The Belazu Ingredient is King Challenge – Olive Oil Cake with Pistachios, Balsamic Peaches, and Balsamic Caramel Sauce

When challenged to make an innovative dish using olive oil and balsamic vinegar, my first instinct was to make a cake. Of course, making a cake is my first instinct in most situations.


One of the perks of being at Leiths is being visited by lots of people bringing us delicious things. The Belazu Ingredient Company set up the first olive oil and vinegar tasting I’ve ever attended, and challenged us to create an innovative dish using any combination of their Early Harvest Arbequina Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Balsamic Vinegar of Modena, or Freekeh. The olive oil was very good, but it was the balsamic vinegar that surprised me: it was so delicious that I ended up drinking it like a shot.


I chose to work with the olive oil and vinegar, and decided to make these ingredients – traditionally used in savoury dishes – the stars of a cake. The olive oil I used instead of butter as the main source of fat for the cake: it creates a moist and tender crumb and gives a subtle flavour and a lovely golden tawny colour. The balsamic vinegar I initially used to marinate the peaches, and then later to flavour a warm caramel sauce.


My next job was to come up with some accent flavours and textures to complement the oil and vinegar. Balsamic strawberries are a well-known concept now, but I wanted to try something a little different, and so I went for balsamic peaches. The complex richness and fruity sharpness of the balsamic vinegar works well with the softer sweetness of the peach. The peaches are then baked on the base of the cake, later to be turned over: the vinegar darkens and caramelises as it cooks and the peaches meld into the cake, ending up sitting golden on top. Pistachios are probably my favourite nut, and I included them as I thought the cake needed a little texture, and the slight saltiness they bring to the dish helps balance the sweetness of the cake and peaches. Plus they always look so pretty, garlanding a cake in green and hints of purple.


The caramel sauce is one of my favourite parts of this dish. I am a big salted caramel fan, but balsamic caramel might be even better. A high quality balsamic vinegar like this one adds both a sharpness and an interesting fruitiness to the caramel, and I had to stop myself eating it out of the pan with a spoon.

Even though it makes for a pretty long blog post title, I am really happy with my cake, and a I had a lot of fun with this challenge. I made the recipe loads of times to test all my little tweaks to the it and I am not bored of it yet, which is a good sign. Now, I’m off to go and finish the rest of that caramel sauce.


for the cake

2 barely-ripe peaches
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
120g Greek yoghurt
3 large eggs
150ml extra virgin olive oil
200g golden caster sugar
220g plain flour
1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
100g pistachio kernels, roughly chopped

for the caramel sauce

130g granulated sugar
4 tbsp water
130g double cream
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar (from marinating the peaches)
1/2 tsp sea salt flakes


  1. Two hours before you plan to bake your cake, core your peaches. Cut them into slices and place them in a shallow bowl or dish with the balsamic vinegar. Turn the peaches in the vinegar and make sure they are covered and immersed. Cover, and leave at room temperature, ideally for two hours but for as long as you can if not.
  2. When you’re ready to bake your cake, preheat your oven to 170C/ 150C fan/ gas 3. Grease a 23cm cake tin and line the base with a circle of silicone/ parchment paper.  In a large mixing bowl, or in a stand mixer, beat the eggs together with the yoghurt. When evenly combined, beat in the olive oil, followed by the sugar. In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, and salt. Stir through the chopped pistachios, reserving 2 tbsp of nuts. Fold this mixture into the wet mixture and beat to combine.
  3. Arrange the peach slices over the centre of the base of your cake tin in whatever pattern takes your fancy. Reserve the leftover balsamic vinegar from the peaches. Carefully, so as not to displace the peaches, pour the cake batter into the tin. Bake in your preheated oven for 45 minutes, or until it’s firm and risen and a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes away clean.
  4. While the cake is baking, make the caramel sauce. Combine the sugar with the water in a saucepan and heat gently until the sugar is dissolved. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat and continue to cook the caramel until it’s the copper colour of a penny, which should take 5-10 minutes. While the caramel is cooking, warm the cream gently in another pan until steaming, then keep warm on a low heat. Once the caramel is ready, carefully whisk in the cream, off the heat, followed by the balsamic vinegar and the salt. Cook for a further minute, then take off the heat again. Taste and adjust as needed – I often add a little more balsamic vinegar.
  5. When the cake is ready, leave to cool for ten minutes before removing from the tin. Carefully peel off the silicone disc to reveal the peaches. Sprinkle your reserved pistachios over the cake. Serve with the warm balsamic caramel.



Peach, Raspberry, and Almond Loaf Cake with Cream Cheese Topping

I am not musical at all. I love music, but I can’t read it or produce it in any way. I can’t sing, or play an instrument, or keep time very well. I can’t even dance.

Yet, every Monday, you’ll find me at band practice.


When James and I first got together, I knew he had an unruly folk band. I’m still not totally sure how many people are in it – twelve? thirteen? – because people come and go, and it’s never really clear what everyone’s status is at a given moment. There are people on maternity and paternity leave. People get jobs that take them away from the band for a while, like being in other bands, or taking acting jobs, or working abroad. And that’s part of the joy of the band. You don’t quite know who is going to turn up to a rehearsal, but it’s always enough people to make some sort of music.

I fluttered around the periphery of the group for a little while, and then I starting going to the rehearsals. I initially thought my being there would be a bit pointless. What was the use in showing up when I couldn’t play a thing? But I just sort of… kept going. I sing along in the loud bits where hopefully no one can really hear me, and I mess around with the simplest percussion instruments, and I force huge amounts of food on everyone. I take photographs and videos at gigs and have people round for dinner and go to band parties. Mostly, I chat to people.


The band is a mongrel mash-up of members from completely different backgrounds. The age range spans about thirty years. Some people are trained classical musicians who have jumped from those hallowed heights into folk’s cushioning, beery embrace. Some people are self taught musicians who can’t read music but can play along with anything from Bellowhead to Beethoven to Björk by ear on five different instruments. Some people are scientists, some are actors. We have a counsellor and a software QA engineer, a publishing professional and a policeman.

Even though I’m not really ‘in’ the band, I am at least with the band. I’ll see and talk to people socially, outside of rehearsals. I’ve helped some of them move. They’re all invited to our wedding.

Less than two weeks ago, a band member gave birth to an absolutely beautiful baby girl. I am one of those incredibly annoying people who will coo over babies for hours until their parents gently prise them from my arms so that they can, you know, go home and get some sleep, so I have been ridiculously excited about this pregnancy and the imminent arrival of the baby for months. Tomorrow, I get to go and meet her for the first time.

Of course, I’m not going empty-handed. I asked if I could bake a cake, and the request came in for something summery, with peaches. I couldn’t quite find a recipe that I liked the look of enough to fit the bill, so I made up my own.


Notes: The core of this cake is similar to a Madeira cake, but with a higher proportion of almonds than you would normally find, and no lemon or other citrus because I wanted the peaches and raspberries to shine through. It’s essentially a cake for summer fruits, fairly light and very moist, and content to be the background for whatever delicacies you fancy – apricots, nectarines, plums, blueberries, strawberries…

If you fancy making this, please don’t skip the almond extract in the topping, because it’s really important to the flavour of this cake. I buy it at the local Sainsburys, so it shouldn’t be hard to get hold of.


for the cake

175g butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
175g sugar
3 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
100g ground almonds
150g self-raising flour
2 large or 3 small/flat peaches, fairly ripe
100g raspberries – either fresh or frozen is fine

for the topping

50g butter
150g full fat cream cheese
50g icing sugar
1 tsp almond extract
handful of toasted almond flakes
handful of freeze dried raspberries (not essential, but pretty)


  1. Preheat your oven to 180C/ 160C fan/ gas 4. Find your largest loaf tin (mine is 30cm x 15cm), and grease and line it with parchment paper. Beat your butter and sugar together until light and fluffy, then gradually beat in your eggs, followed by the vanilla extract. Fold your almonds into the mixture, then sift your flour and salt together and fold that in too.
  2. Cut your peaches into fairly chunky slices, and pop them in another small bowl with your raspberries and around 1 tbsp of flour. Shake it all about a bit so the flour lightly coats the fruit (it will help to stop all the fruit sinking to the bottom of the cake). Fold the fruit into your cake mixture, then dollop the mixture into your prepared tin and smooth over the top. Pop it in the oven for 50-60 minutes, or until the cake is firm and golden and passes the skewer test. Let it cool for ten minutes, and then get it out the tin and let it cool completely.
  3. Make your topping. Beat the butter with an electric mixer until it’s soft, and then beat in the cream cheese. Sift the icing sugar into the mixture, fold it in roughly, and then beat it properly until the mixture is smooth. Add the almond extract and beat once more. When your cake is completely cool (absolutely and completely – I have learned this the hard way many times), spread the topping onto it, and sprinkle it the cake with your toasted almond flakes and freeze dried raspberries.