I've been baking my way through Yossy Arefi's Snacking Cakes, a cookbook which came out last year. It's an excellent book, the kind that should just take up residence on your kitchen counter because it'll get used so much. The cakes are modest, one-bowl, one-pan affairs, but they're drop-dead delicious. Buckwheat Banana Cake. Pumpkin Olive Oil Cake. Buttermilk Spice Cake. Seeded Zucchini Cake. Minty Chocolate Malt Cake. You'll want to make every single one.
To qualify as a snacking cake, I believe it must be easy to make, with ingredients you mostly already have in your pantry, and requiring only one bowl. Maybe two. You want the making of the cake to soothe you as much as the eating of the cake. Nothing to mess up. No fussy preparation. Just the best kind of mindless baking where you're guaranteed something delicious in an hour or two.
I love this book's extremely narrow focus paired with its impressive breadth of offerings. There's a cake for every mood, every season, every occasion. (I was going to say short of a wedding, but the truth is I would happily eat one of these as a wedding cake, especially if it was a chic City Hall wedding or a crazy Vegas one. Case in point: Grapefruit White Chocolate Cake? Strawberry-Glazed Passion Fruit Cake? Sticky Whiskey Date Cake? I mean.)
Seeing as very few of us have "occasions" to bake for at the moment, I would like to underline the fact that I believe that it is very, very important to have cakes like this in your house at all times right now. They are for breakfast, they are for tea, they stand in for breakfast or as a special dessert—when dessert is usually fruit—they are good eaten standing up and they are good eaten sitting down. The Germans have a word for the food you eat when you're stressed and that word is Nervenfutter (nerve chow) (it's pronounced NAIR-fenn-foot-er). Snacking cakes are the quintessence of Nervenfutter.
Now to this particular cake, the Simple Sesame Cake. It's made with tahini and two kinds of sesame seeds (which I had in my pantry anyway; if you only have regular sesame, not black, just do the cake with those). I substituted 1/4 cup oat flour and 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend for the all-purpose flour (in fact, have done so in every recipe from this book that I've tried) and the results were velvety and perfect. Max can't stop marveling over the crumb. There's the faintest hint of bitterness from the tahini, and it's so lovely against the almost creamy crumb punctuated with all those tiny little sesame seeds.
If you're a cake pan butterer, then you can strew some of the sesame seeds onto the sides of the pan to truly encrust the entire cake in sesame, but I am an avowed non-butterer of pans, so I just scattered them thickly on top. I love the effect of the black and white sesame together and the gorgeous little crunch from the raw sugar on top. Up until now, the children have competed with us for pieces of each snacking cake I've made. For whatever reason, this one is a little too grown-up for them (it's like a grown-up peanut butter flavor), so we get to eat all of it ourselves.
All hail the snacking cake!
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Yossy Arefi's Simple Sesame Cake
Adapted from Snacking Cakes
Makes one 9-inch loaf cake
To make this cake gluten-free, replace the all-purpose flour with 1/4 cup oat flour and 1 cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend.
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6 tablespoons (50 grams) sesame seeds (white, black or mixed), divided
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1 large egg
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) whole milk
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) well-stirred tahini
1/4 cup (60 milliliters) neutral vegetable oil, such as canola or grapeseed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups (160 grams) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon raw sugar, optional
1. Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a standard-sized loaf pan with parchment paper, letting the sides hang over to create a sling.
2. In a large bowl, whisk the granulated sugar and the egg until pale and foamy, about 1 minute. Add the milk, tahini, oil, vanilla and salt. Whisk until smooth. Add the flour(s), 3 tablespoons of the sesame seeds, the baking powder and baking soda. Whisk until well combined.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan, tap the pan gently on the counter to release any air bubbles, and smooth the top with a spatula. Sprinkle the remaining 3 tablespoons of sesame seeds on top of the cake and, if using, the raw sugar.
4. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, or until the cake is puffed and golden, and a cake tester or skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.
5. Transfer the cake to a wire rack and let cool for about 15 minutes. Use the parchment overhang to lift the cake out of the pan and let cool completely before slicing and serving.