Lilly Higgins: Slices of this savoury cake can take the place of your picnic sambos

Asparagus and pancetta cake with tarragon whipped butter

Asparagus and pancetta cake with tarragon whipped butter

Savoury cakes can be quite the revelation, they’re delicious, easy to make and fantastically portable. Transporting a stack of sandwiches will be a thing of the past now that this delightful cake is on the scene. Just pack the loaf, pre-sliced still in its tin or wrapped in foil. Then just add butter to order on your summer adventures.

I’ve layered the asparagus lengthways here to make the most of its qualities. As a result each slice is then scattered with green dots of asparagus and little cubes of pancetta. You could make this loaf with anything. Grated Parmesan or feta are delicious. Olives, sautéed red onion, sun-dried tomatoes or just a mixture of herbs. Rose Bakery in Paris make a broccoli cake in a sliceable loaf like this one. Yotam Ottolenghi in London makes an amazing cauliflower cake, filling the round cake with turmeric, nigella seeds, cauliflower and basil, crowning it all with rings of red onion. It’s a fantastic way to serve lunch to a crowd. It can be made well in advance and can cut into 10 slices. Served with the butter, some sliced tomatoes and a green salad, it’s a lovely light supper for eating outside. Just leave out the pancetta for a lovely vegetarian option. Do add a little salt though as I haven’t added any here due to the meat being quite salty already. Or replace it with something like feta or olives.

I always love asparagus with hollandaise sauce. This whipped butter is my own way of recreating those flavours. I’ve whipped the butter up with some white wine vinegar and finely chopped tarragon. It’s a winning combination. It’s like a lunch time version of eggs benedict with a side of asparagus. Incidentally, this loaf can be kept for breakfast and served with a soft poached egg and a dollop of the tarragon butter on top.

Asparagus and pancetta cake with tarragon whipped butter

Makes 1 loaf

250g asparagus


100ml olive oil

100ml milk

3 eggs

200g plain flour

1 tsp baking powder

120g cubed pancetta or lardons

1 tsp black pepper

125g butter, soft

2 tsp white wine vinegar

3 tbsp tarragon, finely chopped

Preheat the oven to 180C.

Make the butter by beating the butter, tarragon and vinegar in a food processor. Taste and add more vinegar if necessary. Spoon into a small bowl and set aside at room temperature.

Line a 2lb loaf tin with baking parchment.

Bring a pan of water to the boil. Gently bend each asparagus spear until it snaps. It will break at just the right point. Simmer the asparagus in the water for 3 minutes until just done. Rinse in cold water and set aside.

Heat a small frying pan and add the pancetta. No need for any additional oil. Fry the meat till it is crisp and cooked through. Set aside.

Whisk the oil, milk and eggs in a jug. Sieve the flour and baking powder into a wide bowl. Create a well in the centre. Add the black pepper and pour in the wet mix. Fold together gently until just mixed. Place a few spoonful of the batter into the base of the tin. Lay about 6 asparagus spears down in the batter. Top with some more batter and then scatter with some pancetta. Repeat one more time with the remaining batter, asparagus and pancetta, finishing with a layer of batter. Place one or two asparagus spears on top. Bake for 40-45 minutes until lightly golden. Test with a skewer to ensure the inside is cooked. Cool on a wire rack. Serve warm with the butter and a green salad.