Monday, March 14, 2011

Rustic Romanian Sour Cherry Cake (Pandispan)


This rustic tart cherry cake was one of my most favorite desserts as a little girl. My Romanian grandmother made it, my Romanian mother made it, and now you and I can say that we can make it too. It's a traditional Romanian dessert with an Ottoman name--'Pandispan' which literally means 'Spanish bread' filled with sour cherries. I was so grateful to be able to bake with my mom for a bit on my parents' latest visit. I miss them already....

So, this is basically a sponge cake that traditionally calls upon tart cherries--but you can make it with regular sweet cherries too. With the exception of the cherries, it has basic ingredients that you would most likely have in your house: eggs, salt, sugar, flour, baking soda, some optional citrus zest, etc. It mades a terrific snack cake with tea in the afternoon or as a coffee cake served with a latte. My husband's eyebrows did a backflip when he finished his first bite. I love, love, love this simple, rustic, fruity, fluffy cake!

The beauty of this cake (and why I like to call it "Chameleon Cake") is that it works for so many different kinds of fruits! You can make this cake with blueberries, apricots, etc. And, if you get really creative, you can use nuts and/or essences such as almond, orange, etc. Also, the ratio is pretty much 1:1:1 on eggs, flour, sugar.


RUSTIC ROMANIAN SOUR CHERRY CAKE (PANDISPAN)

  • 6 eggs, separated
  • 2 pinches of salt
  • 6-7 Tbsp. sugar PLUS 2 Tbsp. more sugar
  • 6 Tbsp. all purpose flour
  • Scant 1/8 tsp. baking powder
  • Zest of one lemon OR orange (your preference--you can skip it, but the lemon is delightful!)
  • 2 Tbsp. oil (my mom uses olive oil, we tried almond oil this time--but canola or vegetable should work too)
  • ~4 cups tart cherries or regular cherries (fresh preferred, frozen fine to use too--no need to defrost)
  • Powdered sugar or vanilla sugar (for serving)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9X13 inch pan (or two 8X8 pans).

In a medium-large bowl, beat just the separated egg whites with the salt until frothy and foamy (maybe a minute or less)--you can use a stand mixer or a hand mixer. Add the 6-7 tablespoons of sugar by one at a time and continue to beat in between each addition. Add the baking powder and continue to beat until the eggs are completely whipped and you can see slight peaks.

Here's what it will look like:


Very gently fold in the oil with a spatula. Then fold in the egg yolks and flour--one egg yolk and one tablespoon of flour at a time until pretty much incorporated. Then add the citrus zest. Fold the mixture from the outside in (or basically mix the bottom and flip it over the top--sort of in a clockwise motion and work your way around the bowl) with a rubber spatula being careful not to stir in the opposite direction (which can 'deflate' the fluffy egg mixture). Folding in this way will help keep the cake light. (Folding-in my world- then, means 'gentle smooth overlapping mixing.')

Pour the, now pale yellow, mixture into the 9 X 13 inch pan. I like to use a glass dish so you can see all the pretty red cherries.

Meanwhile, mix the 1-2 Tbsp. of leftover sugar with the cherries. Drop the cherries into the batter by hand and evenly disperse. There isn't any need to push the cherries down into the batter--they will fall into the batter on their own, somewhat.

(In the picture above, we were experimenting with pan sizes, so our cherries didn't sink into the batter as much as usual-- since we used a pan that was too small and we overflowed it with batter and not enough cherries--hence the need for a 9 X 13 inch pan!--but as you can see, still a pretty rustic cake.)

Bake the pandispan cake for about 50-60 minutes--or until the cake center is not jiggling very much, a toothpick inserted comes out clean, and the top starts to get golden in color.

Let the cake cool. Cut into squares. Sprinkle with powdered sugar or vanilla sugar before serving. Can also be served with ice cream.

Serves 6-8.

This is a WONDERFULLY simple cake. I took it to my  'Pleasantville' neighbors here in Memphis suburbia. So good!

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