Ciao Italia Family Classics
Mary Ann returns to her family's humble beginnings to bring us a treasure trove of more than 200 time-honored recipes.
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MAKES A 9-INCH CAKE
This is a moist dense cake that can be made a day in advance and the berries added the day you choose to serve it. Select a good fruity olive oil with a citrus finish. Although traditionally made with blanched almonds, I like using natural almonds that give the cake a little more flavor. The strawberries can be substituted with other berries or pitted fresh cherries tossed with the juice of a fresh juice orange; other oranges are not as sweet and their juice is thin.
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups sliced natural almonds (This means with skins.)
1/2 cup cornmeal
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 jumbo eggs
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
2 pints fresh strawberries
Adjust the oven rack to the lowest level. Preheat the oven to 350F. Brush the inside bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan lightly with extra olive oil. Line with a circle of parchment paper, cut just smaller than the bottom of the pan. Lightly brush the top of the paper and sides of the pan with more oil. Dust with about 2 teaspoons all-purpose flour and tap out any excess. Set aside until needed.
In a food processor, combine sugar, and almonds and process until a fine meal forms. Add cornmeal, flour, salt, and baking powder. Pulse only until evenly blended. Set aside until needed.
In a large bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth and evenly blended. Pour in the oil and continue whisking until smooth and creamy. Whisk in the milk and vanilla. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest. Add the almond/cornmeal mixture and whisk until the dry ingredients are evenly incorporated and a thin smooth batter forms. Pour into the prepared pan. Place the cake in the center of the rack and bake about 45 to 50 minutes or until the sides pull slightly away from the sides of the pan and the top center is set, but slightly moist and a beautiful rich golden brown.
Check the cake periodically while it is baking to make sure it is browning evenly. If you notice that one side is darker, rotate the cake from front to back. Doing this once during baking usually does the trick. Place on a rack and let cool 5 minutes. Carefully remove the ring of the springform pan. If the cake sticks to the ring, stop and loosen with a thin pairing knife before continuing. Once cooled, carefully turn the cake over onto a flat plate or cardboard cake round, the bottom of a tart pan also works well. Peel off the paper from the bottom and turn right side up on a serving plate. Cover with plastic wrap until ready to serve.
Fill a large bowl with cold water. Spread a towel on a counter. Gently drop the berries in the water. Carefully lift them from the water and set them on the towel to dry. Pat the tops with another towel. Remove the stems from the berries. Select the beautiful large berries for the edge of the cake. Arrange these berries around the top edge of the cake, forming a ring. Continue arranging concentric rings on top of the cake until it is covered. Dust the top lightly with confectioner's sugar. Serve with strawberry sorbet, if desired.
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