This cake salé has the summer freshness of a caprese salad—ripe tomatoes, tangy mozzarella, bright, spicy and sweet basil. Just don’t be tempted by the fabulous milky buffalo mozzarella we all like to eat, but which contains too much water for baking. For this recipe, you want a good artisan mozzarella that isn’t sitting in water. Something you can slice through, without it being squidgy. As ripe tomatoes are also filled with water and vary in taste, I roast mine. But there are, in fact, three ways to prepare the tomatoes, and they’re all equally good. They can be baked in a 250-degree-Fahrenheit oven for an hour or two. They can be roasted in a hot oven, as I do here, for a mere fifteen minutes. Or, if they are truly flavorful, they can be sliced, sprinkled with salt and set over a sieve for a few hours to shed some of their excess liquid. As mozzarella is a great absorber of flavor but not inherently flavorful, I add garlic to the cake twice, more salt than usual, a spoonful of Parmesan, plenty of basil, and some chives for kick. If you want a spicy cake, add some crushed red pepper. Olives and sun-dried tomatoes can join the party, too. But what I love about this recipe is that it reminds me of that last bite of a Caprese salad—you know the one, when you slide an end of bread across the plate, catching the stray bits of mozzarella, a sliver or two of basil and a shimmer of olive oil, flecked with sea salt. The good news is that this cake can be made any time of year, as roasting the tomatoes draws forth their flavor, making something intense out of even those chilled supermarket things that offer no raw pleasure.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
On a rimmed sheet pan or in a baking dish large enough to accommodate all the cherry tomatoes in one layer, toss the tomatoes, olive oil and minced garlic together, then shake to spread them out. Sprinkle with a bit of the salt. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and set aside. When cool enough to handle, tilt the pan and gather one tablespoon of the olive oil, which will be deliciously perfumed with the garlic and sweetened with juice from the tomatoes. Set this aside and save the rest to drizzle on toast.
Lower the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter a metal 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and dust it with flour.
Peel the whole garlic clove and slice it horizontally in half. Melt the butter in a small saucepan with the garlic halves, then set aside for five minutes to infuse. Remove and discard the garlic.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk the eggs, buttermilk, and the tablespoon of yummy tomato- garlic-olive oil from the pan. Continue to whisk as you pour in the garlic-infused butter.
In a larger mixing bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Stir in the chives, basil, cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. Fold in the wet ingredients with a rubber spatula until no streaks of flour remain.
Pour into the prepared loaf pan and bake for 45–50 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out nearly clean.
Remove the savory cake to a wire rack and let it cool for five minutes before unmolding it. It is delicious warm, straight from the oven, but the flavors deepen and the crumb grows tender, if you let it sit for an hour or two. Store at room temperature, wrapped in plastic or in an air-tight container. It should be refrigerated overnight, but be sure to bring it back to room temperature before eating it. On the third day, it will be best toasted and drizzled with olive oil.
Excerpted from Gateau by Aleksandra Crapanzano. Copyright (c) 2022 by Aleksandra Crapanzano. Reprinted by permission of Scribner, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Purchase on Amazon.