with orange blossom custard