I know this looks like a good old American quick bread, but, even though it's shot through with straight-from-Vermont cheddar cheese, it's got a French soulat least I think it has, since I was inspired to make it after having had so many in so many places across France. There, the savory cake (just about anything baked in a loaf pan is called a cake in France) is often served with aperitifs, especially wine or Champagne, but I think it's got the goods to be right at other timesit's perfect for brunch, really good with salads and so satisfying lightly toasted and buttered at snack time, whenever that might be.
The cake salé, as it's known (salé means salty or savory), is about as simple a recipe as you can find in the baker's repertory. In many ways, it's like a muffin and it's prepared in much the same way: You whisk all the dry ingredients together in one bowl, all the wet in another, and then you gently combine the two. It takes less than 10 minutes to put together, requires no special equipment and really takes no special skill.
In France, the basic cake usually has some cheesegenerally Gruyère, Emmentaler (like Swiss cheese), or Comté, sometimes Parmesan and often a combination (it's a great way to use those odd-sized pieces of cheese that seem to collect in the fridge)and can have more add-ins, if desired. I've kept my local version simple, using just grated cheddar cheese and lots of snipped chives from the garden, but this is a recipe that begs for variation (see Playing Around) and something to sip along with it. While you're cooling the cake, cool some wine, too.
Playing Around: You can use whatever hard cheese you like most or whatever combination of cheeses you have at hand. You can vary the herbs just about any way you wishI really like this cake with basil or a mix of herbs that includes basilor you can skip the herbs. You can have a field day with add-ins, for example, you can mix in diced ham, bacon bits, toasted chopped nuts, olives, sun-dried tomatoes, minced shallots or small pieces of cooked vegetables. And you can even make a kind of layer cake: put half the dough in the pan; spread a thin layer of pesto or tapenade over it, and then top with the remaining dough. Just keep in mind that, depending on what you're adding to the dough, you'll have to adjust the amount of salt you use in the recipe.
- 1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 to 1 teaspoon salt (it depends on what cheese and add-ins you're using)
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground white pepper (or more to taste; you could even add a pinch of hot pepper)
- 3 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup whole milk, at room temperature
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 ounces coarsely grated cheddar or other cheese
- 2 ounces cheddar or other cheese, cut into very small cubes
- 1/2 cup minced chives or other herbs
- 1/3 cup toasted walnuts, chopped (optional)
Put the flour, baking powder, salt, and pepper in a large mixing bowl and whisk the ingredients together to combine.
Put the eggs in another mixing bowl; whisk for about 1 minute, until they're foamy and blended. Whisk in the milk and olive oil.nn3. Pour the wet ingredients over the dry ingredients and, using a sturdy rubber spatula or a wooden spoon, gently mix until the dough comes together. There's not need to be energeticbeating the dough toughens itnor do you need to be very thoroughly. Just stir until all the dry ingredients are moistened. Now, stir in the cheese, grated and cubed, the herbs and the toasted walnuts, if you're using them. You'll have a thick dough. Turn the dough into the buttered pan and even the top with the back of the spatula or spoon.
Slide the pan into the oven and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, or until the bread is golden and a slender knife inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean. Transfer the pan to a cooling rack, wait about 3 minutes, then run a knife around the sides of the pan and turn the loaf over onto the rack; invert and cool to room temperature right-side up.