It’s been two years since I celebrated my first new year’s eve surrounded by the snow in the mountains of Trentino, with a new group of friends.
I had met them a few days before, through a mutual friend. I spent an surprisingly pleasant evening in front of a pizza in Florence: I do not have the faintest idea of what I ordered or how I was dressed, I only remember that I laughed all the time, feeling comfortable and welcomed. I had the feeling to be among old friends.
We talked about photography, blogs and common interests. Shortly after that dinner I accepted in a burst of courage their invitation to join them for a few days in the mountains. Call it courage or unconsciousness, I do not know: I barely knew them, I had never set foot on skis before and my idea of snow fashion dated back to Wham’s Last Christmas.
One of my new year’s resolutions, though, was to say yes to life and new experiences, so that seemed the right way to embrace my new philosophy.
I knew little about them, but that little was enough to realize that we had so much in common and that they were just like me, normal. I knew we would have got along well by instinct. I knew little about them, it is true, but I sensed from their passionate words that they loved Tolkien and the Lord of the Rings, as well as good food, so I offered to bring a citrus pound cake for the trip, and I called it lembas, the bread of the Company. Lembas is an elvish bread which sustains you throughout your journey, and my cake was so full of candied fruit and nuts that would have supported our company in an epic adventure.
By now you have probably realized that I wanted to seduce them with food and make a great first impression on them.
Months later we were still talking of that pound cake and they had become my friends. One of them is now my significant other.
This year we came back to the same mountains. We all needed hours which could expand in a peaceful stillness, doing nothing, lulled by the smell of spices and comforted by a warm wool sweater.
We needed just this: a nothing made of silence, Disney movies, books and magazines, mulled wine to warm our hands and warm spicy apple juice, Christmas markets, libraries where to get lost, sofas and blankets. It was our three-day holiday, and therefore we were finally masters of our time, totally entitled to do nothing.
The cake obviously came with us, a citrus pound cake which in these two years has evolved, perfected, has grown with us and has become a symbol of our company.
Citrus Pound Cake
Two years ago I improvised a citrus pound cake to use a handful of nuts left after the Christmas holidays and some oranges that had to be used before my trip. That cake brought me luck, so I make it often, to remind the taste of that trip.
The use of spices, of orange and lemon peel along with candied fruit makes it very suitable for Christmas. Ten minutes barely pass from when you decide to indulge in a pound cake to the moment when you stash it in the fridge for a few hours to rest before baking it. If you do not have time or desire to fight with yeast and tactics to the limit of military strategy, this is a viable alternative to pandoro and panettone, but also a dessert that can close with grace any holiday dinner, thanks to its festive mood.
I abandoned refined sugar and over processed flour in favor of raw cane sugar cane and a special tender wheat flour which we name 1 here in Italy, which is something in between whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour. On the purpose, check this link for any additional information on flour specifications across different countries.
Using mascarpone instead of butter – this is something which I often do in this kind of preparations – makes the cake moist and soft. On a side note, mascarpone is lighter than butter, as it contains half the quantity of calories and fat.
The candied orange and lemon peel play a key role – they must be of the highest quality – as well as the freshly grated citrus peel, used generously along with fresh ginger.
The decoration is fast and imperfect, just as I like it. The icing remains quite liquid, so you can serve it in a little jug with the cake, to be added to taste.
- 3 eggs
- 160 g (5 ½ oz, ¾ cup) of raw cane sugar
- 200 g (7 ⅛ oz, 1 ¼ cup) of all purpose wheat flour
- 180 g (12 tablespoons) of mascarpone
- Grated zest of 2 organic oranges and 1 organic lemon
- 1 cm of grated ginger root
- 1 large pinch of cinnamon
- 10 g (2 ½ teaspoons) of baking powder
- 1 pinch of salt
- 40 g (3 tablespoons) of chopped candied orange peel
- 40 g (3 tablespoons) of chopped candied citron peel
- Juice of ½ orange
- 200 g (7 oz, 1 ½ cup) of powdered sugar
- Candied orange peel
- Beat eggs and sugar until pale. Add the mascarpone, then the sifted flour with baking powder and salt, grated lemon and orange peel, grated ginger, cinnamon and the chopped candied orange and citron peel.
- Let the cake batter rest in the oven for a few hours, then pour it into a loaf pan lined with parchment paper.
- Preheat oven to 180°C (350°F, gas mark 4) and bake the pound cake for about 55 minutes, until it is puffed and golden brown.
- While the cake cools down, make the glaze: mix the powdered sugar with orange juice. Drizzle over the cake and decorate it with slices of candied orange peel.
This is for you, chocolate addicted!
If for can not name something a dessert without chocolate involved, you have two choices: you can add dark chocolate chips to the batter or replace the orange icing with a classic chocolate ganache spiced up with a pinch of cinnamon and some freshly grated orange peel.
Or, you can also leave the cake as it is and enjoy a thick slice with one or two cubes of your favorite chocolate bar… who said that after Christmas you have to give up all the small pleasures?
I was so in love with this cake, in its festive version with candied citrus peel, that I chose it as dessert of Christmas lunch I cooked just before the holidays in Florence, at MaMa Florence, a cooking school that offers classes and organizes wine event, a welcoming and warm spot just in the town centre, with a kitchen that is a dream, made by Florentine artisans at Officine Gullo. It is a modern kitchen inspired by the lines and mood of a Renaissance kitchen.
I hope that the following photos, made by Tommaso, will give you a good idea of the relaxed and fun atmosphere that we enjoyed at MaMa Florence, in between a glass of wine and a Christmas greeting.
The lunch was a good chance to celebrate Christmas with Cecchi, together with local bloggers and Instagrammers: MaMa Florence offered a perfect hospitality, I cooked a Tuscan inspired Christmas lunch and Cecchi offered plenty of wines.
These were the recipes which we enjoyed before the cake:
- Cecina or chickpea cake. It’s a Tuscan street food, but if you nicely arrange some chickpea cake over a good slice of Tuscan bread and drizzle it with fresh herb pesto, you’ll have a vegan and gluten free appetizer. It’s unusual and everyone will love it.
- Butternut squash Florentine crespelle. Florentine crespelle are usually filled with ricotta, spinach and a pinch of nutmeg. When it’s butternut squash season, though, I can not resist and I have to stuff my crespelle with some roasted squash, ricotta and pecorino.
- Pork loin with apples. Arista, again, it’s a typical Florentine dish, a crowd pleaser. When in season, I prefer to roast the pork loin with apples and onions, to have an even juiced piece of meat.
Let’s open the new year’s dances with a toast and a friendly hug. Tuck the Christmas decorations in the attic until next December and be ready to celebrate the good food, the return of light and the hearty flavours of home.
I am ready, what about you?