This cake is inspired by the typical American oatmeal cookie – a favourite of my childhood. My granddad worked with the allied forces following WWII, meaning my mum grew up close to American military bases, enjoying typically American delights such as peanut butter decades before they started appearing on German supermarket shelves. This also explains why my siblings and I got to enjoy peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, hot chocolate fudge sauce and indeed oatmeal cookies quite frequently despite being born to German parents and growing up in Germany.
While I know there exist plenty of different versions of oatmeal cookies, for obviously biased reasons, my mum’s version will forever be my favourite – a crisp, flat cookie studded with chewy raisins and flavoured with a good dose of cinnamon, made using a recipe adapted from a collection of American recipes my mum picked up when my parents lived in Morocco in the early 80s (and sadly, before I was born). This recipe was an attempt to create the same flavour profile but in cake form.
The cake is made up of 4 layers of a wholemeal spelt sponge cake – I used wholemeal spelt flour for its nutty taste and slightly grainer texture. Next, there are two layers of a Marsala-flavoured and cinnamon-spiced raisin compote (with some orange zest and orange juice to cut through the sweetness of the compote). Inbetween the two layers of raisin compote there is a thick layer of cream cheese frosting which is also used to cover the sides and top of the cake. Last but not least, the sides of the cake are covered in crisp caramel and sea salt oats for a bit of crunch.
While I am sometimes wary of posting recipes that include a large number of individual steps, I fell utterly in love with this recipe so could not resist posting it. It also had great success with Alessandro who actually hates raisins and, despite being on a bit of a health kick at the moment, suggested we have a slice each for breakfast the day after I made it. In the end, he took some leftover cake to work and told me that everyone there really liked the cake as well – no small feat given the unusual, for Italian palates at least, flavours of the cake and the 30 degree weather we were enjoying when I was testing this recipe, not exactly what makes anyone crave layered cakes. All of which is to say, this cake seems to have mass appeal and while there are a number of different components, none of them a difficult – you could easily make the crisp oats and raisin compote in advance and whip your frosting while your sponge cakes are in the oven. The crisp oats also make a wonderful topping for ice cream or yoghurt bowls and is an excellent stand-in for granola, so you might want to double the batch.
For the raisin compote
2 tbsp Marsala
1/4 tsp cinnamon
Zest and juice of 1/2 orange
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp cornstarch, dissolved in ca. 2 tbsp water
For the crisp caramel and sea salt oats
2 tbsp water
Good pinch of sea salt
For the sponges
4 eggs, separated
100g wholemeal spelt flour
60g butter, melted and cooled
For the cream cheese frosting
125g butter, at room temperature
125g powdered sugar
250g cream cheese, cold
For the raisin compote, pour the water over the raisins and let them soak until they are nice and plump (I let mine soak overnight, but a couple of hours should do the trick). Place the oats together with their soaking liquid in a small saucepan, add the marsala, cinnamon, orange juice and orange zest and sugar and bring to a boil. Cook the raisin compote uncovered for ca. 10-20 minutes or until the liquid has reduced by about a third. Add the cornstarch and wait for the compote to come back to boiling, leave to boil for ca. 60 seconds (by which time the compote should have visibly thickened), then turn off the heat and let the compote come to room temperature.
For the crisp caramel and sea salt oats, place all ingredients in a saucepan on medium heat and, stirring frequently to distribute the sugar evenly and ensure even browning, let the sugar caramelise – this should take 5-10 minutes and the oats will be ready when the sugar has melted and the oats are golden brown and sticking together in small clumps. Spread out on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper and set aside. Note that the oats can easily be made in advance and will keep well if stored in an airtight container.
For the sponge cakes, pre-heat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius and grease 2 small round cake tins (mine were 16cm in diameter). Using an electric mixer whip the egg yolks together with the sugar until the mixture has tripled in volume – for me this took about 5 minutes. Next, whip the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Pour the melted and cooled butter over the beaten egg yolks, add the flour and 1/3 of the egg whites. Carefully mix all three into the egg yolks. Add the remainder of the egg whites and incorporate into the egg yolk mix, being careful not to deflate the batter. Divide the batter between the two tins and place in the oven for ca. 20 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the cakes comes out clean. Leave to cool for 5-10 minute before removing the sponges from the cake tins. To help remove the cakes from the tins, run a knife along the inside of the tins to loosen the cakes before turning them out on a drying rack to cool completely.
For the cream cheese frosting, start by whipping the soft butter and the icing sugar until the two are well amalgamated. Add the cold cream cheese in one go and whip on medium speed until combined with the sweetened butter. Increase the speed and whip the frosting for 5 minutes or until the frosting is pale in colour and has a fluffy texture.
Split the two sponges horizontally in two halves. Divide the raisin compote between the two halves, making sure the compote is evenly distributed between the two. Take one of the bottom layers and cover with the top half. Spread a thick layer of cream cheese frosting over the top half before placing the bottom layer of the second sponge on top, followed by the second top half.
Using ca. 1/3 of the remaining cream cheese frosting, cover the cake in a thin layer of frosting – I use a flat spatula for this, but failing that a large kitchen knife (as long as it is not serrated) will do the trick. The aim of this first thin coat of frosting, called a ‘crumb coat’ is to ensure a clean finish once the cake is frosted by keeping any cake crumbs suspended in the initial coat of frosting. Place cake in the fridge just long enough for the initial coat to firm up (if your kitchen is very hot, place your frosting in the fridge as well).
Finish frosting the cake with the remainder of the frosting, ensuring that there is an even layer all around and on top of the cake. Next, carefully hold the cake over a bowl with the crisp oats and using a cupped hand carefully cover the sides of the cake in the crisp oats.