I started daydreaming of artichoke-laden desserts around the same time I discovered Pablo Neruda’s fabulous poem “Ode to the Artichoke”:
“…For the final act, we reveal its deliciousness, plucking it leaf by leaf, and devour the peaceable dough that lies at its green heart.”*
It was the artichoke’s succulent center that came calling to me with its creamy, earthy and faintly bitter qualities; it brings to mind some of the same beloved features of my favorite sweets.
I decided on a simple, tender cake to showcase the veggie alongside a harmony of ingredients. While I truly loved the idea of using fresh artichokes for my sweet creation, I decided on canned artichokes for this recipe. I admit it feels strange to suggest this, especially while living on such lush produce terrain, but I do so thoughtfully.
For one, canned artichokes are perfectly soft and their flavor is nicely preserved. Plus, the canned version’s inherent salt and liquid are common prerequisites for a cake batter. Finally, I just didn’t want to create a recipe where snipping, steaming and plucking fresh artichokes led to giving up their hearts to the food processor en route to cake batter, rather than their being savored as a reward for all the work of getting there.
The outcome is a super moist cake with a fresh and satisfying balance of flavors. While the flecks of almond and splash of vanilla offer familiar warmth, the bits of lemon and molassesy brown sugar echo the artichoke’s mildly tangy side. Coconut oil offers a creamy sweetness to mirror the richness of the artichoke heart, which itself comes through in delightfully delicate earthy tones.
What I never expected was that the cake would turn green once baked, and would become darker and darker green thereafter. Thankfully, as my adventurous taste-testers and recipe reviewers have assured me, the unusual color doesn’t affect the fabulous flavor and texture. Some have said it reminded them of a spin on carrot cake; others have excitedly shared it with artichoke-loving friends or imaginative kids. Whatever it brings to mind, this colorful creation is really just a luscious cake, as perfect for breakfast as it is for dessert.
*From Pablo Neruda’s Odes to Common Things, bilingual edition, translated by Ken Krabbenhoft. Bulfinch Press, 1994.
Green Artichoke Cake
Makes a one-layer 8″ cake; serves 10
1 can (at least 13.75 ounces) artichoke hearts in water and salt, whole or quartered (see note) 1 cup dark brown or muscovado sugar, firmly packed 1/3 cup melted coconut oil (see note) 2 large eggs at room temperature 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract 1/3 cup almond meal, firmly packed (from skin-on almonds; not blanched) 1 cup all-purpose flour 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda finely grated zest of one lemon powdered sugar for topping (optional)
Grease the inside of an 8″ cake pan, and line the inner bottom with a circle of parchment paper. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F. Pour the canned artichokes and their liquid into the bowl of a food processor and whirl for about 30 seconds, stopping halfway through to scrape sides and lid of bowl with a spatula. The texture should be pureed without any big pieces but won’t be perfectly smooth. Measure out 1 1/2 cups of the puree; set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, beat the brown sugar and melted coconut oil until just mixed. Add the eggs one at time, beating in each one until incorporated. Beat in the vanilla. Add the almond meal and stir (if your almond meal is lumpy, place it in a separate small bowl and whisk well to remove any clusters before adding it to the batter).
Sift the flour and baking soda into the bowl and begin to mix; batter will seem thick. Add the 1 1/2 cups pureed artichoke and beat, stopping to scrape bowl with spatula, then mixing until just incorporated and even. Finally, fold in the lemon zest until uniformly dispersed.
Pour batter into pan. Bake for 40-45 minutes, until top of cake is toasty brown, and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out free of wet batter. Remove from oven; let cool completely to room temperature in the pan. If not serving right away, cover the cooled cake and store at cool room temperature, eating within 24 hours. (Keep in mind that cake will become greener as it sits, deepening in color with time.) When ready to serve, gently loosen sides of cake with a butter knife, transfer to a serving plate and remove parchment. Sift powdered sugar over the cake just before serving, using a stencil if desired.
Be sure to avoid marinated artichoke hearts with oil, vinegar, garlic or herbs; these are commonly found in glass jars. Instead, use canned artichokes containing only water, salt and perhaps some citric acid.
In place of coconut oil, feel free to use vegetable oil of your choice or melted butter.
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