I have been intrigued by the idea of a caramel cake ever since I got Tessa Kiros' new book Piri-Piri Starfish : Portugal Found. In all honesty, I was intrigued by the idea of Tessa K. writing a book about the food of Portugal, when one knows that she lives in Italy. You'd think : who needs Portugal when one has Tuscany? Portugal is not so popular in the food world and as far as I know, not much of its food heritage has made it outside of its border. It seems she traveled there for a few months with the intent of writing a book. Well, if a publisher offered me the same choice, I sure wouldn't decline.
Anyway, as I know myself, having been twice to Portugal, once on a little backpacking tour, and once for a short package holiday, the land is largely undiscovered (by tourists), apart from a few hyper touristic spots, and has wonderful old towns, kind people and great food. Not in an in-your-face show-offy sort of way, rather in a rustic, simple and authentic fashion.
When the evening came, all our neighbours at the camping place lit up their tiny cast-iron barbecues and the aroma of grilling sardines pervaded the whole place. That must be the national dish (at least for me it is), and so are fish and seafood stews, salt cod prepared in a thousand ways, and really, I think that's hardly an exaggeration. Snacking on steak in a bun, on lupini seeds...
I'm lucky that so many Portuguese people live in Luxembourg, as it means that there's a Portuguese shop near me, as well as a few bakeries in town and many little bistros where it is possible to get a fix of pastéis de nata, salt cod or chouriço. They always think I'm one of them though, and address me in Portuguese :-)
I digress. You can read my review of the book on amazon uk if you're interested. Now back to the cake. Very much like French cakes, this one is simple, with no frills and yet has lots of flavour. At first I must admit I felt a bit let down by its plainness, but its glorious amber and its caramel taste are bound to win over any caramel lover out there. A little caramel icing would make it extra special of course.
200g caster sugar
125 ml milk
125 ml cream (used 15% fat)
200g butter (I used 150 and it was fine)
1 tsp vanilla
1,5 tsps baking powder
Preheat the oven to 180°C. Prepare a 24 cm tin. Put the sugar in a saucepan and let it turn to caramel without stirring, just tilting the pan from time to time. When it's done, take it down from the heat, step back and add the cream and milk (it will bubble up madly and splash). Whip it up and if needed, put back over the heat and melt the hardened bits until everything's smooth. Let cool a little.
Beat the butter to soften it, then pour the caramel over it and mix. Now add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla, and mix to thicken it a bit. Lastly add the flour and baking powder. I also added some salt. Do add some more if you like the salted butter caramel taste. Pour into tin and bake for about 35 mins. It should form a golden crust but still be tender inside. Let cool in the tin. My tester came out dry but the cake was thankfully tender.
A few food memories I have of Portugal : mixed grilled fish platter in a seaside town for 2 for under €20, grilled sardines with boiled potatoes on top of a hill in Lisbon, drinking peach nectar and galao (milk coffee in a glass), sampling various egg-rich pastries for my afternoon snack, skinning lupini seeds and shovelling them into mouth as a pre-dinner nibble, spreading sardine paste onto bread as a starter... argh, Portugal, I miss you!