Agave (pronounced ah-GAH-vay) is a sweet syrup from the same plant that tequila comes from. It's just now making headway in Missoula, but when I can find bottles of organic blue agave in Costco, I know it's become mainstream. Agave's been known for thousands of years in Mexico, where it's known as "aquamiel," or honey water. Mexicans often use it as a substitute for honey. Agave comes in light, medium and dark varieties, and it's the medium that has a special caramel-like deliciousness. I often drizzle some on yogurt to complement its tang. Although the syrup, or nectar, is produced by many varieties of agave plant, the most common is blue agave.
I first became acquainted with agave when I taught cooking classes at the spa Rancho La Puerta in Tecate, Mexico, last December. The cooks there use it in baking and as an all-purpose sweetener. I decided to give it a whirl as a substitute for honey in Honey Cake, a loaf that uses both honey and brown sugar, and it worked. I used just the blue agave syrup and left the sugar out. For taste and texture I included chopped crystallized ginger and candied orange peel, which do contain sugar.
Agave has been touted recently as a sort of health food because it has a low glycemic index, meaning that the syrup is digested slowly and doesn't cause a glucose spike. This is true, but agave is composed mostly of fructose units, and fructose is metabolized differently than glucose. As is true with just about any sweetener, use it sparingly.
If you want a terrific loaf that keeps well for days at room temperature, then try this
Spicy Agave Cake. Stale cake makes terrific toast and is delicious with cream cheese.
Spicy Agave Cake
This cake takes just minutes to put together.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (spooned into the cups and leveled)
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup chopped toasted walnuts
1/4 cup chopped candied ginger
1/4 cup chopped candied orange rind
3 large eggs
4 tablespoons butter, melted
1 cup agave syrup
1/2 cup cold strong coffee
Finely grated zest of 2 large oranges
Adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and dust all over with fine dry bread crumbs.
Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and allspice in a medium bowl. In a small bowl toss the walnuts, ginger, and orange rind with a spoonful of the flour mixture.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs to combine well. Add the butter and agave syrup and whisk well. Add half the dry ingredients and stir in with the whisk. Add all the coffee and whisk in gently. Whisk remaining dry ingredients in gently. Stir in the orange zest and walnut mixture.
Scrape into prepared pan and place in the oven.
Bake 60 to 70 minutes, until cake is well-browned, the top springs back when pressed in the center, and a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cool the cake in its pan on a rack 20 minutes. Remove from pan and cool completely on wire rack. Wrap airtight and let stand overnight. Cut into
thin slices with a serrated knife, two slices to a serving.
• Makes 1 loaf cake.