For years I'd been meaning to cook from one of British author Diana Henry's beautiful cookbooks, like the one she won a James Beard Award for last year, A Bird in the Hand. And so when a review copy of her new book Simple: Effortless Food, Big Flavors landed in my inbox, I seized the moment. So many of the recipes look wonderful: toast with crab and cilantro-chile mayo; Indian sweet potatoes with chickpeas and coconut; roast lamb loin fillets with a minty-almondy Sicilian sauce called zhoggiu; roast eggplants with tomatoes and saffron cream.
I know, right?
But it was a sweet from her chapter on fruit desserts that I couldn't resist making right away last month – a summer fruit and almond cake. Here's what's amazing about it: You throw all the cake ingredients into the food processor, whirr them up, pour them in the pan (an 8-inch springform pan), top them with fruit (arranged "higgledy-piddledy" – how great is that?!) and pop it in the oven. Can you imagine anything easier? The recipe calls for ripe nectarines, unripe plums and raspberries; I used blackberries instead.
It turned out great! Super-moist, with a nice crumb, lightly (but not overpoweringly) almondy, with just the right balance of fruit to cake. The fruit became lushly flavorful with that nice long stay in the oven.
I would have happily made it every week or two, except for one thing: Summer ended.
Since we are now into early autumn, I thought the same almond cake featuring shoulder-season fruit – figs, plums and blackberries – could be fabulous, and Henry mentions in her headnote that you can swap out other fruit. I jumped on the occasion to feature some gorgeous ripe Mission figs I found in the supermarket, along with late-season plums and plump blackberries.
I gathered the ingredients: the usual flour, butter, eggs, sugar, baking powder, salt and vanilla, plus sour cream, almond extract, crumbled marzipan. Henry's recipe called for superfine sugar, which I can never find in the supermarket, so I tried regular sugar, which worked just fine. The fruit gets tossed in sugar too; I used less than Henry suggests, as ripe figs are sweeter than nectarines.
I popped it in the oven and baked it, for a very long time – her recipe calls for an hour and a half, but mine took longer both times. Start testing it after an hour and a half; you know it's done when a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out pretty clean (the fruit will mess it up a little; you just don't want raw cake batter on the skewer). Let it cool in the pan, then remove the ring and dust it with powdered sugar. (Pro tip: Put a spoonful of powdered sugar in a fine-mesh strainer, and use the spoon to tap the strainer on the side over the cake for a soft, even dusting.)
Ready to give it a spin? Here's the recipe:
And hey – I'd love to hear what you think if you try it! Or even if you don't – does it look good? Awful? Might you bake it in the future? What do you think??? We could have so much fun if y'all would leave comments!