No self-respecting French picnic or apero would be complete without a savoury cake. During the Tour de France you always see families picnicking beside the road. If they’re French, they’ll definitely be nibbling on one of these cakes. It sounds counter-intuitive but trust me with the right combination of ingredients these are truly delicious, and a handy way of using odds and ends lying around in the fridge. I tend to bake them in threes, slice them into fingers and pop them into the freezer where they’ll happily stay for a month or two.
Friends coming round for a post-ride lunch or dinner? I’ll get out one of these to snack on while I put the finishing touches to the meal. Picnic in the hills behind Nice or down on the beach? I’ll pop one into my backpack or picnic basket. Neighbours coming round for a glass of bubbly and nibbles? They’ll be sampling some of my savoury cakes. But probably what I like best about them is that they’re quick and easy to prepare, and pretty much foolproof.
Ingredients (makes three cakes)
- 360g (3 cups) plain (all-purpose) flour
- 200ml (1¼ cups) lightly flavoured olive oil
- 6 large organic eggs, approx 45g (1⅔oz) each without their shells
- 200ml (1¼ cups) milk or buttermilk
- 200g (7oz) finely grated hard cheese, preferably Gruyère
- 200g (7oz) mozzarella or feta cheese
- 3 fat spring onions (scallions)
- 2-3 handfuls of roughly chopped fresh herbs, such as chives, parsley and basil
- 1 tsp fine sea salt
- ½ tsp of freshly ground pepper
- 4 tsp baking powder
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).
2. Grease the base and sides of a baking tin. I typically use three disposable tin-foil loaf tins measuring 13cm x 23cm x 7cm (5” x 9” x 3”) – they’re handy for storing the cakes in the freezer – which I line with a couple of strips of greaseproof paper to make it easier to remove the cake. In addition, I find it’s an easy size and shape to slice into fingers for serving. The French prefer to have a small taste of everything on offer!
3. Chop the mozzarella (or feta) into small cubes. No need to use good quality buffalo mozzarella, the rubbery cow’s stuff is actually better here.
4. Slice the spring onions (scallions) into small pieces. Don’t forget to use most of the green stems.
5. Lightly whisk to combine the oil, milk or buttermilk and eggs.
6. Sift and mix together the flour, salt, pepper and baking powder.
7. Add the cheese, herbs and chopped onions to the flour mixture and mix to incorporate, ensuring everything is evenly distributed.
8. Add the wet ingredients to the dry and lightly combine. I find using a rubber spatula in a figure of eight movement works best. Ensure that no pockets of flour remain.
9. Distribute the batter evenly between the three baking tins and level the tops, pop them into the centre of the oven on a baking tray and cook for approx 35-40 minutes. Times will vary depending on the dimensions of your baking tins and your oven, so check regularly.
10. The cakes are ready when a toothpick inserted into the centre of the cakes comes out clean. Cool for ten minutes in the tins, then place on a wire rack to cool completely before slicing and eating, or freezing for no more than two months. I find the cakes each cut easily into 32-36 fat fingers.
Sheree’s Handy Hints
1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.
2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cakes in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than the cake should take to cook and then check regularly.
3. If you think the cakes are browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover them with an aluminium-foil tent.
4. I generally use a box grater to finely grate the cheese.
5. The recipe is readily scalable, just divide the ingredients by three to make one cake, by a third to make two or double for six.
6. It’s yet another recipe where you can happily experiment with the savoury contents. I have substituted a cup of finely chopped green or black olives or sun-dried tomatoes for the spring onions, chunks of ham or smoked salmon for the cheese and adjusted the mix of herbs accordingly as I find dill, chives and parsley go better with fish. Just use your imagination, maintain the proportions and combine ingredients which you know go well together.