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Let Them Eat Tomato Cake

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Sometimes I actually listen to my customers. After finishing her meal, Meirav Devash, turned to me and said that I should make a shortcake. Being a huge fan of Strawberry Shortcake (both the character and the delicious dessert) I agreed. Only I didn’t wind up making a shortcake. I also didn’t wind up making a dessert. But that’s how things go at Dirt Candy – someone asks for shortcake and somehow they get Tomato Cake with Smoked Feta, and Cherry Tomato Leather.

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How did this happen?

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I’d been hesitant about doing anything with tomatoes. They’re such an iconic summer vegetable (yes, I know that technically they are a fruit but shut up) and there’s such a short season when they’re really good that I didn’t think I could work fast enough to make a tomato dish work. It takes me a long time to experiment with a dish before I think it’s right and it goes on the menu, and I figured that it would take six weeks of experimentation for a tomato dish that would be on the menu for about two months. Fortunately, this time I worked fast and I worked smart.

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The first thing I did was decide to use cherry tomatoes. Unlike bigger tomatoes, they are a bit hardier and have a slightly longer season. Also, I started experimenting a couple of months early with less-than-ideal tomatoes so that the dish would be ready by May.

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At first I listened to┬áMeirav and tried to make a shortcake. The problem was: too much cake. I was turning out something that was more like a dessert than a savory dish, and I needed to be making something to replace the Carrot Buns, which had been on the menu for a long time. Then I decided: a tart. But I didn’t want to do a typical pastry tart so, inspired by Sharktopus, I realized I could make a tart cake. A take! Or a cart!

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Tomatoes are so acidic that it took a long time to figure out the baking powder and baking soda ratios to make a cake made of tomatoes that would work, and then I had to hash out the sweetness levels. The tomatoes were so sweet that it tasted like a dessert, so I had to develop a recipe for cake that didn’t use sugar.

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I wanted this to look like a strawberry or cherry tart, with all that ripe fruit/vegetable shining on top, looking so luscious you just had to dig your fork in and take a bite. To make the cherry tomatoes more appealing, I peeled them so they looked extra-juicy. Then I learned that because they’re all different shapes and sizes there would be holes on top, so I used a technique from my Potato Soup, and made tomato pearls from reduced tomato juice to fill in the gaps.

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Caprese salads are the traditional summer salad, so adding basil and some kind of cheese made sense, but I didn’t want to do anything too normal. I’m currently obsessed with smoking, and have realized that the creamier something is, the better it holds smoke flavor, so I smoked feta cheese and turned it into something akin to the maple butter for the hush puppies: food crack, the kind of savory item you can eat, and eat, and eat. (The vegan version uses smoked tofu, which also holds the smoke really well.)

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The smoked feta goes in a layer between the peeled cherry tomatoes, the tomato pearls, and the tomato cake, but the whole thing was falling apart. I needed something to hold it together. Enter tomato leather, made of dehydrated yellow tomatoes, garlic, and peppers. It wraps around the whole shebang and gives it that final, clean look of French pastry.

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There’s a tiny salad of Micro Opal Basil, with fresh yellow tomatoes, and dehydrated yellow tomato slices on top, and then a spring herb puree made of basil, parsley, oregano, tarragon – whatever I have on hand.

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It’s not tomato shortcake, but it is my new tomato dish, and it’ll be on the menu all summer long.

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menu


Menu

Snack

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Jalapeno Hush Puppies $6
served with maple butter
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Appetizers

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Mushroom $13
portobello mousse, truffled toast
pear & fennel compote

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Cucumber $12
roasted cucumber hot and sour soup,
black sesame, garlic chili oil, wood ear
mushroom, cucumber jelly

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Tomato $13
tomato cake with smoked feta,
yellow tomato leather, herb puree

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Potato $12
warm potato salad, crispy Japanese
yams, grilled sweet potato, olives,
bitter greens, apples

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Entrees

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Beets $20
salt-roasted beets, thai green curry,
beet gnocchi, whipped coconut galangal cream

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Pepper $18
fennel & pepper tofu,
parsley spaetzle, grilled
yellow pepper broth,
mustard crumbs

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Broccoli $21
smoked broccoli dogs,
broccoli kraut, salt &
vinegar broccoli rabe

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Corn $19
stone ground grits, corn cream,
pickled shiitakes, huitlacoche,
tempura poached egg

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- everything on the menu can be made vegan on request.

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Dessert

Rosemary Eggplant Tiramisu $12
grilled eggplant, rosemary cotton
candy, mascarpone

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Ice Cream Nanaimo Bar$11
sweet pea, mint, chocolate

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Popcorn Pudding$11
salted caramel corn

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Celery Cheesecake Roll$10
celeriac ice cream, peanut filling,

& candied grapes

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- vegan dessert selection changes regularly, please ask your server.

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Our wine list (and other beverages)

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Gift Certificates

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