Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Lemon Spice Visiting Cake

Lemon Spice Visiting Cake

Those of you who read The Cook’s Tour regularly, know that I love, LOVE, warm, comforting cakes - coffee cakes, pound cakes, tea cakes, quick breads - you get the idea. Given a choice, I will always take this kind of baked good over a sweet layer cake or gooey pastry. 

So last week when we had some good friends visiting us here in sunny Puerto Rico, I knew I had to bake up something delicious to nibble on during their stay. I had purchased a giant bag of lemons at Costco the week before, and you know what they say…when life gives you lemons…NO, you don’t make lemonade, you bake a lemon cake! After scouring the thousands of recipes in my files, I decided on Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Spice Visiting Cake. One, because it sounded like it would be fabulous, and two, the title evokes everything I love about baking - the act of sharing something you baked to welcome people to your home, or bringing it with you to a friend. 

This cake has it all - it’s luscious, easy to prepare, keeps very well, can be used as a sweet treat post-breakfast (as we did), for a midnight snack (as we did, with a glass of wine - don’t judge), an afternoon treat, or you could dress it up with some berries and whipped cream for a semi-formal dessert. The marmalade glaze is optional, but I recommend it, it adds just a touch of sweetness and a beautiful sheen.
Bake it up soon and you, too, will be singing it’s praises! 

Dorie Greenspan’s Lemon Spice Visiting Cake

Notes from Dorie: Whether you pack this cake as a gift or have it ready when visitors come to you, the imperative to share is implicit in its name. The cake is built for comfort and durability – make it on Thursday or Friday and have it all weekend. And if it stales, toast it; the heat will intensify the lemon and spice deliciously. The cake is easy to make (no machines needed) and, like all spice cakes, better after a day’s rest. Giving it a swish of warmed marmalade when it comes out of the oven is optional. What shouldn’t be passed up is what I call the ‘lemon trick’: Use your fingertips to rub the recipe’s lemon and sugar together until the sugar is moist and aromatic. This easy step transfers everything essential from the lemon to the cake. Think of it as aromatherapy for the cake and you.

Makes 10 servings


INGREDIENTS

Butter and flour for the pan
1 ½ cups/190 grams all-purpose flour
1 ¼ teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground ginger
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 ¼ cups/250 grams sugar
1 large (or 2 small) lemons
4 large eggs, at room temperature
½ cup/120 milliliters heavy cream, at room temperature
1 ½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
5 ½ tablespoons/75 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled
⅓ cup marmalade, for glaze (optional)
½ teaspoon water, for glaze (optional)

DIRECTIONS

Center a rack in the oven, and heat it to 350. Butter an 8 1/2-inch loaf pan (Pyrex works well), dust with flour and tap out the excess. (For this cake, bakers’ spray isn’t as good as butter and flour.) Place on a baking sheet.

Whisk the 1 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, cardamom, ginger and salt together.

Put the sugar in a large bowl, and grate the zest of the lemon(s) over the sugar. Squeeze the lemon(s) to produce 3 tablespoons juice, and set this aside. Using your fingers, rub the sugar and zest together until the mixture is moist and aromatic. One at a time, add the eggs, whisking well after each. Whisk in the juice, followed by the heavy cream. Still using the whisk, gently stir the dry ingredients into the batter in two additions. Stir the vanilla into the melted butter, and then gradually blend the butter into the batter. The batter will be thick and have a beautiful sheen. Scrape it into the loaf pan.

Bake for 70 to 75 minutes (if the cake looks as if it’s getting too dark too quickly, tent it loosely with foil) or until a tester inserted deep into the center of the cake comes out clean. Transfer to a rack, let rest for 5 minutes and then carefully run a blunt knife between the sides of the cake and the pan. Invert onto the rack, and turn over. Glaze now, or cool to room temperature.

For the glaze: Bring the marmalade and water to a boil. Brush the glaze over the top of the warm cake, and allow to it to set for 2 hours. The glaze will remain slightly tacky.


When the cake is completely cool, wrap in plastic to store. If it’s glazed, wrap loosely on top.


Monday, December 30, 2019

Northern Italy Photo Tour

As promised (albeit a bit late in delivery), a photo tour of our September/October trip to northern Italy. To make it a bit more organized, I've broken the photos up by:

Jam Crostata in La Spezia

  • Delicious Foods
  • Beautiful Faces
  • Adorable Animals
  • Buckwheat Cake with Cherry Jam in Teglio
    Sbrisolona in Rovato
    Cheese, glorious cheese, in Brixen
    Fresh pasta with olives, capers, tomatoes, and ricotta in Brixen
  • Gorgeous Landscapes
I hope you enjoy taking the tour as much as I did putting it together. Pour yourself a glass of wine (better yet, make a refreshing Aperol Spritz), or whip up a cappuccino, find a comfy chair, and take a virtual journey to northern Italy. 

Wishing you and yours a happy, healthy, and delicious 2020!

Delicious Foods

First of many Aperol Spritz during this trip!
Gorgeous prune plums
The fresh catch of the day at the Genoa Mercato Orientale

Delicious baked goods in Cinque Terre
The famous Pesto Genovese! Delicioso!
Cherry Torta in Cinque Terre
Ricotta and Spinach Pansotti at Fattoria Mamma Chica in La Spezia

Pizzocheri in Teglio
Picnic Lunch
Learning to make gnocchi in Rovato


Lunch in Bardolino
Ethereal bomboloni (doughnut) and luscious cappuccino at roadside gas station!

Ricotta Dumplings with Plums in Brixen
Fabulous focaccia in Genoa
Pasta at the market in Genoa

Perfect Aperitivo in Lake Iseo


Beautiful Faces
Loved this guy! Cheesemonger in Cinque Terre
Our intrepid and fun guide in the Cinque Terre - Giuseppe!

These ladies were not happy about having their picture taken!
But this lady did not mind!
Our jovial guide on the Bernina Red Express to Switzerland
Alice, our wonderful guide, happily participating in a demo at the buckwheat watermill in Valtellina  
OK, maybe not so beautiful but fascinating! This is Otzi the Iceman.

Adorable Animals

What every dog wants: a place in the sun to nap.
A resident of the Montisola cat sanctuary
This pup takes his job as vineyard guard very seriously!




Gorgeous Landscapes

The Duomo in Milano
Beautiful gardens near Lake Como
Terraced vineyards in Tirano
Picturesque train station in Grum near the Alps
The Swiss Alps at Diavolezza
The haunting island retreat of the Beretta family in Montisola
Gorgeous Lake Garda


















The magnificent Dolomites!
The Cinque Terre seaside







Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A Gelato a Day!

Where to start? So much to let you know about, I just don’t know where to begin! But gelato seems like a good place. In Italy, the gelato is so good, we sometimes had it twice a day!There is no such thing as too much gelato, is there?

Gelato cart in Manarolo
In September, we traveled to northern Italy, where I’ve never been before. As part of the pre-trip, we spent four days in the Cinque Terre, Italy’s five beautiful hill towns perched (some rather precariously) on the sides of mountains. But for the massive crowds that poured out of the trains every hour (and this was the off-season), these towns are just gorgeous. Set along the water, they are famous for their fresh seafood, delicately fried. Lead by our trusty guide, Giuseppe, we traversed these towns via train, boat, and 4x4 jeeps. In Monterosso, we found a gelato shop so good, we stopped there every night. But as good as it was, it did not compare with the gelato from a vendor dispensing her wares from an adorable little cart in the town of Manarola, where I had the most delectable pistachio gelato. It is the standard by which now all pistachio gelato is compared!
Milan's Duomo at night

On to Milano! The city was still buzzing from Fashion Week which just ended the day before we arrived. Many fashionistas were spotted near the high-end Galleria Vittorio Emanuele shopping mall, hunting their prey at Prada, Gucci, Armani, Vuitton, etc. The highlight, though, for us was visiting Milan’s beautiful Duomo (cathedral), where work began in 1386. It is the largest gothic building in Italy. With only one full day in the city, we were unable to visit the famed La Scala opera house, but we did manage to find Milano’s best gelato at Cioccolat Italiani, where the line snaked down the block. We persevered.

Pizzoccheri
The main part of our trip took us on an almost three week journey (with our new guide, Alice) through the region’s beautiful vineyards, apple orchards, and olive groves. Along the way, we learned how to make feather-light gnocchi at Trattoria del Gallo a charming restaurant in Rovato; we visited the small village of Teglio where a dedicated group of volunteers is keeping alive the tradition of growing and harvesting buckwheat with age-old techniques, and then making pasta from the ground flour. They combine the pasta with cabbage, onions, potatoes, butter (LOTS of butter), and a local cheese to make a hearty dish called pizzoccheri (pitz-sock-kari) - it’s absolutely delicious!

The city of Verona, made famous by Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, was next on our itinerary. Verona was a bit too touristy for me, but a visit to the Juliet Club made even the cynics in our group melt just a bit. Juliet’s “secretaries” have been reading and responding to letters from the lovelorn since the 1930s (they handle over 50,000 letters per year). 

The magnificent Dolomites!
There’s no way I can condense three weeks down to a single blog post, but I must tell you about my favorite town: Bressanone/Brixen. Positioned near the Italian/Austrian border, for hundreds of years locals in these towns have spoken both Italian and German, and all signage is in both languages. This town had it all: lovely architecture, wonderful butchers and bakeries on every corner, charming restaurants/cafes, terrific wine shops (more on that later), and within a couple of hours drive to the breathtaking Dolomites. The Dolomites are a spectacular mountain range in northeastern Italy, and on a crystal-clear, picture-perfect, bright and sunny day, we spent a few hours hiking with a terrific guide. Every few minutes, as I stopped to admire the view, all I could say was, “omg - this is incredible!” Our guide has lived in that area his whole life, and speaks the local language known as Ladino (the Ladin people have lived in these mountains since the Bronze Age). Take a look at the photo above of these gorgeous mountains.

Ricotta Dumplings with Plums
Spaghetti con Olives, Pesto, and Burrata
A perfect day, topped off with a real find back in town. Not really hungry for dinner, but needing a nosh, we stopped in to a small enoteca for a glass of wine and a cheese/salumi plate. The wine and snack were superb - the owner obviously knew his stuff. As we chatted, he mentioned that on certain nights, they offered a limited dinner menu. And as luck would have it, on our last night in Bressanone, he had one table left, which we immediately reserved. With the unassuming name of “Vinus, Peter’s Wein Bistro,” you might not expect much in the way of food, but as we later found out, this man was more than just a guy who owned a wine shop, he was formerly the owner of a Michelin-starred restaurant in Germany. Jackpot! We arrived the next night to enjoy an outstanding meal. Peter’s wife is the chef and she put out a delicious dinner. I sopped up every morsel of the fresh spaghetti with perfectly-ripe olives, pesto, and burrata. Peter paired wines for everyone’s dinner, along with a lovely dessert wine to go with the sweet ricotta dumplings with fresh plums (another “omg” moment). Peter’s Wine Shop is the kind of place I could go to every week (who am I kidding, probably 2-3 times a week!) Must. Go. Back.
Buckwheat Cake in Teglio

Our visit to northern Italy was delightful. It was the perfect combination of spectacular sights, “real” farm-to-table meals (in real farmhouses!), wonderful farmers and craftspeople, amazing cheese, breads, desserts, and plenty of “omg” moments! 

Ciao!

PS: coming soon, a photo essay of our trip, complete with all the glorious food and scenery that I couldn't fit here!