MAKES ONE 9 1/2 x 13 x 2-INCH CAKE
The Bottega del Pane, adjacent to Padua's fabulous outdoor market, sells delightful breads, pizze, focacce, biscotti, and other pastry delights. You cannot walk in there without succumbing to buying several items. Some of their Venetian specialties include sweets made with cornmeal, since the Veneto region grows a great deal of corn for polenta.
Two of my favorites are sbrisolana, a dense cornmeal cake studded with almonds and hazelnuts that is perfect with coffee or tea, and pinza, a cake also made with cornmeal and laden with dried figs, walnuts, and raisins soaked in grappa.
Pinza originally was made for the Christmas holidays and was eaten up until the feast of the Epiphany. Now it is enjoyed year-round. There are many versions of this cake; some contain eggs, spices, and a variety of other fruits. In this version, diced pears and apples are also used.
This cake is very moist and very hearty. It will keep a week in the refrigerator and is best eaten at room temperature. For best results use a heavy saucepan to cook the flour and cornmeal. I like copper for its even heat distribution. The grappa in this recipe is optional.
1/2 cup raisins
2 tablespoons grappa or 1/2 cup warm water
2 cups King Arthur™ Unbleached, All-Purpose Flour
2 cups cornmeal
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
5 cups water
1 cup sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup diced candied lemon or orange peel
1 yellow Delicious apple, peeled and diced
1 Bartlett pear, peeled and diced
9 or 10 dried whole Calamyrna or Calabrian figs, stemmed and chopped
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
Butter the baking pan and dust it with flour, shaking out the excess, or line the pan with a sheet of aluminum foil, allowing the foil to come up the sides of the pan. Butter and dust the foil with flour. Set it aside.
Pour the water or grappa over the raisins in a small bowl and let them soak for 15 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350ºF.
Combine the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking powder in a heavy-duty 4-quart saucepan. Slowly stir in the water. Cook the mixture, stirring frequently, over medium-high heat for 15 minutes. The mixture will be very thick. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the sugar and butter, making sure that the butter melts completely.
Strain the raisins, discarding the water, and stir them into the batter. If using the grappa, add it with the raisins. Stir in the lemon or orange peel, apple, pear, figs, and walnuts.
Pour the batter into the pan, smoothing out the top.
Bake for 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean. The top of the cake should be golden brown. Cool the cake completely. If using the foil-lined method, simply lift the foil with the cake out of the pan and, when cool, remove the foil. This will allow for neatly cut slices with no waste at the edges.
To serve, cut into squares.
Tip: For parties, I chill the baked cake, then use small cookie cutters to cut out decorative shapes, which I place in small cupcake papers. They make the perfect dessert finger food for a crowd.
This recipe is from CIAO ITALIA - BRINGING ITALY HOME by Mary Ann Esposito, published by St. Martin's Press in 2001.
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