Who could forget Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub as Italian brothers and chefs in Big Night. In preparation for his role as Secondo, Stanley Tucci worked with acclaimed chef Gianni Scappin, honing the skills he already had, as the son of “food-obsessed” Italian immigrants. In The Tucci Cookbook, he pulls together recipes from both of their families, compiling a collection of well-crafted traditional dishes, heartfelt personal histories, and gorgeous food photography. I want to cook this whole book.
I made this plum and polenta cake for a recent dinner party, and it was excellent. If you can’t find plums right now, substitute 6 quartered figs, or 1/2 cup of cherries. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Plum and Polenta Cake
1/2 cup plus 2 tblsp finely ground cornmeal or semolina flour
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
pinch of kosher salt
13 tblsp butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated sugar
4 large egg yolks
2 large eggs
1 tsp grated lemon zest
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
4 plums, cut in half and pitted
2 tblsp packed light brown sugar
1. Preheat the oven 350 degrees. Grease and lightly flour an 8 x 2-inch round cake pan or an 8-inch springform pan, tapping out any excess flour. Set aside.
2. In a small bowl, toss the cornmeal (or semolina), all-purpose flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. In a large bowl, beat the butter and granulated sugar together with an electric mixer, until pale yellow and creamy, about 5 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula and add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating after each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the whole eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition. Mix in the lemon zest and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and blend until just combined.
4. Spread the batter in the prepared pan. Place the plum halves, skin side down, at even intervals on top of the batter (place them along the perimeter, not in the center). Sprinkle the brown sugar on top of the fruit and batter. Bake until the cake is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes (it took closer to an hour for me).
In baking, everything is in the details. That’s why I love to use recipes from Cook’s Illustrated. They explain the science behind their perfected techniques. Case in point; because egg yolks are great emulsifiers, adding extra yolks to a pound cake will “help the batter retain air making the cake light. Their fattiness contributes richness, tenderness and moistness.” And their deep yellow gives the cake a gorgeous golden hue.
After seeing a pistachio pound cake in Bon Appetit this Spring, I decided to make one for a baby shower. But I chose to use the Citrus Pound Cake recipe from The New Best Recipe, and then add the pistachios as a garnish on top of a lemony icing. The combination was a hit. Someone at the shower came up to me and shook my hand. ”You made the pound cake? ” he asked. ”You should be congratulated.”
Citrus Pound Cake with Lemon Icing and Pistachios
serves 8 to 10
from The New Best Recipe
16 tblsp (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
1 1/3 cups sugar
3 large eggs, plus 3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
1 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 tsp water
1/2 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon
zest of 1 orange
1 1/2 cups plain cake flour
for frosting and garnish
1 8-oz package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
zest of 1 lemon
1 tblsp lemon juice
1/2 cup chopped pistachios
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat thte oven to 325 degrees. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Fit a sheet of parchment paper lengthwise in the bottom of the greased pan, pushing it into the corners and up the sides.
2. Beat the butter in the bowl of a standing mixer at medium-high speed until smooth and shiny, about 15 seconds. With the machine still on, sprinkle the sugar in slowly, taking about 30 seconds. Beat the mixture until light, fluffy, and almost white, 4 to 5 minutes, stopping the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl.
3. Stir together the eggs, yolks, vanilla, and water in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. With the mixer running at medium-high speed, add the egg mixture to the butter and sugar in a very slow, thin stream. Finally, beat in the salt and two zests.
4. Place 1/2 cup of the flour in a sieve and sift it over the batter. Fold gently with a rubber spatula, scraping up from the bottom of the bowl, until the flour is incorporated. Repeat twice more, adding flour in 1/2-cup increments.
5. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with a spatula or wooden spoon. Bake until a toothpick or thin skewer inserted into the crake running along the top comes out clean, 70 to 80 minutes. Let the cake rest in the pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Place a second wire rack on the cake bottom, then turn the cake to-side up. Cool to room temperature. (if not serving immediately, wrap the cake in plastic, then in foil and store at room temperature)
6. For the icing: In an electric mixer on medium, beat the cream cheese until softened. Slowly add the zest, juice and sugar and beat until creamy, about 3 minutes.
7. Spread a thick layer of frosting on the cooled cake, and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.
Citrus fruits are abundant in winter and their bright flavor and color can invigorate all kinds of dishes. I was instantly drawn to this rustic cake in Cooking in the Moment. Glazed slices of orange speckle its surface, and an orange syrup brushed over the warm cake seeps into the crumbly crust. The recipe calls for Satsuma oranges, and I recommend seeking them out. They are a type of Mandarin orange and they are seedless, sweet, and vividly colored.
I made this for our Spanish-themed holiday party, and it looked spectacularly festive. Best wishes for 2012!
Juicy Satsuma Orange Cake
from Cooking in the Moment by Andrea Reusing
Oranges and Glaze
5 satsuma oranges
juice of 1/2 lemon
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp kosher salt
8 tblsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
3/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, room temperature
1/3 cup semolina flour
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp table salt
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter a 10-inch round pan.
2. Finely grate the zest of one of the oranges and reserve the zest for the cake batter. Cut the orange in half, juice it, and strain the juice; you should have 1/3 cup juice. Slice the remaining 4 oranges into 1/4-inch-thick rounds. Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, sugar, salt, and orange slices in a medium non-reactive saucepan, and bring to a slow simmer over low heat. Cook for 6 to 7 minutes, until the centers of the orange slices are starting to become tender and translucent but are not falling apart. Carefully transfer the orange slices to a plate with a slotted spoon, and continue to simmer the syrup until it has reduced to 1/2 cup, 5 to 8 minutes. Set the glaze aside.
3. To make the cake, combine the butter and sugar in an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix until fluffy. While the mixer is running, add an egg and wait for it to be incorporated before adding the other. Add the reserved grated orange zest. In a bowl, sift together the semolina flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder and salt. Add the flour mixture, a little at a time, to the batter mixture and mix until all of it is incorporated. Pout the batter into the pan and arrange the orange slices in one layer on top of the batter. Bake for 15 minutes.
4. Reduce oven temperature to 35o degrees and bake for an additional 35 to 40 minutes, until cake is an even golden brown and baked through. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out clean. Let cool on a wire rack until warm.
5. Using a wooden skewer, poke holes all over. Brush the glaze over the top with a pastry brush. Allow to cool to room temperature, then unmold.