It’s a terrible cliche but certain smells really do transport me straight back to specific times and places, and bergamot is one of those smells. A little scratch of the skin and bang! I’m in the Troodos mountains in Cyprus. My Grandpa’s village uses fresh bergamot to flavour their famous ‘Phini delight’ – their take on Turkish delight. I am obviously terribly biased but it is insanely good and nothing like some of the rubbery rubbish you get. It’s soft and silky and melts in your mouth. And the bergamot flavour is so much more delicate than rose water. Whoever goes over to visit the motherland always brings a load of boxes back and it has to be rationed amongst us. We can’t get enough of the stuff.
Unfortunately bergamot isn’t that widely available over here. Most commonly known to us Brits for its presence in Earl Grey tea (and perfumes and candles) the fruit itself can be hard to get hold of. But it’s not impossible, and if you live near a Mediterranean greengrocers or a good farmers market you might be in luck. Unlike oranges, the flesh is too sour to eat straight up, but that makes it perfect for cooking with, and I’ve made one of the best limoncello style liqueurs before with a bag or bergamots and a bottle of gin. I’ve also got a batch of bergamot and orange blossom truffles on the go at the moment, but I’ll have to get back to you on that one (so far so good).
With bergamot being synonymous with Cyprus and the Mediterranean (for me), I’ve used my bag or fruits to create a very Greek treat; damp semolina cake, with olive oil and yoghurt. It is just the kind of thing my Yiayia would make, and also my favourite type of cake. And worst case scenario and you can’t find bergamots? Still give the cake a go, but just use oranges and lemons in their place; it’ll still be absolutely delicious.
BERGAMOT, OLIVE OIL AND SEMOLINA CAKE
Don’t be put off by the amount of sugar! Believe it or not this cake isn’t overly sweet, and it does serve a lot of people. Be brave.
- 650g caster sugar
- 2 bergamots
- 250ml olive oil
- 4 large eggs, free range or organic
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 250g full fat Greek yoghurt
- 275g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
- 175g fine semolina
- 60g ground almonds
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- A good pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 lemon
- 75g Greek honey (or any good runny honey)
- A knob of butter, at room temp
Preheat your oven to 170/ 325/ gas mark 3. Grease your bundt tin with the soft butter. I find it easiest to use a pastry brush to make sure I get it into all the nooks and crannies. Then spoon in a few tablespoons of plain flour and tilt and turn the bundt tin, coating the inside with the flour. When it is completely covered it is ready to use. Tip out any excess flour.
Pour 400g caster sugar into the bowl of a free standing mixer and finely grate in the zest of the 2 bergamots. (You can do this by hand with a wooden spoon if you don’t have a mixer, it might just take you a little longer and need a little more elbow grease). Squeeze in the juice from one of the bergamot, you’ll need about 4 tablespoons of juice, and then beat using the paddle attachment, until just mixed together. Pour in the olive oil, and beat for a further minute until it is well combined. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, on a medium speed, followed by the vanilla extract.
In a bowl whisk together the plain flour, semolina, ground almonds, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt until evenly combined. Spoon a third of the dry mixture into the batter and mix until it has just come together. Spoon in half the yoghurt and mix again. Add half of the remaining dry mixture, mix together, followed by the remaining yoghurt. Mix well before adding the last of the dry mixture. Beat on a medium speed for 30 seconds, and then pour the cake mixture into the prepared bundt tin. Bake in the middle of your oven for around 45 – 50 minutes, until the cake is golden but cooked through.
Whilst your cake is cooking, make the syrup. You want it to cool down in time to feed the hot cake. (You want either hot cake and cool syrup, or cool cake and hot syrup). Pour the remaining 250g caster sugar into a medium saucepan with the honey. Squeeze the juice of the bergamot and lemon into a measuring jug, and add enough water so that there is 400ml of liquid. Pour into the saucepan and place on a medium heat. Gently bring the ingredients to the boil, then reduce the heat and leave to simmer for around 7-8 minutes, until the sugar has completely dissolved and you have a light syrup (swirl the pan occasionally as you go). Leave to one side to cool.
When the cake is out of the oven, leave it for 5 minutes in the tin and then pierce it evenly all over with a skewer. Spoon over 1/3 of the syrup, feeding it evenly around the cake, and then leave it for 10 minutes. Turn the cake out of the tin, on to a cooling rack, and then repeat the syrup process on the top. Pierce evenly with a skewer and then evenly spoon over the remaining syrup. Leave the cake to cool completely before slicing and serving.