Pumpkin & Hazelnut Cake with Ricotta Cream
"It reminds me of something similar mum used to make..."
If there is a sentence to conjure up feelings of joy, then this is it. As a baker, I think it is quite possibly the pinnacle of all compliments to receive when you eagerly anticipate the verdict of a new recipe. I always hold my breath and hope for the best!
To transport someone back to a time in the past through a flavour is something that can be quite emotional and magical. It also allows for a dialogue to open up, a story to be shared and I for one, am always willing to listen. It is made even more special when I am able to create these moments for the ones I love, in this case, it was my dad. It was the warming spices of this pumpkin cake that took him back to his Mum's baking. My Grandma. She was a wonderful baker of good, honest, home-baked treats that comforted and soothed. She made use of whatever it was that she had to hand at the time.
The soothing spices of this cake have been weaved in with the wholesome goodness of ground hazelnuts and wholemeal flour. Grated pumpkin, burnt butter and black tea steeped in warm milk add another layer of interest. A crown of whipped ricotta cream was a last-minute addition. All of these ingredients were what I had to hand at the time...I think Grandma would approve, well, I can only hope she would have. We all certainly did, almost...Ben was not too keen. But, if there is one thing I have learnt when it comes to pleasing people...you can't please them all and in this case, it was majority rules.
Still, it didn't stop him from making quite the dent in it over the days that followed as he stood over the kitchen sink when those late afternoon sweet cravings swept in, dropping crumbs. This is a moment that continues to be etched into my mind on the daily. cake crumbs that have been left behind on the bench will always make me smile (they will also make me roll my eyes) as it is a memory of knowing that someone has just filled a space in their grumbling tummy with a cake, a biscuit, a slice, whatever it may be - with something that I have baked out of love, something I have baked for the ones I love, just as Grandma did.
Pumpkin & Hazelnut Cake with Ricotta Cream
Makes a 22cm square cake
200g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
3 free-range eggs, at room temperature
1 tbsp caster sugar
1 teaspoon cassia (of ground cinnamon)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
a few grinds of black pepper
a pinch of salt
150g wholemeal self-raising flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup of milk
2 English breakfast tea bags
1 1/2 cups of grated pumpkin
For the ricotta cream
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup icing sugar, sifted
Ground cinnamon for dusting
Place the butter in a small saucepan and melt over low heat, increase the heat a little and continue to cook the butter until it has reached a nut-brown state. It will smell heavenly at this point and foam up. Remove from the heat and pour into a bowl, along with all of those burnt bits on the bottom. Set aside to cool until it solidifies once again. You can do this step the day before if you like and just keep the butter, covered, on the bench.
Preheat your oven to 160 degrees fan-forced. Grease with butter and line with baking paper a 22cm square cake tin.
Warm the milk in a small saucepan until heated through. Add the tea bags and let steep for a good 5 minutes. Remove the tea bags.
Place the nuts in a food processor along with the tablespoon of extra caster sugar and the spices and blitz until a fine crumb.
In the bowl of a stand mixer or a large bowl with hand beaters, beat the sugar and butter until creamy, add the eggs in one at a time and continue to beat until everything is combined.
Sift the flours and baking powder into the bowl and add this to the creamed mixture, beating slowly until just combined, pour in the tea stained milk and add in the nuts and a pinch of salt and mix slowly once again. Finally, fold through the grated pumpkin and then spoon into your prepared cake tin. Smooth the top and place into the oven for about 45 minutes or until it feels just firm to the touch or a cake tester or skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Allow to cool in the tin for 10 minutes and then carefully turn out onto a cooling tray to cool completely before icing.
To make the ricotta cream you will need to blend the ricotta in a food processor or blender until creamy and smooth, add in the vanilla and icing sugar and blend once again until its all combined and velvety smooth. When your cake is cool enough, spread the cream over the top and then finally sprinkle with ground cinnamon.