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Cauliflower Cake

January 19, 2011

Lately is seems like vegetarianism is gaining a much more respected name rather than just looked down upon as mere “rabbit food”.  When films such as Food Inc. exposed the dirty side of the meat and animal industry, many began to have second thoughts about that elusively sourced meat in the grocery store.  Also, scientific research is starting to present facts that a reduction of meat in the diet is actually quite good for you.  And finally with well respected chefs like Yotam Ottolenghi and blogger of 101cookbooks Heidi Swanson promoting gourmet vegetarian cuisine that’s a far cry from carrot sticks, it seems much more feasible to enjoy a filling a substantial meal without meat.

So what is this all leading up to?  Well one term is flexitarianism, a word for people who don’t want to completely give up wonderful meat for the rest of their lives but are also willing to reduce the amount they eat whether for ethical concerns, to do more good for the environment (like only eating meat that is locally and sustainably sourced), or simply to add an element of healthy eating to their lifestyle.  It’s a key concept to Michelle Obama’s national plan to promote healthy eating and a part of Mario Batali’s correspondence with the concept of Meatless Mondays.  He is so devoted to this idea that he makes the menus in his restaurants completely vegetarian on Mondays.

So I figured, why not get in on this game too.  I certainly adore all things vegetable and I even had the opportunity to visit many wonderful vegetarian restaurants in London including Ottolenghi’s own self-named cafes featuring his mouthwatering array of gourmet salads.  They were so delicious and innovative that I couldn’t help from buying his amazing cookbook Plenty too.  So to start off a hopefully regular tradition, I created my first meatless Monday meal, compliments of Ottolenghi’s genius.

I got the recipe from his column in The Guardian called the New Vegetarian.  Because his Mediterranean background inspires much of his food, quite a few of his recipes have obscure foreign ingredients, but after some perusing, I found one for a delicious looking and simple cauliflower cake.  The title itself was a bit off-putting at first but after a read-through of the ingredients, I found that the combination of cauliflower, egg, and parmesan sounded quite pleasing and I really liked the idea of taking concepts in baking and applying them to a savory dish.  Funnily enough, I recalled seeing something similar in Smitten Kitchen, and found that she had made the same thing, with tasty results.  So after a read-through of her adjustments and process changes, I made the dish, with some slight adaptations, and ended up with a really good meal.

This is something that would be really appropriate as a brunch dish but is substantial and filling enough for dinner.  It’s really nice and salty from the cheese and the edges are deliciously crusty and nutty from the seeds so I think that it would go great with a mild salad or some fresh tropical fruit to balance the flavor.  I made it in a spring form pan just to make my life easier but if properly greased, could be made in a regular cake pan.  I also made the mistake of using large eggs, rather the medium ones that Ottolenghi called for, so I ended up with a bit more batter and a thicker cake, and had to increase my baking time by about fifteen minutes.  Next time though, to keep with the original baking time, I’ll just reduce the number of large eggs.

It’s recommended eaten warm or at room temperature but I couldn’t wait and after 10 minutes out of the oven, I dug in.  It was really comforting as a hot dish and the still melting cheese made it seem much more unhealthy than it really was, but I do think it actually needs the cooling time so allow the cake to set completely in the middle.  Oh and as a side note, it’s a really good and flavorful meal for someone who just had oral surgery (i.e. my mom) when they need something soft but are sick of eating cottage cheese and applesauce.  So, if you would like to take on the Meatless Monday challenge, start out with this dish, and it’s sure to make you craving meat-free food, much more often.

Cauliflower Cake

1 medium cauliflower, cut into medium to large florets
1 large red onion
5 tablespoon olive oil
½ tsp finely chopped rosemary
10 medium or 8 large eggs
20 grams chopped basil
180 grams all purpose flour (a little less than 1½ cups)
2½ tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. ground ginger
¼ tsp. ground mustard powder
1½ cups grated parmesan cheese
1 tsp. salt
black pepper
2 Tbs. sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the cauliflower florets into a pot of salted, simmering water and cook, covered, for 15 minutes until quite tender.  Then, pour the cauliflower into a colander and let it sit there until dry and cool.
While the cauliflower cooks, you can prepare the rest of the ingredients.  Cut a few thin rings from the red onion and set them aside.  They will be used to garnish the cake.  Coarsely chop the rest of the onion.  Heat up the olive oil in a pan over a medium high heat.  Add the onion and the rosemary and let them sauté for about 8 minutes, until soft, stirring occasionally.  After 8 minutes, set aside to cool some in the pan.

Meanwhile, break the eggs into a large bowl and whisk them up.  Add the chopped basil and the cooled onion and oil mixture (make sure you add in all of the olive oil because this makes the cake very moist) and whisk them into the eggs.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, mustard powder, ground ginger, parmesan, salt, and pepper to taste, and stir this until it is combined.  Then, slowly add it to the egg mixture while whisking to avoid having any flour lumps.  One all is added whisk the batter until smooth.  Finally, carefully fold in the cooked and cooled cauliflower.

Prepare your pan.  This cake works well in a 9-inch springform pan so cut a round of parchment to fit into the bottom and liberally butter the edges.  Then, sprinkle the sesame seeds around the edge, making sure it is well coated and they are sticking.  Pour the egg batter into the pan, arrange the reserved onion rings on top, and place the pan in the center of the oven.

If you reduce the eggs to 8 large eggs or use 10 medium eggs, the cake should be done in 45 minutes and be golden brown on top and set.  It would be best to let this cool for at least 30 minutes before running a knife around the edge, unmolding the pan, and cutting a nice big hearty slice for yourself.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2011 9:58 pm

    I love the rings of onions on the top, very beautiful.

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