Calabrian Christmas Cake / Torta Natale della Calabria
MAKES 4 TO 5 SMALL CAKES
This unusual Christmas cake, made from yeast dough and filled with nuts, raisins, spices, and honey, has many names, ranging from pittenguise to dolce antica. Said to have originated in Calabria, the rosette-shaped cake must be made at least two months before it is eaten. This recipe will make four to five small round cakes that are the perfect size for gift giving. Start the process early in the day, and have all the ingredients at room temperature.
- 4 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup white wine
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
- 5 to 6 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 4 1/2 cups raisins
- 3 1/2 cups walnut pieces
- 1 3/4 cups honey
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- About 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 4 to 5 tablespoons sugar
- Parchment paper
- In a large bowl, mix together the eggs, salt, wine, oil, sugar, and yeast. Cover and let stand for 10 minutes.
- Add the flour 1 cup at a time, mixing with your hands until a soft ball of dough is formed. Knead the dough on a floured surface until it is smooth and no longer sticky, adding flour as necessary. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until doubled in size.
- Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, mix together the raisins, walnuts, 1 cup of the honey, cinnamon, and cloves. Set aside.
- Punch down the dough and knead it for a few minutes on a floured surface. Take a piece of dough the size of a medium orange and roll it out on a floured surface, into a 9-inch circle. Place the circle on one of the cookie sheets and brush the dough lightly with vegetable oil. Sprinkle evenly with 1 tablespoon of the sugar.
- Take a second piece of dough the size of a large orange and roll it into a 20 by 8-inch rectangle. Cut the rectangle crosswise into eight 2 1/2-inch-wide strips. Spread about 2 tablespoons of the filling mixture evenly down the center of each strip. Starting at a short end, roll each strip up tightly like a jelly roll. Place them close together on top of the circle of dough, leaving a 1-inch border around the outside edge of the circle.
- Brush the outside edge of the circle with water. Bring the edge of the circle up around the rolled strips, and tie the cake loosely with string. Continue with the remaining dough to make 3 or 4 more cakes. Cover and let the cakes rise for 4 hours, or overnight, in a warm place. They will rise only slightly.
- Preheat the oven to 275 F. Brush each cake with a little vegetable oil, and drizzle 2 tablespoons of the remaining honey over the top of each cake. Bake the cakes for about 45 minutes, or until they are light golden in color. As they bake, baste the cakes occasionally with any drippings. Remove the cakes immediately to a cooling rack set on a piece of wax paper under it. Cool completely.
- Wrap each cake in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil, and store in airtight tins. After about a week, turn the cake tins upside down, then reverse the cakes again to distribute the honey collected on the bottom of the tins. These are best eaten at Christmas and should not be stored for long after the holiday. Give as gift in a decorative tin tied with a bow, along with the recipe.