I’ve been in my basement sorting through boxes of books; hundreds of them.
Which ones are keepers and which go bye-bye? My mission is to downsize and it’s no time to get sentimental…
I’m approaching the task as if purging a closet – keeping the classics and moving on from the rest: if a cookbook hasn’t been cracked open in more than 3 years, out it goes. It gets tricky though, when the temptation to browse strikes. There was a reason a book made it into the pile in the first place; all it takes is a little reminder — hold on, don’t I need this recipe for Double Chocolate Angel Food Cake…that food memoir of the British Raj, those well-researched words on the world history of wine??
It seems easier to resist volumes that speak loudly of culinary moments in time, the ones that turned into passing trends. Like a pair of high-waisted jeans, books that call for blackening Cajun-spiced fish Must Get Donated.
The Julia Childs, Marcella Hazans, Elizabeth Davids — stay. They’re the equal of a vintage Chanel handbag you hand down, timeless and essential. I don’t have a Chanel bag, but I have a pair of faded Levi’s jeans I wore in high school — high-waisted and all — that my teenage daughter now wears. She thinks they’re the coolest thing ever.
I like cake recipes that have the same quality of classic simplicity and elegance — here’s one that you can dress up or down, enriched with ricotta, olive oil and a creamy mascarpone icing.
Drying the lemon zest intensifies the flavor and takes only a few minutes in a microwave, but you could substitute fresh lemon zest from 2 lemons if you'd rather. If not serving immediately, wrap the cake in plastic for a day. Top with the mascarpone just before serving.
- 1 tablespoon butter, softened
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- For cake:
- 2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 lemons
- 3 eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 ¼ cups granulated sugar
- 1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- For topping:
- 2 tablespoons butter, softened
- ¾ cup mascarpone cheese, at room temperature
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons heavy cream
- Pinch salt
- Adjust oven rack to center and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- Smear the butter over the bottom and up the sides of an 8 x 3 inch cake pan or springform pan – be thorough and make sure there are no bare spots. Put the flour into the pan and rotate to coat sides and bottom; tap out excess.
- For the cake: Whisk the flour, baking powder and salt together in a bowl.
- Remove the zest from the lemons with a coarse Microplane-style grater, or on the medium side of a box grater; distribute zest on a papertowel lined plate (save the zested lemons in the refrigerator for another use). Microwave on high for 45 seconds; separate any clumps of zest that might have formed and microwave for another 45 seconds. If the zest isn't completely dry, microwave for 30 more seconds. Let stand for a minute or two to cool, then crumble to a coarse powder with a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder.
- In a heavy duty mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the eggs briefly. Pour in the olive oil and sugar; mix on medium - high speed until emulsified. With the mixer on low, add ricotta cheese, vanilla and ½ teaspoon of the ground lemon zest. Stir in the flour mixture in two parts.
- Scrape batter into prepared cake pan and level the top. Bake 50 minutes, or until puffed, golden and a toothpick inserted into the middle emerges clean.
- Cool cake in the pan 10 minutes before inverting onto a rack to cool completely.
- While the cake cools, whip the butter, mascarpone, powdered sugar, cream and salt in a heavy duty mixer until smooth.
- Spread mascarpone over cooled cake and sprinkle the remaining lemon zest over the top.