Unsettling the table

There is plenty of evidence from the Saturday morning farmer’s market to suggest that March is a terrible month for sourcing ingredients. Apart from a few softening taproots and tubers, there’s almost no produce worth getting out of bed for. My own fridge is  is a mirror image of the market, scarce with bacon, yogurt, a tub of olives and some eggs arranged around sliming arugula and a half-eaten cabbage.

In this transitional season, the kitchen almost ceases to be a creative, entertaining space. At least, this is how it feels when I open the door of the fridge and stare at its contents for several minutes, uninspired. In times like these, make cake. At the very least, cake is marginally more cheerful than having cereal or toast for dinner—especially when these become standard end-of-winter fare.

Martha Stewart has a kick-ass Meyer lemon cake which I’ve adapted for versatility and convenience. The addition of olive oil as a counterpoint to the richness of the yogurt is quite clever; fruity olive oils are woefully underutilized in sweets. After preheating your oven to 350 C, blend together 2½–3 cups of flour (you can swap out wheat flour for almond flour if you wish), 4 teaspoons of baking powder and 1/2 tsp salt. Then, whisk together six eggs with 2 cups of sugar (give or take, to taste), adding 1 tsp vanilla when mixed.

To the eggs, add a cup of plain yogurt and a cup of olive oil. Now, here’s where you can get inventive. If you like citrus, you can add 3 tsp of zest (orange, lemon, etc.) and squeeze half a citrus fruit worth of juice into the eggs. Or, you can add 3/4 cup shredded coconut to the dry, and swap out some of the olive oil with coconut oil. This is your playground – you are totally capable of sautéing dates in honey (and a little bit of water) until they break down, and pouring ribbons of date in with the cake batter.

The room for failure with this cake is pretty small. You could, however, think about the acidity of your additions: If you are loading your cake with citrus, you could probably substitute a spoon of baking powder for baking soda. By contrast, dates, blueberries, pears and so on tend to be more alkaline, so the baking powder is probably fine.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet stuff, and mix until barely blended. Pour the batter into a cake pan (bundt cakes are cute, if that’s your thing), and bake for 45 minutes. Cool completely, glaze with a flavour-appropriate icing, and rejoice. Not only is this cake an object of cheer, it is also a nice medium that facilitates experimentation and flair, two joys of cooking that are all too often lost, come mid-March.

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