We landed in Paris on the first day of the Euro 2016 soccer championship. The violent clashes between fans were still a day or two away. The water on the Seine was down from the historic flood levels of the week before, though still high enough to lap at the edge of the road. The bad weather, however, wasn’t over. Daily rain, sometimes heavy, and temperatures cool enough that we needed a jacket in late June. As we left the Rodin museum on Monday afternoon, we saw cars at a standstill for blocks and blocks, the result of a violent demonstration at the Montparnasse against the new employment law being passed by the Hollande government. Walking around the same neighborhood a few days later, we saw the results: store after store with their glass fronts shattered. And the constant sight of soldiers in full gear and police in bullet-proof vests throughout the city made it clear that the country was (and is) still in a state of emergency. We were too, always on alert (we hate to admit it), scanning the faces of the passengers in the Metro, ready to make a quick exit, or choosing seats facing the street on the cafe terraces, not wanting to have our backs to the street.
But also, there were our dear friends and many nights eating and drinking with them, laughing uncontrollably at our inside jokes, shaking our heads in disbelief at the state of the world. When Orlando happened, they were as devastated as we were, their own wounds still fresh from last November. Despite the floods and the soldiers on the streets, the hooligans and the damp weather, the angry strikers and the swollen rivers, this was still the same old Paris, with its charming streets and fairytale-like center, its daily markets and boisterous nights, its bizarre fascinations (this year it’s all about bagels, everywhere you look) and its amazing food. We ate many amazing meals, but we still remember the simple fruit we bought from the neighborhood primeur on the day that we arrived. The mara de bois strawberries smelled like a flower-strewn valley and tasted like roses. The cherries were firm and deeply red, achingly sweet and just tangy enough to make us pronounce them the best cherries we’d ever eaten. And the apricots were honeyed and juicy, with whispers of mango and coconut.
Cornmeal Cake with Apricots – Inspired by a recipe at David Lebovitz
2 ounces (56g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
3/4 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup (150g) sugar, plus 1 tablespoon sugar for topping
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons brandy or cognac (use apple juice or orange juice if you are avoiding alcohol)
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
3/4 cup (125g) finely ground cornmeal
2 cups (215g) almond flour/almond meal
6 tablespoons (55g) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
10-12 ripe apricots, pitted and halved
Lightly grease a 9-inch springform cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC).
In a medium bowl, whisk together the cornmeal, almond flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt, until there are no lumps. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the 3/4 cup of sugar with the oil at medium-high speed for about 1 minute. Add the melted butter and beat for another 2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating each egg into the mixture. After adding the third egg, beat the mixture for 3 minutes at high speed until it thickens and lightens in color. Mix in the brandy and almond extract.
Add the dry ingredients into the oil and sugar mixture in three installments. After each addition of the dry ingredients mix at low speed for only a few seconds, just until most of the cornmeal mixture is incorporated. You can also do this by hand with a spatula. After the third and final addition of the dry ingredients, use a spatula to make sure the mixture is well-combined. Do not overmix.
Scrape the batter into the pan, smooth the top, and add the apricot halves, skin side up, to cover the cake’s surface. Sprinkle one tablespoon of sugar on top of the cake and bake until it is light golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, 55-60 minutes. Let cool on a rack for about 30 minutes, then run a knife along the outside of the cake before you remove it. Let cake cool completely before serving.