I first started real baking after my dear mum passed away when I was just 9 years old. Mum was a great Italian cook. She was amazing with delicious traditional Italian meals, even her tripe was to die for! However she was also a great baker of classic Australian favourites such as sponge cake,
and pineapple tart. Of course, we missed this all so much when we lost her even though Dad was a very accomplished cook and taught me so much.
So I started baking apple pies, cakes and even tried my hand at bread at about 12 years old. Over the years, I have found that it is baking that really makes me happy. Take some butter, flour, sugar and eggs and couple of little variations in technique and baking and you have a myriad of different baked goodies. Swap the ingredients around a little and add a couple of different flavours and all of a sudden you are visiting another country.
This month Jason from Daily Candor took the Daring Kitchen to Dol on the Dalmatian island of Bra. Nope, I didn't know where that was either! Bra or Brač is an island in the Adriatic Sea within Croatia. Jason tells us that "The cake is named for the rugged stones from the nearby caves, and is known locally to be a bit of an aphrodisiac (!). The cake has won considerable acclaim within Croatia, and every year the town of Dol hosts the annual Night of Hrapouša competition which draws over a thousand attendees, some ten times as many people as the resident population of the village.
The cake is very different from other cakes in terms of both texture and flavor. The bottom layer is a fragrant almond-based sponge with orange-vanilla notes, while the top is a lemon-scented fragile brittle made of walnuts. It is extremely rich, and even those of us with a major sweet tooth can handle only a thin slice or two. Fortunately, it keeps at room temperature for a good week, and for several months if frozen immediately after making."
Now, don't do what I did and overcook the topping. You're going to find it impossible to slice through the hard nut topping. So do as Jason instructs in the recipe ...."Stop when the liquid takes on a beige/caramel color."
Dalmation Dol Cake ( I reduced the cake to a 4 egg version, the measurements in red)
Servings: Makes 12-16 slices
For 8” / 20cm springform pan (if using 12” / 30cm pan, double the ingredients) (18cm)
250g / 9oz / 1 3/4 cups whole almonds (roasted or raw, depending on preference) (167g)
400g / 14oz / 3 1/2 cups walnuts (halves and pieces) (267g)
600g / 1 1/3lb / 3 cups granulated sugar (400g)
1/2 orange (1/3 orange)
1/2 lemon (1/3 lemon)
1 ½ Tbsp kirsch, maraschino or other cherry-flavored liquor (15ml)
6 large eggs (4 eggs) (145g egg whites)
1 tsp vanilla extract (left as is)
1. Preheat the oven to 480°F / 249°C / Gas Mark 9 1/2.
2. Pulse the almonds in a food processor to yield a meal.
3. Add to your standing mixer bowl (or another large bowl if you’re using a handheld mixer) the following: the zest and juice from ½ (1/3) orange, ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract, 1 ½ tbsp (15ml) of cherry-flavored liquor and 200g / 1 cup (134 g) of the sugar. Mix gently until homogeneous.
4. Separate the 6 (4) eggs, adding the yolks directly into the mixer bowl. Retain the whites separately: 4 ( 88g) whites in one bowl, the remaining 2 (44g) in another. Mix the ingredients from step 3 with the yolks until it yields a uniform batter. Pour into another bowl if using a standing mixer.
5. Clean out your standing mixer bowl (or get a new, clean bowl if using a handheld mixer) and place the 2 (44g) egg whites from step 4 in the bowl. Beat until you have somewhat stiff peaks.
6. Add half of the beaten egg whites and half of the almond meal to the batter. Fold in to incorporate and stir gently to homogeneity. Then add the remaining almond meal and egg whites, folding in and stirring gently as before.
7. Place a circle of parchment paper at the bottom of the springform pan. Pour the resulting cake batter into the springform pan on top of the parchment paper.
8. Bake according to this schedule (move to step 9 after placing in the oven):
5 minutes at 392°F /200°C / Gas Mark 6 (drop the oven to this temperature immediately after placing cake inside)
15 minutes at 350°F / 176°C / Gas Mark 4
15 minutes at 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3
Begin checking the cake approx 5 minutes after lowering the temperature to 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3 (or approx 25 minutes after beginning to bake). When a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean, remove the cake from the oven. If the center has swollen due to baking, press gently with the back of the wooden spoon to flatten the surface.
Note that a larger cake (in a 12" / 30cm pan) will likely take longer to bake sufficiently.
9. While the bottom cake is baking, place the remaining 4 (88g) egg whites, 400g / 2 cups (266g) sugar and the walnuts in a large pot. Turn up the burner to medium-high heat and stir aggressively for approx 15 minutes, making sure the bottom of the pot doesn’t scorch. Stop when the liquid takes on a beige/caramel color.
11. Pour the resulting walnut mixture over the bottom layer of the cake. Make the top even with the back of the wooden spoon.
12. Place the cake back in the oven (should still be at 320°F / 160°C / Gas Mark 3) and bake for an additional 15 minutes, until the top takes on a golden color.
13. Allow to cool for 90 minutes. Then gently remove from springform pan, peel off the parchment paper,...
... and present!