The first time I ever ate savory cake, I was at a cocktail party in Provence. I had just completed a seven-week French immersion program and I was eager to test out my brand new language skills. Still, when I found myself being introduced to the village mayor, my heart started to pound with nerves.
The mayor had a bald head, intelligent eyes, and was missing a finger from a hunting accident. He was interested in my husband’s job as a diplomat, and in the various countries we had called home. “Did you enjoy living in Beijing?” he asked in French.
“It was a wonderful experience, but sometimes challenging,” I said. “La ville est très salée.” Everyone within earshot laughed uproariously. It took me a minute, but eventually I realized that somehow in my fluster, I had confused “sale”—which means dirty—with “salée,” or salty.
Perhaps I was distracted by the delicious cake salé, or savory cake, on offer at the party, a booze-soaked loaf studded with bits of ham and Gruyère cheese. I had “salé” on the mind you might say.
Years have passed since that party, my French has improved considerably, and I’ve learned how to make my own savory cake, one with walnuts and Roquefort cheese that whips up quickly for a lovely lunch or drinks party (see recipe below). Every time I make it, I think of that balmy summer evening and my funny French language gaffe—and though I’ve made plenty of linguistic errors since then, I’ve never confused those two words again.
150 grams flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
Scant 1/2 cup sunflower seed oil
1/2 cup milk
100 grams Gruyère, grated
150 grams Roquefort (or domestic blue cheese)
80 grams walnuts, toasted and chopped
Salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 180ºC. Butter and flour a loaf pan.
In a large bowl, mix the eggs with the flour and baking powder. Add the oil and milk slowly, alternating between the two. Stir in the grated Gruyère and season lightly (remember, the cheeses are very salty). Crumble the roquefort into the batter and add the nuts. Stir gently to combine.
Transfer the batter into your prepared loaf pan and bake for 40 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.