As a teenager, I worked as a waitress at a lovely little organic café in Cambridge. The Tunisian citrus cake was always a favorite among our customers and is memorable to me for two reasons. First, for its toothsome, slightly crunchy texture – it was made. Using breadcrumbs from the chef’s leftover sourdough – permeated by a heavy slick of sweet, tangy citrus syrup and a whisper of cinnamon perfume. Second, because of an incident with a customer. We used to decorate the cake with whole spices, and the last piece on. The counter traditionally ended up with all the spices on top as we removed them from the preceding slices that we served.
I served this last piece to the customer, leaving the spices on as I thought it would be a nice touch. When I cleared her table an hour or so later, I noticed that there was not a spice to be seen. The whole cinnamon stick, star anise, and handful of spiky cloves had disappeared from the plate. There were only two possible conclusions to be had, both equally unfathomable: said a customer had either consumed the whole spices along with her cake or taken them home, drenched as they were in deeply sticky syrup.
I am still mystified to this very day – but I hope she enjoyed them, regardless. This cake is a beauty because it uses ingredients that we might otherwise waste – leftover citrus peels and breadcrumbs (slightly stale sourdough works best). I must thank Catherine Phipps for introducing me to this way of making citrus syrup. Simply macerate leftover rinds with sugar for a day or so, stirring and squashing occasionally with a wooden spoon before straining, and you’ll be rewarded with an intensely flavorsome syrup that can be used in everything from cakes to sorbets and iced teas.
If you’re buying citrus fruit just to make this recipe, use the zest and juice first for something else, like the bergamot curd. Thanks also to Diana Henry for the cake inspiration in her wonderful book Crazy Water, Pickled Lemons.
Makes one 20cm cake, serving 6–8
For the syrup
the zested, juiced halves of 8 bergamots, lemons, limes, oranges, or grapefruit, or a mixture
caster sugar, quantity depending on the weight of your citrus
For the cake
60g stale, crustless white or sourdough bread, torn into chunks
100g blanched almonds
1 teaspoon lemon thyme leaves, or 2 teaspoons finely chopped lemon verbena leaves, plus a few optional sprigs to decorate
150g golden caster sugar2 teaspoons baking powder
150ml good-quality olive oil, plus extra for greasing
4 eggs, beaten
icing sugar, for dusting
star anise, cloves, and cinnamon sticks, to decorate (optional)
Make the syrup at least the day before you want to make the cake (but you can make it up to a week beforehand and keep it in the fridge). Roughly chop the citrus halves and weigh them. Put them in a non-reactive bowl (glass is best) and add half their weight in caster sugar. Stir well, cover with a tea towel, then set aside for at least 12 hours, stirring occasionally and pressing the fruit and sugar together with a wooden spoon. After at least 12 hours, strain the mixture through a muslin-lined sieve into a small bowl or jug. Discard the leftover fruit. You should have about 100ml of syrup.To make the cake, pre-heat the oven to 200°C/180°C fan/gas mark 6. Grease (with olive oil) and line a 20cm springform cake tin.
Do those step and you will love it at the and I promise you
Put the bread chunks in a food processor or mini chopper with the almonds and lemon thyme or verbena leaves. Blitz the mixture as finely as possible, then put it into a bowl and add the sugar, baking powder, olive oil and eggs. Whisk everything together until well combined.
Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 35–45 minutes, until just set and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
Remove the cake from the oven and prick it all over with a skewer or cocktail stick, then drizzle 100ml of your syrup all over the cake, letting it sink into the holes (if you have any extra syrup, serve it alongside the cake, or use it in iced tea).
Leave the cake to cool in the tin, then remove it and dust with icing sugar. You can either decorate this with sprigs of thyme or lemon verbena, or with cinnamon sticks, cloves, and star anise. just make sure none of your guests eats them or puts them in their pockets! Serve the cake in slices, with fresh berries and a scoop of Greek yogurt or crème fraîche on the side, if you like.