A French treat, with a twist of Italian - and lemon

It took only seconds to discover that while the recipe title didn't look familiar, the list of ingredients undoubtedly did.

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Like many people who love to cook, I'm guilty of stockpiling recipes I've never used. "Someday," I tell myself, "I'll try that chocolate soufflé or spend an afternoon stretching strudel dough."

To my surprise, one of my somedays finally arrived last month after a 30-year wait. As I read an article about how French women entertain, I noticed it featured a recipe for a yogurt cake glazed with marmalade. It sounded unlike any dessert I'd ever heard of, and so it immediately intrigued me.

The author described it as an utterly simple pound cake that was also good for breakfast.

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Just reading the words "cake" and "breakfast" in the same sentence reminded me of an Italian cake recipe I'd saved for decades but never made. I read on, curious to learn more about this French treat. It took only seconds to discover that while the recipe title didn't look familiar, the ingredients undoubtedly did.

They brought to mind an Italian cake I had tasted at a neighbor's breakfast table during the 1970s. I had diligently scribbled down the recipe one morning as Rosa whipped up the lemon-flavored batter, relying on nothing more than her memory.

But I'd neglected to record the amount of flour, baking temperature, and amount of time it needed to bake. Since I could eat all the breakfast cake I wanted next door, I tucked away the recipe and forgot about the missing information.

Rosa eventually returned to Italy. I moved as well, taking her recipe along with me as I hung my pots and pans in kitchens from Boston to New York and South Carolina to Montana.

Although I never tried to make that cake, I didn't forget it.

Whenever I discovered a promising Italian cookbook, I'd leaf through the pages hoping to find something similar. The searches had always proved fruitless - up until now when I'd almost stopped trying to track it down.

As I began comparing my handwritten index card with the published recipe, I realized before I reached the end of my directions that this was the sweet-tart flavor of my past.

Except for a few variations, the ingredients matched. The marmalade-glazed French version called for yogurt and vanilla, while the unadorned Italian version called for milk and lemon juice. Still, that was close enough for me.

Now that I could fill in those blank spaces on my recipe card, it took no prompting for me to start beating eggs and zesting a lemon.

When I pulled the fragrant, golden-crowned loaf from the oven, it was all I could do to let the cake cool before I cut a hefty slice.

Sliding a moist forkful into my mouth, I tasted the memories of sitting in Rosa's sunny kitchen and knew this recipe had been worth every minute of the wait.

Italian Breakfast Cake

3 large eggs
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons whole milk
Juice from 1 medium-size lemon (about 4 tablespoons)
Grated zest from 1 medium-size lemon (about 1 teaspoon, packed. More is fine.)
1-1/2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-by-5-by-2-1/2-inch or 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan.

Put the eggs in a mixing bowl and beat with an electric mixer until they are pale yellow and thickened. (This takes a few minutes.) With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar and then the oil in a slow, steady stream.

In a small bowl, stir milk, lemon juice, and lemon zest together and add to batter.

Sift flour, baking powder, and salt together and blend into batter until thoroughly mixed.

Pour batter into the prepared pan, which should be about two-thirds full.

Place in oven and bake about 35 to 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted near the center of the cake comes out clean and the cake pulls away slightly from the sides of the pan.

Place the pan on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Then loosen cake and turn out onto the rack. Turn cake upright and let cool completely.

Makes about 8 servings.

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