Nov 23, 2009

Catalan Salt Pinch Cake

What the heck is a salt pinch cake? Does it help to know that in Barcelona it's usually known as pinch bread? No, that didn't help me either. Does it help to know that it's a "salt" pinch cake because it's named after the Salt Bakery in Barcelona, which is named for a little village called Salt? That didn't help me either, especially when I tried googling "salt & bakery & barcelona." Google is as confused as I was; it kept sending me to sites that talked about salt and olive oil in Barcelona. But it turns out that there really is a village in Spain named Salt, which is the home of Gas Gas motorcycles. And I found that Miquel Costabella, from whom Rose got this recipe, teaches at a place called Bons Focs in Barcelona. At least, I think he does. My Catalan is a little iffy.
Two more things about this cake: 1) I would have passed it right by if I hadn't been baking every cake in the book. It sounded odd, plain, and not very interesting. 2) It's easy. I fully expected it to be on the Quick-and-Easy list. I'm not sure why it isn't, except that it takes at least 20 minutes to mix the eggs in, but the KitchenAid does all the work.

You make a cute little parchment-paper collar for the spring-form pan, but that's not hard.

You beat up two egg whites until they form soft peaks, and that's not hard either.
You grind toasted almonds with a bit of sugar in a food processor. Not at all difficult.
And mix the almond mixture in with the egg whites.

Then all you have to do is make sure that you have a cup of coffee and the Styles section of the NYT to keep you occupied while you add five eggs, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating two minutes after each addition. If you did this by hand, it would be hard. But you don't.

You can see some of the egg yolks in the batter before they've all been absorbed.

Add cake flour and grated lemon peel. You have plenty of time to grate the lemon and sift the flour during the 20 minutes you're adding the egg yolks. If you were really good, you'd have time to do the crossword, but I've never in my life done the Sunday crossword in 20 minutes.

The batter, which is still quite thin, comes almost all the way to the top of the pan.

The cake starts to sink in the middle just as it's coming out of the oven.

The tradition is to pinch off pieces with your hands. With people so freaked out about H1N1 and other viruses and bacteria, I thought that nobody would want to pinch off their own piece, and I didn't want anyone spraying hand sanitizer on my nice cake, so I went to Plan B: Catalan Slice Cake, with whipped cream and raspberries. What isn't better with whipped cream and raspberries anyhow?
Before I started on this harebrained scheme to bake the gazillion cakes in Rose's Heavenly Cakes, I didn't like sponge cakes. I didn't like their sponginess or their lack of butter, which, in my opinion, was the best thing about cakes. I wasn't crazy about angel food cake, nor about meringue. The first time I had lemon meringue pie I thought the meringue was whipped cream. I was so disappointed I almost cried. But so far I've made six cakes from the Sponge Cakes chapter, and I've liked all of them. This is a plain cake, but its almond and lemon flavors are true, and don't need to be disguised or dressed up. I'm also adding it to my own personal Quick-and-Easy list, so it will be made again--if I'm still eating cake after this cookbook adventure.


Karen: "It reminds me of the wonderful sponge cakes my mother made for Passover, and this is as good as any of them."
Laurel: "I liked the texture, I liked the ground nuts, I liked the subtle lemon, and I especially liked the fact that the cake was not overly sweet. Very satisfying."
Jim: "Nice flavor. I like the coarse texture from the nuts, and the springiness of it."


faithy said...

LOL! Marie, you made me laughed at your comment about H1N1 virus & bacteria etc that nobody want to pinch off their own piece..and also the hand sanitizer on your cake part..its so funny..made me laughed so loudly!..that's what i felt too..i didn't want anyone to pinch my cake either..LOL!

Your cake looks great and has more of the almond color! Mine not so as i didn't toast & grind my own nuts, i took the lazy way out and used store bought ones..:p

Patricia @ ButterYum said...

Your cake looks wonderful Marie. Can't wait to make it later today.


Rebecca said...

Looks lovely! Your cake looks quite different to mine... you clearly used the recommended unblanched almonds, which I couldn't find and yours looks like it rose more and even has a different texture!

Mendy said...


Looks great Marie. Wow! Your crater in the middle is really nice and dramatic.

Vicki said...

Now I'm curious. Everyone's cakes look light and lovely. I'm going back to the store for more almonds and make this cake again, irregardless of Monday chaos in my house. I must know what this cake is really like.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

marie, i really think this "book behind the book" is worthy of publication! it's so fun reading your inimitable comments and so instructive. and jim--great opening photo and all the photos are so helpfully instructive.

the first thing and i mean the very first that i do every monday morning is to check this blog!

Raymond said...


I am glad that you enjoyed this cake. I agree that I would have passed right by this cake and now that I have made it I am still going to pass it by. I didn't care of the texture at all but glad that I at least gave it a try before passing it by.

Rose Levy Beranbaum said...

p.s. the book will have to include some photos and comments from the other participants. i'm reading through them now ad wow! LOVE the individual ones from 'amateur baker' and seeing them in the oven is stunning. that's as far as i've gotten....

Hanaâ said...

Beautiful cake, Marie. I can't wait to make this tonight. The plan is to make it for my friend's birthday tomorrow and serve it with some strawberry mousse. She LOVES almonds so I'm sure she'll love this cake.

Rachelino said...

Thank goodness this one has only one component. I made an apple crumb pie, pumpkin pie and pecan pie yesterday, and there is more pie-making later this week, so an easy cake as the filling in that sandwich is most welcome.
Your cake looks beautiful Marie!

evil cake lady said...

Marie, you talked up this cake perfectly and now I am wondering if I can squish it in sometime this week! I also laughed at the H1N1 comment--good thing you had a plan B.

Marie said...

I love your little individual pinch cakes, and the parchment wings. I think the the color of the unblanched and toasted almonds really made this cake attractive.

Hope you like it!

I noticed the difference in textures when I was looking at some of the other blogs. I'm very puzzled about why people had such varying results with this recipe.

Thanks--I'm not sure it was supposed to be that deep, but it started deflating while it was still in the oven, and there wasn't a thing I could do about it.

I'm so sad that your cake didn't turn out right--and even more so that version #2 looked like it could bounce off the floor!

The first thing I do every Monday is see who else has baked the cake and what their experience has been. It's just fascinating to me to see all the different small decisions people make while baking the cakes and how everyone else's turns out. And I love reading everyone's reactions.

I felt the same doubts that you felt about the cake, but I ended up being very fond of it. I'm impressed that you gave it a try--and also hope that you like the next one.

Strawberry mousse sounds great with this cake!

You are amazing! Do you bake instead of sleeping and eating?

It's a very nice, light cake. One reason I like this cookbook is that it has so many varieties of cake. It hardly seems like the chocolate oblivions and the lemon layer cake are in the same cake universe as this pinch cake, but I love having all the options.

faithy said...

Wow..i'm so happy that Rose loved my individual cakes..:) Thanks Rose! Coming from someone i admire greatly and am a fan of (i have all 3 of your "Bibles")..truly made my day! :D

BTW Marie, the classic carrot cake on Dec 14, is it the carrot cake with dreamy white chocolate frosting? I am planning to bake earlier as i will be away during the first 2 weeks of Dec.

Marie said...

Yes, that is the one.

anitsirK said...

I think I might be glad that I was busy hosting and joining my Mom & sister as they attended Skate Canada this past week/weekend, given the troubles some had with this cake. I may still give it a try at some point (my husband likes the sound of it, since he doesn't have a big sweet tooth), but this past weekend was just impossible. Didn't even get my regular bread baked!

Jenn said...

Marie, or anyone, looking at the fruitcake wreath recipe, it also calls for glaceed cherries. I don't see this in the chef shop website. Is this just any canned cherries in syrup that we can get at grocery stores?

Marie said...

Try it sometime--it's a light, lovely tea cake, in my opinion, not a knock-your-socks-off cake. I think the keys to success are having the best almonds you can find and making sure that it has baked long enough. My tester came out clean, but it still looked too wiggily to me, so I kept it in the oven another 5 minutes.

I think the cherries are the ones without syrup, also called candied cherries, not maraschino cherries, which I don't think would hold up well enough. Rose or Woody, if you're reading, feel free to chime in.

doughadear said...

Loved your write up and your cake looks great. It use to annoy me when my sponge cakes sunk in the middle. I guess it’s not a bad thing after all.

Rachelino said...

Marie. Unfortunately I am not amazing, and I do need to sleep. I think my salt pinch cake needs to be late, but I will make the pure pumpkin cheesecake for Thursday so I don't get kicked out of the Heavenly Bakers. My plan for the Lemon Luxury went bust, but I will still make it because my husband is dying to eat it. Off to post my pie projects.

Hanaâ said...

I made the Pinch Cake last night. I added salt to the recipe and I decided to omit the lemon zest and add almond flavoring instead (some had mentioned that the almond flavor was too subtle) and some vanilla. Unfortunately, my cake had somewhat of a crater in the middle too. I cut off the edges and I’m planning on frosting the top of the cake with strawberry mousse before I take it over to my friend’s house for her birthday. We tasted those edges that I cut off, and it was pretty good. Very almond-y and not too sweet. The texture of the cake was a little coarse though. That could be because I used a different mixing method (which I will write about in my blog today or tomorrow). I’ll have to try it again using Rose’s exact method and see if that takes care of the texture and crater issue.