Porridge cake

Porridge Cake 2

Once I stood about the stove every morning to put on a pot of porridge. I’d dress it up with a spoonful of thick and tart yogurt, some honey and pumpkin seeds. If I made a jam I’d swirl that in, drop in a few toasted blanched almonds. A lovely bunch which I’ve found  imported from Sicily. And when my jam pot was all up, I’d return back to the dollop of yogurt. I won’t deny this breakfast. I know which oats I like. And I can grab them around the corner. But when I started working earlier, I found I didn’t have as much time at home to put on a pot, be sure it doesn’t burn, then scrub my pot clean after  minutes at the table sharing breakfast with my bird. Not to mention it was earlier! “Maybe it would be nicer to have this breakfast a few hours later.” One thing I’ve learned about myself, (great indeed, it’s wonderful to know something about your character!) I am not one for ambient room temperature porridge!

And then I learned about a cooks breakfast. Among the many places which I have worked, I’ve had the opportunity to catch onto, I think a rather intimate part of one’s day being, breakfast. Another one for character. I love learning what a person most often likes to eat at during these usually solely morning hours. It is intimate, isn’t it? A cooks breakfast usually take a little bit from the day’s haul without being much of an impact on production at all. It’s almost unnoticed really. Unless somebody is experimenting. In such a memorable case; we had scrambled eggs. The most softly cooked. Curdling slowly in a large bowl set over a simmering pot as a bain marie. A large slab of focaccia out of the oven, spread thickly with the egg clouds. Salt, olive oil. Wahla! A more usual breakfast was more to the likes of a steaming demi baguette along with an apple received from a delivery. A buttery and nutty scone from the bake off paired nicely with a thick and bitter shot of espresso. Or in the savory kitchen, a bundle of just blanched tender greens tangled atop a thick cut of bread dosed in the good olive oil and salt. All being pieces for tonight’s dinner service. Japanese rice cooked for today’s lunch, spooned into a small bowl along with a softly cooked egg, a good squeeze of the smoky and very sweet soy sauce and a pivotal pinch of togarashi chili powder.

I quite liked the convenience of these breakfasts. Nearly no dishes. At an opportune time of hunger.

Porridge Cake 1

During this time I was also reading quite heavily only the backs of Italian cookbooks where the cakes lie. Italian cakes seem to be not very sweet and Italians seem to love these types of cake for breakfast. Breakfast, more likely at the time for a mid morning snack with coffee to get on with it until a more lengthy lunch, a more lengthy dinner to come. I loved this. And adopted it nearly immediately after I got a few cakes under my belt, in which I will share them all in ongoing posts.

This particular cake, received from one of Marcella Hazan’s books, felt quite like a fall breakfast. ½ a cup of sugar for a cake, perplexing. Cooked polenta. Dried fruits and nuts mixed in. “It’s porridge isn’t it?” And it is, nearly. A cake with its own category. And a delicious one at that. Delightfully refined, thanks to thoughtful ingredients. Being a touch sweet, nourishing, and overall a nice combination of flavors and things. Quite like my stovetop porridge I thought. But this one is just as nice too at ambient room temperature. The next day, the day after that. In a little baggy I’ve been munching on it on my train ride to work. Along with coffee from the place down the street from my apartment. It makes for a lovely, easy morning. I look forward to a more lengthy dinner with my bird later on. Happily he’ll stand on my shoulder as we wash the dishes without much of any rush.

Porridge Cake 3

Porridge Cake

  • 1 cup coarse polenta
  • pinch of salt
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup dried figs, quartered
  • ⅓ cup muscat raisins
  • ⅓ cup pine nuts, I prefer to toast them!
  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 tbsp butter, plus more for buttering the pan
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup flour, using a freshly milled flour, all the better!

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Begin by first buttering well about a 9 inch cake tin and then lining with flour. Be sure to tap out any excess over the bin! Go onto measuring the ingredients. Combining the dried fruits, toasted pine nuts, fennel seeds and sugar into a cereal bowl. The butter resting on the knife in which you cut from the block. The egg nearby and a cup of flour set into a bowl all for itself.

At the stove bring 2 cups of water up to boil. Pour the polenta in a steady stream through your fingers as you mix about any potential stubborn clumps forming with a handy wooden spoon. When all is in, continue stirring just for a few more seconds, the polenta doesn’t need to be on the stove long. Then add the olive oil and a pinch of salt, another few stirs and take the pot off heat.


Mix in your bowl of nuts and bolts, followed by the egg and butter. And when all mixed in, add the flour. Only mixing until your cake batter is just combined. Pour and smooth into the prepared cake tin. Bake for about 45 minutes until the top is golden and a cake tester comes out clean. Allow to cool in pan until warm, then invert onto a wire rack and serve as it still cools with a cuppa tea. This cake is lovely at room temperature, grasped in hand as you run out the door tomorrow morning.

Porridge Cake 4

Crispy leaves and shively prunes

A Flicker in October

The wick begins to pool
one leaf falls
the wax begins to drip
a crunch under foot
my cheeks begin to glow
this precious time
before the wick runs out

Prune Loaf 3

Prunes! Glorious jammy things. Juicier than an apricot, whose color is alluring, but it’s the prune I find most satisfying of the dried fruits. A thin protective skin, just barely sealing a smoothing prune cream. Confoundedly a flavor both of vanilla and milk chocolate. And even a fragrance faintly reminiscent of orange blossom. Glorious prunes!

The leaves are beginning to turn in New York. Yellow and crisp. A few scattered underfoot, one crunching, another saved inside a book. The sun is still warm to the bone, and it’s…quite. Where might be the flock of finches whom lived in the tree outside my window be? The window unit is unplugged and the floor fan switched off. This precious, and perhaps introspective time!

I was a thinking about what I might like to eat for breakfast during the next few days, while I had the time, and prunes showed up first in mind. The first place I looked for inspiration was a big cookbook, humorous and light, but each recipe a rather serious matter. Fairly charming that such a talented and experienced chef wrote a book for us at home, reading in a way that feels, well quite doable. Needing only the right ingredients and a good dose of confidence. One day I’ll get to that warm pig’s head… ! Seemingly, Fergus Henderson loves prunes too. And seemed to crave the same sort of pruney breakfast loaf as I did. A prune loaf with brown sugar and molasses, extra vanilla for a lift of fragrance, and then quite a buttered tin – yielding a crust buttery and textured. The heavenly heavily buttered tin is a small trick I learned in school, beurre en pommade, a consistency mayonnaise like, which when heavily lining a tin makes the most lovely cake and loaf crusts.

So here is a slightly adapted recipe of Fergus Henderson’s le grand prune loaf. Fit for even those who may think they might not like a shriveled prune.

Prune Loaf 1

Prune Loaf

  • 4 ½ oz softened (soft by leaving out, mine usually overnight) unsalted butter, and extra for greasing the pan
  • 4 ¾ oz light brown sugar
  • 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 8 oz flour, plus a five fingered pinch for dusting the pan
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • pinch of salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla paste, or 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 4 tbsp black molasses
  • 3 tbsp prune juice, mine coming just from my soaking liquid of tea and prunes.
  • 3 tbsp full-fat milk, obtained at the coffee shop, thank you baristas, a generous slice coming your way!
  • 20 oz prunes, and strips of lemon peel, soaked in two bags of black tea, mine being a rose like blend, soaked overnight or least an hour before.

Rummage about for a loaf tin, mine being a tube pan. With your softened butter, brush heavily into pan. Dust with a bit of flour and tap the excess out. Set aside and get on with the mix.

In a bowl with a wooden spoon, paddle the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Incorporate the beaten eggs slowly, which will help prevent a curdle. Sift in the flour, baking soda, salt and mix in. Next add the vanilla, molasses, prune juice and milk.  

Fill your prepared tin with half of the mix, then lightly pressing in the prunes. You’ll notice it’s quite a lot of prunes, it is, a prune loaf! Spoon in remaining mix and lightly spread about evenly. Place in the fridge for 2 hours. The chill stops the prunes from sinking to the bottom during the bake.

Bake in an oven preheated to 350ºF for 45 minutes, or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven, invert onto a rack, remove tin, and allow to cool for ten minutes before serving.

**Fergus Henderson mentions a mist in his recipe which is 2 ½ oz of prune juice, heated in a saucepan until it starts to boil. Off heat, ¾ oz of Vieille Prune (prune brandy) is stirred in. Two spoonfuls of mist is soaked into a slice before serving along with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Prune Loaf 2