We had a few visitors last week, out in Tofino. Our friends Shauna, Danny and Lucy came to stay with us for a few days, arriving the day after W’s birthday and the day before Shauna’s. (And a week or so after Lucy’s, and another week or so before Danny’s.) So you can see why a cake or two was in order.
It was three days of celebrating, birthdays or not. We ate well, and often – steamed Dungeness crab straight from the ocean, shrubs made with white peach drinking vinegar, lavender-honey gelato from Chocolate Tofino, seafood chowder, ceviche and gluten-free Key lime tarts at SoBo, Salt Spring Island goat cheese, peppery radishes dragged through good butter and sprinkled with Maldon salt.
And of course one of the first orders of business – fish tacos from Tacofino.
And after picking up local veggies from the TUCG, there were plenty of blueberries, fresh basil for pesto, kale shredded into salads and cooked down with garlic and olive oil, sweet cherry tomatoes by the bowlful, and new potatoes roasted until golden, then doused with aged white cheddar before going back into the oven to crisp up further. (We dubbed these Tofino poutine. So addictive.)
Every morning we ate fried eggs from Nanoose Bay, cooked with olive oil and butter for a crispy/frilly edge – once over sweet potato hash, once with garlicky kale. Of course writing about what we ate makes it sound so much more, but really it was just good ingredients, simply prepared – and if you can swing it, having friends around, sand in your shoes and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the ocean, it just makes everything taste better.
But the birthday cake! It was actually a tart, and a day late. (I made two, actually – the first a lemon-blackberry cake made with mashed potatoes and ground almonds that -despite the sound of a sweet almond-potato cake, tasted divine.) The summer peach tart was one I came across on Sprouted Kitchen (whose new cookbook I came across in the tiny Tofino bookstore), and demanded to be made not only because it looked delicious, but because it was gluten-free (grain-free, even) and made with a simple base of soft, chewy dates, ground almonds and toasted pecans. Unbaked.
You blitz these with a pinch of cinnamon in the food processor – or if you’re away from home and in a sparser kitchen, stand at the counter and chop them by hand, working the mixture with a knife and your fingers as you chat until it has a consistency that can be pressed into the bottom of a cake pan. The original had a filling of crème fraîche or whipped coconut cream, but I beat some mascarpone with the merest dribble of honey and cream enough to make it spreadable, and it held up very well between the nutty base and sliced peaches, making it almost like an elegant, not-too-sweet cheesecake. BC peaches are finally here, but you could top it with whatever is in season.
I was saying to Shauna that this shouldn’t even be labelled “gluten-free” or “grain-free” – it has its own legs to stand on, and I don’t want to present it as a healthier substitute for a regular tart, or somehow less than, or delicious for being gluten-free. It’s just delicious, period, but I did want readers to take note that this is no ordinary butter-sugar-flour tart.
Everyone loved this – and the small sliver of leftovers kept well in the fridge overnight. It’s a keeper. And so perfect for summer, when you don’t really want to turn on the oven if you don’t have to.
Happy 47, Shauna.
Peach, Pecan & Mascarpone Tart
adapted (with huge thanks!) from Sprouted Kitchen
10 Medjool dates, pitted and roughly chopped
1 cup pecan halves or pieces, toasted
1 cup almond meal (ground almonds)
2 tsp. butter or coconut oil
1 cup (1 tub) Mascarpone
3-4 Tbsp. cream
2 tsp. honey or maple syrup
a few drops of vanilla
2 ripe peaches, thinly sliced
a handful of blueberries or raspberries
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the dates, pecans, almonds, butter, cinnamon and salt until well blended and sticky; alternatively, chop the dates and pecans finely, then mix with the ground almonds, butter, cinnamon and salt until you have a mixture that will hold together when squeezed in your fingers. Press into the bottom of a 9-inch pan.
In a medium bowl, beat the Mascarpone, cream, honey and vanilla until creamy and smooth; spread over the base. Top with sliced peaches and a handful of berries, and chill for half an hour or so if you have time – otherwise it can be served immediately.