One batter. One bake.
Three layers: crust, custard and sponge.
For the cake
125 g butter
500 ml (2 cups) milk
4 eggs, at room temperature
100 g light brown sugar
50 g caster sugar
1 tsp orange blossom essence (or just orange essence)
1 tsp good vanilla*
115 g plain flour
For the pistachios
1/2 to 1 cup raw pistachios
1/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup water
- For the cake
Preheat the oven to 165° C, and butter a square 1L Pyrex baking dish.
- Melt the butter in a small saucepan, and set aside.
- Heat the milk until it’s just lukewarm, and set aside.
- Separate the eggs — set the yolks aside and put the whites in the bowl of your stand mixer with the whisk attachment.
- Beat the egg whites until stiff, transfer to a large bowl, and set aside.
- Using the paddle attachment, beat together the yolks, sugars, orange blossom essence and vanilla until pale and thick.
- Still mixing, slowly add in the flour until fully incorporated.
- Still mixing, slowly add in the tepid milk until fully incorporated. (You might switch to a whisk or wooden spoon at this point, to avoid splashes.)
- Using a spatula, carefully fold in the pre-whipped egg whites until you have a runny batter without too many blobs of egg white remaining.**
- Pour the batter into your prepared baking dish, and bake at 165° C for about 30–40 minutes. The cake is finished when the top is golden brown all over, and the middle is still quite wobbly (but not liquidy). Like a good custard-based pie, this wobbliness will solidify quite a lot as the cake cools.
- For the candied pistachios
Toast the pistachios in a small frying pan or saucepan until they’re starting to turn brown and smell buttery.
- Once the nuts have cooled a bit, pour them onto a chopping board and chop roughly. (You still want some largish bits, for crunch.)
- Melt the water and sugars together in your small frying/saucepan, then add the nuts and stir constantly over a medium heat, until the sugar syrup has boiled vigorously and then thickened, turning a bit “dry”.
- Pour out the candied nuts onto a lined baking sheet, and leave them to cool.
- When the cake has completely cooled, cut it into slices with a large knife and a spatula — you’ll see there’s a dense crust-like layer on the bottom, a smooth custardy layer in the middle, and a sponge-like layer on the top. MAGIC.
- Crumble some pistachio on top of each slice, and serve with a cup of Earl Grey tea. (The bergamot and orange blossom will join hands and skip down into your belly together.) …And maybe add a scoop of vanilla ice-cream for good measure.
*Confession: I’m pretty comfortable using standard vanilla essence for cookies and suchlike, but in this case you really do want something rich and seedy, like vanilla bean paste, or the seeds scraped from inside one vanilla pod. (I used the latter.)
**You probably won’t get it completely lump-free without knocking the air out of the egg whites, so just aim for “mostly not lumpy”.