A tea cake is a tea cake is a tea cake — until Tartine gets its hands on it.
Like a basic little black dress that turns extraordinarily chic with the right broach or necklace, this sweet-potato loaf cake goes from fundamental to fancifully froufrou enough to be the life of the party, thanks to a halo of torched meringue.
“Sweet Potato Tea Cake with Meringue” is from the new “Tartine: A Classic Revisited: 68 All-New Recipes + 55 Updated Favorites” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy. It’s by co-founders Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson of the famed Tartine bakery founded in San Francisco, with locations worldwide now.
It’s a revised edition to their original book that came out 13 years ago. Of the 122 recipes, 67 are new, including one for Tartine’s ever-popular “Morning Bun.” There are also more recipes that use less sugar and more global flavors, as well as more gluten-free ones.
A few of these recipes are indeed for ambitious bakers, including a sleek, contemporary “Buche de Noel.” The majority of them, however, shouldn’t intimidate most home-bakers. “Black Tea Blondies with Caramel Swirl,” “Cranberry Upside-Down Cake,” and “Brioche Jam Buns” just entice you into the kitchen.
Imagine your favorite pumpkin bread, but made with sweet potato instead. That’s what this moist, tender loaf cake is like. But it goes one better by getting a cloud of meringue on top that gets swirled with the cake batter to produce pretty streaks in it.
The whole thing — cake batter and fluffy meringue — gets baked all at once. The meringue will puff up quite a bit in the oven, too.
As with any loaf cake, it’s allowed to cool for a few minutes before being turned out onto a wire rack. You might be antsy about doing this, thinking the meringue will crack. But it’s sturdier than you think, and will survive the upheaval just fine.
Scented with cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, the cake is like sweet potato pie meets carrot cake. At least, that’s how my husband likened it.
The meringue is very crisp on the outside and chewy at its core. It tastes delightfully of sweet-smoky, charred campfire marshmallows.
You might think a loaf cake too plain for a big holiday. But not this one. It’s dressed up and ready to go for a night on the town.
Sweet Potato Tea Cake with Meringue
(Makes one 9-by-5-inch loaf; 6 to 8 servings)
For the cake:
1 1/3 cups plus 1 tablespoon (185 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup (255 g) sweet potato, boiled and pureed
1 1/3 cups (265 g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (180 ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
For meringue topping:
3 large egg whites
2/3 cup (135 g) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Lightly butter the sides and bottom of a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
This recipe is easily mixed with a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, or by hand with a whisk. Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves into a mixing bowl and set aside.
In another mixing bowl, beat together the sweet potato puree, sugar, oil, and salt on medium speed or by hand until well mixed. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition until incorporated before adding the next egg. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the flour mixture and beat until combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then beat on medium speed for 5 to 10 seconds to make a smooth batter. The batter should be the consistency of a thick puree.
Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and smooth the surface with an offset spatula. Set aside.
To make the meringue topping, pour water to a depth of about 2 inches into a saucepan, place over medium heat, and bring to a simmer. Whisk together the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment that will rest securely on the rim of the saucepan, but not touch the water.
Continue to whisk until the whites are hot to the touch, about 5 minutes. Carefully remove the bowl from the pan, return to the stand mixer, and immediately begin to mix on high speed until the mixture is very thick and stiff, and holds stiff peaks when you lift out the whisk. This will take 5 to 7 minutes. Add the vanilla and mix to combine.
Spoon the meringue over the batter in the loaf pan and drag a knife through the meringue and batter to create a marbled pattern. Don’t thin out the meringue too much, though. The meringue bakes best when left in thicker patches. Bake until a paring knife inserted into the center comes out clean, about 1 1/2 hours.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for about 20 minutes, then run a sharp knife around the sides and invert onto the rack, turn right-side up, and let cool completely. Serve the cake at room temperature. It will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for 4 days or in the refrigerator for 1 week.
From “Tartine: A Classic Revisited” by Elisabeth Prueitt and Chad Robertson
More Holiday Sweet Treats: Pumpkin Almond Cake with Almond Butter Frosting