Dave T’s Spinach Cake

spinach cake & ham

I don’t know when it took hold, it was well before I got here, but le Brunch is somewhat popular with a certain segment of the population in Paris. Unlike the Bloody Mary and Mimosa-fueled repasts I have fond memories of back in San Francisco, here, I don’t know if the concept really works. For one thing, Sundays are blissfully “sacred” and no one seems to want to wake up and go anywhere until—well, Monday. And the places that do serve brunch are pretty crowded with misfits who probably didn’t get to bed the previous evening, as well as the clad-in-black, chain-smoking bobo crowd.

I don’t know about you, but the last thing I want to do on Sunday morning is wait outside in the freezing cold, breathing second-hand smoke from a bunch of bleary party-goers, both of us desperate for coffee, while waiting for a table.

And the concept of le clipboard hasn’t taken hold here, so when you’re waiting at a restaurant that doesn’t take reservations, you need to be eagle-eyed and extra-vigilant because if you don’t, someone will easily slide right in front of you and grab your spot without a second thought.

Romain is very, very good at keeping his eye on who’s in front, although he’s even better at sliding in front of the others. I just put on my horse-blinders and don’t notice all the people complaining behind us as I follow him to our table.

Hey, if you can’t beat ’em…

spinach pre-lavage

Speaking of line-jumping, I wanted to make one of the desserts from A Platter of Figs, but since I’m on a savory roll here, this Spinach Cake jumped in front of the other recipes. Perhaps the word “cake” had something to do with it. But as usual, scanning my Sunday market, all the vendors had everything but spinach.

There’s an overused adage: “Don’t go to the market with a list, but see what’s fresh, then decide what to make from there.” I think that was written by someone in Paris, like me, who’s always searching for the one thing that doesn’t seem to be available that particular day. Anyhow, after much searching, I finally scored, although David’s recipe does say that one can substitute another green, such as swiss chard or mustard greens.

washing spinach

I was fortunate to work with David Tanis, who wrote this book, at Chez Panisse for a long time (although he may not feel the same about working with me.) But now we both live in Paris, he part-time, while I’m in it for the long-haul. He and his partner Randal also saved my derrière when I moved here, during a certain incident involving a French painter (you can read about it in my next book), and I owe him for saving my sanity, and so do you. If it wasn’t from him, I’d probably be blogging from a French prison, awaiting trial for ringing the neck of a certain French apartment-painter.

The spinach I found was gorgeous, but really dirty. David advises, no…insists, that you triple-wash your spinach, no matter how clean you think it is. And if you’ve ever bitten into a piece of gritty spinach, you wish you’d been more vigilant washing it. The spinach was filthy, but I wasn’t going to complain since I didn’t have Plan B in place for a main dish for brunch.

chopping spinach

Aside from being a easy, healthy, and colorful side dish, the great thing about this Spinach Cake is that you don’t need to make a crust, and that it’s ideal served at room temperature, so no need to freak out and get your counter all messy rolling dough on a Sunday morning.

And you know all those recipes that say, “This would be good served for lunch or a light dinner with a big green salad…”?

spinach cake

Well, you can forget all those too-easy to pawn-off-on-readers “big green salads”, and make this instead. I served slices with smoked ham for le Brunch. But for vegetarians, a nice pile of garlicky fried wild mushrooms or a salad of shaved raw fennel and black olive pieces mixed with orange juice, a touch of good olive oil, and a sprinkle of coarse sea salt, would be the perfect accompaniment.

spinach cake

I’m hoping to get Dave T, as we affectionately called him at Chez P, to do a guest appearance here on the site. He’s pretty elusive, but I’m equally persistent. And when he’s ready, I’ll jump him to the head of the queue. Which is something I’ve gotten pretty good at, too. If I do say so myself.

Spinach Cake
Print Recipe
Ten servings
Adapted from A Platter of Figs and Other Recipes (Artisan) by David Tanis I liked this very much, but be sure to season the mixture very well, like, more than you think, before baking. I’m curious, and next time I’m going to add small bits of cooked bacon or proscuitto to the batter just after pureeing it in a blender. David says to simply puree the spinach and custard mix until smooth, but I’m thinking it might be better a little “leafy” so will also blend it to the point where the spinach is fine, but not entirely smooth.
2 medium leeks (you could use two onions or a bunch of scallions or green garlic instead)
2 tablespoons (30g) butter, salted or unsalted
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 pounds (0.75kg) fresh spinach, well-washed and stemmed
pinch bigof chile or cayenne pepper
whole nutmeg
2 cups (500ml) whole milk
6 large eggs
Parmesan cheese
1. Remove the green part of the leeks, slice each lengthwise, rotate them a quarter turn, then slice them lengthwise again, keeping the end intact. Swish the leeks in a bowl of water until they’re grit free, and towel-dry. Cut into small pieces.
2. Melt the butter in a deep pan and sauté the leeks with a little salt and pepper, stirring occasionally, until they’re translucent. While they’re cooking, cut the spinach into ribbons.
3. Once the leeks are cooked, begin adding the spinach in batches, putting on the lid until the spinach has cooked down, then you can add more. Add salt and pepper as you go, and include a scraping of nutmeg and chile powder during the final batch.
4. When all the spinach is just barely wilted, turn it out into a large bowl (along with any juices) and let cool. Stirring it a few times will speed it up.
5. Preheat the oven to 400F (200C.) Liberally butter a 9- or 10-inch (23-25cm) deep round baking dish. I used a 2 qt (2l) baking rectangular baking dish.
6. Working in batches, puree the spinach mixture with the milk and eggs until almost smooth. (At this point, if you want to add some cooked bacon or chopped proscuitto, you can.)
David recommends adding more salt and pepper here, which is a good idea: you want the mixture pretty well-seasoned.
7. Pour the batter into the prepared baking dish. Grate a wispy layer of Parmesan over the top and bake for 45 minutes, or until a knife poked into the center comes out clean.

Serving: Let cool to room temperature, then serve.


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  • January 5, 2009 3:34am

    David- you are so cosmic! I just made a tray for andrea too!
    we call it a sformato!

    We also have a fun sweet version that they do in Lucca, with pumpkin pie spice mix, and raisins and pinenuts!

    when you close your eyes, it tastes like pumkin pie!
    Called torta coi becchi or torta alle erbe, with chard.

  • January 5, 2009 3:55am

    I wonder about a bit of a biscuity parmesan crust. But that’s just me. It looks completely delicious just as it is! Green perfection.

  • January 5, 2009 3:58am

    pip: I think you could easily bake it in a crust, although since the better is made with milk, it’s quite runny. You might want to substitute cream for some of the milk if you give it a go. Or just simply heap a lot more Parmesan on top!

    diva: I’ve had that tart in Lucca, and I love them.
    One day let’s make one…together : )

  • Lore
    January 5, 2009 5:04am

    My French friends were horrified by the concept of a Mimosa. How could one mix orange juice with champagne??? But somehow I managed to convince the restaurant to make me one the one time I have been out for brunch in Paris.

  • January 5, 2009 6:05am

    hey, that’s funny : with a crust that’s one of my mother’s favorite recipes, I loved this so much when I was a child :D. At 8 years old, my friends thought it was wierd, because of… you know… spinachs :D, but I did love this and I still do.

    like any quiche, the crust need to go to the oven alone for ten minutes, brushed before with some egg white to prevent the spinach batter to sog the crust. with this method, no sogging problem (I know this is a classical recipe but if someone doesn’t know…)

  • January 5, 2009 6:41am

    Love your description of the unappealing prospect of standing outside freezing waiting for a Parisian brunch. I’m always stumped when visitors want brunch ideas. It makes me a little insane (well a little *more* insane is probably a more apt description).

  • January 5, 2009 6:42am

    Love your description of the unappealing prospect of standing outside freezing waiting for a Parisian brunch. I’m always stumped when visitors want brunch ideas. It makes me a little insane (well a little *more* insane is probably a more apt description).

  • January 5, 2009 8:31am

    Lovely green and dense cake, I can see myself making this for several vegetarian friends soon! Thank you for the inspiration.

  • Eileen
    January 5, 2009 8:57am

    This sounds very good. I grew up eating creamed spinach, a lot (if we were at a restaurant my mother always asked the kitchen to make it for me since it usually wasn’t on the menu). I’m sure it was great with the smoked ham (and some crusty bread!)

  • Job
    January 5, 2009 9:10am

    Hi David,

    This looks o so gorgeous and i didn’t know that you were working on a new book. Can’t wait til’ its finished. Maybe i’m misunderstood, or just bad at reading. but it seems the spinach mixture is on a crust, but in your steps there’s no mentioning of the crust. Can you help me out here?

  • January 5, 2009 9:15am

    Can’t wait for that new book!

  • January 5, 2009 9:49am

    Boy is that cake bright green! It looks absolutely delicious. If only my boyfriend was a bigger fan of quiche then I could make it and I wouldn’t have to worry about left overs. Sigh, the things we do for love.

  • January 5, 2009 9:59am

    Job: Even though it looks like crust on the bottom, it’s just a thin layer of custard that separated out.

  • Melanie
    January 5, 2009 10:07am

    I love this–my Grandmother used to make a potato cake–no recipe available only in her head and time-nice spin on brunch–smoked salmon-baguette with goat cheese -spinach cake and I am in heaven.
    Thanks David.

  • January 5, 2009 10:10am

    I like the idea of mushrooms with this but for some reason adding a little bacon and serving with scrambled eggs sounds just right for a comforting January supper. It’s going on my to do list and adding to the reasons to buy this book!

  • January 5, 2009 10:40am

    This looks wonderful and that bit of ham on the side. . . mmm. I do believe this recipe will be making a guest appearance in my kitchen!

    Can’t wait to read trhe book.

  • January 5, 2009 12:26pm

    I’m amazed that you had trouble finding spinach, as we are drowning in the stuff down here in the south. In fact, I love the idea of making this with those giant, big-as-your-head, sweet spinach leaves that are in the market right now. I’m having guests on Wednesday, and I think I’ll build the menu around this. Thanks!

  • judy gal
    January 5, 2009 12:46pm

    David, you are so fabulously funny!.. You make me (and I’m certain – – many others) laugh right out loud–!! Thanks for the delightful story and the yummy recipe!
    Hugs to ya for 2009!!!…

  • January 5, 2009 1:04pm

    This sounds funnily like a spinach frittata/omelette. I usually stir in some chopped frozen spinach(thawed first, of course) into the eggs and cream mixture before pouring it into the fry pan, then finishing it in an oven. In fact, I just made a spicy potato, sausage and spinach frittata tonight for my sister to reheat for breakfast tomorrow. I usually pair it with some scones, but too lazy and tired now. She’ll have to make do with toast.

  • January 5, 2009 1:10pm

    What is the white bottom layer of the cake? Is it just the eggs and milk settling down to make a custard?

    The crust query I answered in the comments, just above. Merci! -dl

  • Susan
    January 5, 2009 1:57pm

    I was wondering about what appeared to be a crust too. I guess it makes sense that the custard pooled on the bottom as there isn’t any starch for those eggs to bind. Might be a good thing though..you could put some additional flavor and texture in the bottom of the pan for that custard to pool into to create another layer..if you wanted one. Might make an interesting appetizer too.

  • January 5, 2009 2:02pm

    David, This look absolutely worth trying.

  • ygardin
    January 5, 2009 2:27pm

    J’adore ton blog! This one made me laugh. The Spinach cake (le cake aux epinards) looks delicious, and so…healthy and green.

  • January 5, 2009 2:56pm

    Thanks for this. I’ve been searching for something to replace my old tried and true spinach dish for brunch that calls for cottage cheese in fairly large quantities, some thing that’s not easy to find in Paris. This looks much more elegant and delicious.

    P.S. I had a complete flop with the rice krispie/white chocolate/candied peanuts recipe. Could marshmallows that were regrettably on the stale side be the culprit?

  • Dawn in CA
    January 5, 2009 5:28pm

    When I was younger, I loved spinach souffle — you know, the icky frozen kind from Stouffer’s? Sad, but true. My taste buds have matured somewhat (or so I’d like to think) and I’ve always wanted to try a homemade version. This spinach cake might be just the thing. Yum! Thanks for another great recipe.

  • January 5, 2009 6:04pm

    I’ll echo what pip of meatmeetmikes said because someone with a moniker like that deserves an echo… but I digress. You are the cosmic dude David and, this is one cosmic trip of spinach cake sans grit. I’ll also add that had you gone to jail that would have been a cosmic incarceration and if the elusive Dave T ever guest blogs then, then I’m sure that it will be one hell of a cosmic post cause you say so. Your stuff is cosmic.er however. But that’s just my personal opinion.

  • Adam
    January 5, 2009 7:07pm

    Sounds great. Will give it a go.

    I hate to quibble, but I think your pounds/kilograms conversions are off … 2 pounds of spinach would be just under 1kg … Non? Should it be 4 pounds of spinach (given how much it reduces)?

    Thanks for the recipe and the blog …


    Oops. You’re right. The original recipe wasn’t written in metrics and I wasn’t sure how to express three quarters of a kilo (750g vs 75kg.) I made the fix. Thanks… -dl

  • christine
    January 5, 2009 9:09pm

    But this looks like it has a crust. Am I wrong? I have always loved spinach quiche but always found the crust getting a bit soggy. Plus the Parmesan is so much nicer that gruyere.

  • Katarina Johansson
    January 5, 2009 9:42pm

    Now I started salivating! :P Thank you for the recipe, now I know what to have for lunch tomorrow! I have some smoked ham laying in the fridge which needs to be eaten. Well, it’s a smoked, quite salty ham. In Swedish it’s called “kassler” and unfortunately I don’t know what that would be translated to in english.

    I use to make something like this spinach cake you are presenting here today, but then it’s an Iranian dish called Kuku Sabzi. Think your spinach cake will go nicely with the salty ham.

    Also, it could be nice to sprinkle the spinach dish with some dried, orange marigold on it. :)

    A cold sauce made of youghurt and dried mint could go well with this too. Makes it a bit wetter. Or one with grated cucumber and youghurt perhaps?

    Looking forward to your next post! :)

  • Margie
    January 5, 2009 9:46pm

    I’d eat this in a heartbeat, and yes, I do believe that a bit of bacon would do it well. Got to bookmark this item and remember to add spinach to my grocery list. A nice recipe to start the New Year.

    Thanks, David!

  • Rhonda
    January 5, 2009 10:10pm

    This recipe is amazing.

    I love, love, love spinach! I have fresh, cleaned spinach in my fridge right now so this came at a perfect time. The spinach is off-season here but I bought it anyway(ssshhhh, don’t tell anyone), so I will not judge the outcome until I can poach fresh spinach from my parents’ garden later on this year. Would a little bit of fresh squeezed lemon on top be blasphemous?

  • Kathy
    January 5, 2009 11:28pm

    Made it. Very runny, however, also very tasty. Agree with others that some bacon would be good, but wouldn’t add mushrooms as they too would add to the wetness. Preferred it served warm out of the oven.

    Thanks, Davids

  • Sarah
    January 5, 2009 11:47pm

    Can’t wait to try this recipe. I hope to serve it with a fried egg and some crispy smoked thick bacon. Oooh, and a loaf from Poilane too w/ some fresh orange or tomato juice. Throw in some killer coffee and that may just be the breakfast of my dreams.

    And I too must confess, I grew up with that Frozen Spinach Souffle a la Stouffer’s and once in a blue moon I still buy one and thoroughly enjoy it. Nostalgia can be incredibly delicious and satisfying.

    Is my confession gonna get me booted from this blog?

  • January 6, 2009 1:31am

    That looks amazing!

    BTW, I ordered a platter of figs from Amazon a few weeks before Christmas and they just emailed me saying that they can not find any copies!

  • Joanne
    January 6, 2009 3:13am

    Oh David,

    I must thank you again, liebchen. Your uncontested maverick title is not resting on its laurels; you’ve managed to hit very nicely all the little colère of the food world! From the: “goes well with a big green salad” pawn off, to the masterful yet playful jab at letting the market dictate our cooking.

    You’ve mentioned Dave T and his new book before, but I’m glad you keep bringing him up! Apart from being grateful that he was there to rescue you from going to jail, you’ve given us his spinach cake recipe, which is mouthwatering in pictures and description. I hope he does make a guest appearance soon! I’m sure we’ll be delighted yet again!

    As Diva correctly points out, Italian cooks, who are no strangers to vegetables pies and molds, call these concoctions a “torta” when they are baked in a pastry crust, but a “sformato” when they are simply unmolded from a baking dish All goes to show that great cooks think alike regardless of borders!

  • January 6, 2009 11:28am

    I sort of detest brunch, maybe from having worked more than a few of them. Plus, I can never decide if I want something sweet or savory, a conundrum that is unique to brunch menus.

    Anyway, this is a beautiful dish, any time of day. I think I’ll follow your suggestion and add some bacon, and maybe use a little crème frâiche in the batter, too.

  • Claire
    January 6, 2009 1:09pm

    That looks INCREDIBLE. Such a beautiful, vibrant green! My vegetarian friends will thank you for this.

    I don’t feel that the French have really got the hang of brunch. I’ve seen spaghetti on ‘brunch’ menus. When I try to explain to them that some dishes are just brunchy and some just aren’t, I get so confused, as it’s not an easy line to draw.

  • January 6, 2009 5:02pm

    I know the world is a beautiful place because spinach can be turned into cake. Oh the glory!

  • andrea Ulbrick
    January 6, 2009 11:58pm

    It’s in the oven right now and smells divine. I drained 3/4 cup of liquid from the mixture before blending and only used 6 bunches (Australian bunches might be bigger) and only double washed as I spun it in the salad spinner, which I think is very effective. Will advise on outcome soon.

    Signed, Seriously Salivating

  • Andrea Ulbrick
    January 7, 2009 12:17am

    Totally captivating, looks great, tasty! Great hot, will try it cold with some olive oil and fresh lemon thyme spinkled on top — later tonight.

  • DivaDivine
    January 7, 2009 7:09pm

    I’m sure this tastes amazing but it looks like moistened sod

  • Steve
    January 8, 2009 12:39pm

    I overcooked mine a bit, so the eggs separated and I got spinach water in the bottom of the baking dish. Should have started checking for doneness after about 35 minutes. It was still good (and I got that layer that looks like a crust, too).

  • January 8, 2009 2:12pm

    Hey David! This recipe is just perfect for my health nut boyfriend, for pretty much any meal! We both love spinach, but I’ll only eat it wilted or cooked, no thanks on the raw stuff, too waxy and bitter for me. :P

    I’m going to try various versions of the above, and why wouldn’t I with the original Costco just 2 miles away from the condo?! (Downtown Seattle) My first thought was that I could actually put this mixture over or inside of puff pastry for an appetizer if I were doing a dinner party…..maybe with the addition of brie?????

    I’ll report back with results, ideas and critiques. :)


  • January 11, 2009 5:35am

    wow! It looks and sounds fantastic, I can’t wait to try that recipe! Nice blog :-)

  • Loreto
    January 16, 2009 11:07am

    This sounds hevenly. I was looking for a spinach side dish to serve with some stir fried lentils and this sounds wonderful! Thanks for a briliant recipe.

  • Loreto
    January 16, 2009 11:26am

    This sounds heavenly. I was looking for a spinach side dish to serve with some stir fried lentils and this sounds wonderful! Thanks for a brilliant recipe.

  • debinsf
    January 26, 2009 10:46pm

    Wow! Made this tonight with beet greens, chard and shallots. So very, very delicious. I can think of a zillion occasions at which this would be a wonderful dish. Thank you.

  • Yholl
    January 29, 2009 2:45pm

    Made this Asian-style with white pepper, soy sauce, (no cheese), and chopped water chestnuts. Tastes good with Sriracha but the spinach came out a very dark color. The dog begs me pathetically for small bites. Weird for a weiner dog, no?

  • February 1, 2009 7:17am

    Merci++ David for sharing this brunch idea for a good cause: http://help-beat-sarcoma-a-thon.blogspot.com/2009/02/davids-spinach-cake.html
    Hope you will inspire some of you readers to share some brunches ideas with us.

  • June 10, 2009 6:09am

    Never heard of or even dreamt of something like this. looks nice. But not sure how my family can take it. They love spinach of all kinds, but in this form. Thanks for sharing, probably will use this idea, to make a spinach lentil cake?

  • Vidya
    July 7, 2009 6:59am

    This sounds similar to this Indian thing my mother makes, it has an Indian name, but I don’t remember it. She got it off a family friend ages ago, and she makes it often for a light dinner. It has spinach, creamed corn, a mix of wholewheat and white flours, a few spices, and oil or butter or a mix, depending on what you feel like. No eggs – Indian vegetarians don’t traditionally eat eggs. It’s slightly dense, and just a teensy bit gooey inside, absolutely delicious hot or cold. Yum I think I’ll add leeks or scallions next time too.

  • Jules
    April 16, 2010 10:03am

    Made this a while ago. The boyfriend was a little freaked by the whole spinach cake concept, but it tasted quite nice. Like a light, airy, and very spinachy cake. Great fancy side dish! Thanks for sharing the recipe!

  • Zeynep Öykü
    May 30, 2010 10:51am

    2 pounds are 0.9kg, not 3/4kg… 3/4 is 0.75.

  • June 10, 2010 8:26am

    Hi David,

    Great recipe! I hope you won’t laugh at my question, but here it is: do you weigh the spinach before or after removing the stems?

    I’ve actually already made the cake. It’s cooling and will be served at dinner tonight. It looks great, very much like your own (I love it when I make something and it looks exactly like the image with the recipe!) without the custard layer at the bottom. But I thought I should make sure about the weights for future reference.