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Please Bring Dessert
And, make it Ali Stafford's Orange, Olive Oil, and Almond Torte
Please Bring Dessert was the working title of my latest book. I don’t love to bake, I’m not a great baker and I’m not much of a dessert person. Plus, it’s what you ask people to do if you’re hosting a dinner party. But, the sales team at the publishing house had concerns people would think it was a dessert book (somewhat fair), so it got nixed. I still kept the name as a chapter in the book and I tapped into my wonderfully talented friends who do enjoy sweets to contribute their recipes. I still stand by the name, but Colu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food works too.
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I’m pleased to share the first essay I penned for this book, along with a killer recipe for an Orange, Olive Oil, and Almond Torte from my friend Ali Stafford who writes The Farm Share newsletter, which you should subscribe to. She’s also the superhero author of Bread Toast Crumbs, which teaches everyone that they can bake incredible bread. Yes, even me…
Please Bring Dessert
I’m not a dessert person. I would much rather have an amaro (or another brown spirit deemed appropriate) and some runny cheese to close out dinner. I’m also not a baker, which one could argue makes sense. Why would I try to pursue perfection for something I don’t enjoy eating myself? (This is all about me, isn’t it?) But truthfully, more often than not, my lack of aptitude in baking makes me feel inferior. A cook and a writer of food things that doesn’t put dinner and dessert on the table effortlessly? Oui, c’est moi.
I come from generations of women who made buttery crusts, picture-perfect pies, fluffy seed-topped biscuits, and rich chocolate cakes and somehow, I am the end of the line. I overwork dough, have the patience of a shoefly, and my attention to detail for matters such as these is nil. I’m an “on the fly” gal, in a no-fly zone.
It’s not that I haven’t tried. I’ve rolled out many a galette dough, and the rusticity of my finished product is not in question. No one would deny it’s authentic, it certainly looks very “homemade.” Once a year I also attempt a sour cherry pie, which usually ends in tears, as a double crust is much more challenging (all that crimping too!). Plus the fact that no matter how hard I try, I always overfill it, which leads to a smoky oven and me to a breaking point. It has been proven that the very, very best I can do is Katharine Hepburn’s recipe for brownies made only on a snow day. For someone who admittedly relies too much on the outward praise of others, it is all very humbling.
My lack of baking can also be problematic when entertaining. Things potentially get awkward at the end of a meal when your host offers you nothing except for more wine. (I always have plenty.) So, in pursuit of becoming a well-rounded hostess, I’ve come up with ways to end a meal without turning on the oven. They also happen to make me feel European in nature (excuse me while I adjust my silk scarf) and on top of my game. They include: a bowl of clementines, blood oranges, or other in-season fruit (cherries on ice are nice), or figs that you can pull apart with your hands; bars of good-quality chocolate that you can let guests “have at”; or even a loaf of something sweet from your favorite bakery, warmed and topped with ice cream. Cracking open roasted chestnuts at the table while sipping an oloroso sherry is also tip top. But, if a guest cheerfully asks, “What can I bring?,” I will always answer honestly, “Please bring dessert.” Because, in fact, I do have friends that truly enjoy making and eating it. (Fine, I’ll have a small piece with whipped cream.) And, if you too do not bake or don't bake well, I suggest you feel no shame, give in, and do the same. That way, everyone’s a winner.
Photo by Tara Donne in Colu Cooks: Easy Fancy Food
Orange, Olive Oil, and Almond Torte
For as long as I can remember, I can count on finding two cakes on my mother’s counter during the holiday season: an orange and olive oil cake from the New York Times and a butter-based almond torte from Chez Panisse Desserts. Dusted with confectioners’ sugar, these elegant cakes never fail to receive anything but rave reviews. I’ve long dreamed of combining these two cakes, and the product of that union. It’s got lots of bright citrus flavor, thanks to orange zest, freshly squeezed juice, and a splash of orange-flavored liqueur. The inclusion of almond flour not only gives the crumb texture but also keeps it soft and delicate. Olive oil keeps the cake moist for days, so don’t be afraid to make this one ahead of time. —A.S.
Butter or nonstick cooking spray, for greasing the pan
3 large eggs
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (215 g) sugar
Zest of 1 orange
1⁄4 cup (50 g) freshly squeezed orange juice
2 tablespoons Grand Marnier
3⁄4 cup (180 ml) olive oil
1 cup (90 g) almond flour (fill the cup lightly)
1 cup (125 g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
11⁄4 teaspoons kosher salt
Confectioners’ sugar, for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Grease a 9-inch (23 cm) round pan with butter or nonstick spray. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until foamy and combined, about 1 minute. Add the sugar and the orange zest and beat until slightly thickened and, when you lift the whisk from the bowl, a ribbon of the egg and sugar mixture trails behind, 2 to 3 minutes. Whisk in the orange juice, Grand Marnier, and olive oil, until combined.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients and stir with a spatula to combine. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the top feels springy to the touch and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 10 minutes in its baking pan, then invert onto a cooling rack. Serve warm or at room temperature and using a fine-meshed sieve dust confectioners’ sugar over top.
Thanks for being here and welcome all you new friends! I’ll be back at some point this week with a new recipe for paid subscribers.