Nancy Krcek Allen

Nancy Krcek Allen

If you need a break in between the sugary excesses of Thanksgiving and Christmas you might try baking a savory cake. The French (of course) first introduced savory cakes to the vast pantheon of cake-baking. In France they are called “gateaux salé,” which literally means “salty cakes.”

Hmmm … this does not sound very appealing for sugar addicts, does it? Perhaps that’s why these cakes haven’t caught on in the United States as they have in France.

Busy young Parisian hipsters appropriated savory cakes as an appetizer for cocktail parties, easy picnic food, a make-ahead breakfast/brunch or dinner (with accompaniments). Plus, this cake, unlike its sweet sister, goes particularly well with wine.

Savory cakes are subversive. They have so much flavor that they will cause you to forget the sugar. (At least temporarily.) They are rich and aromatic with a texture similar to banana bread. Savory cakes are usually leavened with baking powder, but sometimes with yeast. You could be forgiven for thinking that this is just a cake with less sugar.

Savory cakes are versatile. Follow any of the basic recipes below and substitute with combinations of vegetables you have on hand or what you love. Good rule of thumb: combine by color with combos like onion, grated butternut squash, zucchini and sun-dried tomatoes or perhaps garlic, red bell peppers, kale and carrots.

I love to add leftover steamed or roasted vegetables like broccoli or cauliflower or sautéed vegetables like onions or shiitake mushrooms. Countless meats can be a hearty addition: diced grilled chicken, turkey, cooked bacon, smoked or baked salmon, sausage, chorizo, prosciutto or ham. Various cheeses (feta, cheddar, mozzarella, gouda, ParmigianoReggiano, Gruyère) up the flavor along with olives, capers, green chilies or roasted nuts. Herbs enhance a savory cake; start with thyme, rosemary, cilantro, tarragon or parsley. Spices like smoked paprika, cumin, coriander, curry powder or Dijon mustard will round out the flavor.

I first fell for savory cakes when I prepared lunches every summer for Meadowlark CSA in Leelanau County. They were the perfect vehicle for the glistening variety of heart-stopping fresh produce that came my way every summer. Savory cakes offer you a place to easily use your cook’s inspiration and creativity. Here you’ll find several of my most favorite of these subversive and delicious cakes.

Farm Flexible Savory Cake

This festive savory cake has a yeast-risen batter; the addition of butter, eggs and baking powder gives it the texture of a light, luscious brioche. The cooked filling may be substituted with 2-1/2 to 3 cups of stir-fry or vegetable and meat or bean leftovers. The cheese may be changed, increased or omitted.

Adapted from Claire Adas, “Baking: A Little Invention into Savory Cakes”

Yields a 9-inch springform pan, 6 to 8 servings

2 t. yeast

1 t. sugar

1-1/2 C. warm water, divided

4 T. very soft or melted unsalted butter, more for greasing pan

1 large egg

2-1/2 C. all-purpose flour, more for pan

1 t. salt

For Later Addition: 1 t. baking powder

Filling: 2-1/2 to 3 cups

2 T. butter

2 T. olive oil

1-1/2 C. sliced leeks or diced onions

Optional: 1/2 C. sliced garlic scapes or 1 large clove garlic, minced

1/2 C. pitted kalamata olives, roughly chopped or raisins

1-1/2 T. capers

6 C. packed, trimmed and diced, mixed tender greens (spinach, arugula and/or chard)

1 C. chopped loosely packed fresh dill

1 C. chopped loosely packed Italian parsley

Optional: 1 T. chopped fresh oregano or 1 t. dried

Optional: 1 t. balsamic vinegar

4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Combine yeast, sugar and 1/2 cup warm water in a large bowl and leave in a warm place until frothy, 10 to 15 minutes. Stir in butter and beat in egg. Stir in dry ingredients and beat until smooth and sticky. Add remaining warm water and beat again until batter is light and frothy, the consistency of pancake dough. Cover with a damp cloth and leave in a warm place to rise 1-3/4 to 2 hours. Meanwhile, fit a 9-inch springform pan with parchment on the bottom. Butterthe parchment and pan. Roll a little flour in pan and tap out excess. Set pan aside.

Filling: Melt butter and oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add leeks or onions, and cook soft, 3 to 5 minutes; add optional scapes or garlic and cook until soft. Stir in olives or raisins and capers. Deglaze pan with 2 tablespoons water. Add greens and stir-cook until wilted and tender, still bright and pan is dry. Stir in optional oregano and balsamic vinegar and season well with salt and freshly ground pepper.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Stir baking powder into batter. Pour a bit more than half the batter into prepared pan. Batter has a loose, rubbery consistency, so gently and evenly smooth it to the edges of the pan. Spoon vegetable filling into the center of the batter; leave a border of one inch around the edge. Top with cheese (or you may wait to put cheese on top of last layer of batter). Spoon remaining batter over, and smooth it to the edges; cover holes that form. Bake cake until it’s golden brown and firm to the touch, about 45 minutes. Cool slightly, slice into wedges, and serve with tomato sauce.

Tomato Sauce

Yields about 8 servings

2 T. butter

1 clove garlic, minced

4 C. lightly seeded and diced plum tomatoes

1/2 t. smoked paprika

1/3 C. white wine

1 t. balsamic vinegar

Melt butter in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add garlic and cook until soft, 30 seconds. Add tomatoes and smoked paprika and until tomatoes soften. Add wine, and cook until tomatoes are reduced and syrupy. Add enough water to make tomatoes saucy again, and cook until tomatoes are falling-apart soft, about 10 minutes. Break them up as you stir. Stir in balsamic vinegar and season well with salt and pepper. Serve on the side to be spooned over the cake.

Savory Gruyère and Ham Cake

Bake this loaf up to 3 days in advance and store well wrapped in refrigerator; bring to room temperature before serving. Or freeze up to 2 months. After freezing, the bread is best when sliced, toasted and served warm with butter.

Adapted from “Dinner in French: My Recipes by Way of France” by Melissa Clark.

Yields one 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf

4 T. (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more for the pan

2½ C. all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting pan

1½ t. baking powder

1 t. kosher salt

½ t. baking soda

1 C. diced ham(or olives)

3 T. thinly sliced scallions, white and green parts (optional)

1 T. chopped fresh thyme leaves

2 C. (8 ounces) grated Gruyère or sharp cheddar cheese

2 large eggs

1 C. buttermilk

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a metal or glass 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf pan; set aside.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Stir in chopped ham, scallions if using, thyme, and 1¾ cups (7 ounces) Gruyère (reserveremainder for topping). In a separate bowl, whisk together melted butter, eggs and buttermilk. Stiregg mixture into flour mixture until just combined. The batter will be thick.

Scrape batter into prepared loaf pan evenly and smooth the top. Sprinkle remaining cheese over top. Bake until top springs back when lightly pressed and a skewer inserted in the center comes out with some moist crumbs attached, 45 to 55 minutes.

Transfer loaf pan to a wire rack and cool 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan and cool it completely on wire rack.

Chickpea Flour Savory Vegetable Bread

Pre-boiling kale sweetens it. You may want to vary the cooked vegetable filling with one of your own choosing; it should measure 2 cups. Perhaps the addition of some crumbled or diced cheese, Spanish chorizo or bits of prosciutto might please you. To make this vegan, substitute 1 tablespoon ground chia or flax seeds soakedin 1/2 cup warm water until gelled for the eggs.

Yields one 9-inch-by-5-inch loaf

— Nancy Krcek Allen

Vegetable Filling: 2 cups

1 bu. kale, stems removed

3 T. butter, olive or coconut oil

1 C. sliced green onions, white and greens

1/2 C. thinly sliced carrot rounds

1/4 C. finely diced red bell pepper

6 large basil leaves, torn

Cake Batter

2 C. chickpea flour (spoon into a dry measure and level off)

1 t. salt

1 t. baking powder

1/2 C. plain, unsweetened, whole milk yogurt or coconut yogurt or thick coconut milk

1/2 C. beaten eggs(2 large)

1 t. fresh lemon juice

Olive oil, butter or coconut oil for greasing pan

For later addition: 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

Filling: Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Immerse kale leaves in water. Boil until tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Drain. When cool, press out excess moisture and place kale on cutting board. Cut into a small dice. Measure out 1-1/2 cups kale and set aside. (Save any remaining kale for another use.) Heat butter or oil in a medium sized skillet over medium heat. Stir in onions, carrots, and bell pepper. Cook until soft, 3 to 4 minutes. Remove pan from heat and stir in kale and basil. Set aside to cool.

Pour measured chickpea flour through strainer into large mixing bowl. Stir in salt, baking powder, yogurt, eggs or chia or flax plus liquid and lemon juice. It will be a very thick and dry batter. Don’t fuss; it will come together later.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Grease a 9-inch-by-5-inch glass or metal loaf pan. Cut an oblong piece of parchment to fit on the bottom and place it in loaf pan.

Fold vegetable filling and baking soda into the thick batter until evenly mixed. Scrape batter into prepared pan.

Lower heat to 400 degrees F. Place a piece of foil loosely over loaf pan and place pan in oven. Bake 35 to 40 minutes and uncover loaf. Bake until a cake tester or bamboo skewer comes out clean, 10 to 15 minutes longer. Cool loaf ten minutes. Loosen sides with a butter knife and invert pan to release bread. Discard parchment and set loaf upright on cookie rack to cool.

Nancy Krcek Allen has been a chef-educator for more than 25 years and has taught professional and recreational classes in California, New York City and Michigan. Her culinary textbook is called “Discovering Global Cuisines.”

Trending Video

Recommended for you