Monday, December 29, 2008

Splendid Table: The "Keeping Cakes" of Winter

I'm sorry I have been neglectful. Of course, I'm even sorrier that no one seems to have noticed, but I shall assume my small, loyal readership has been too busy shopping the crazy sales and seeing lumbering holiday movies (like Grand Torino, what a lemon!)  to complain.

I never got around to writing about the Christmas Eve cakes, but having just eaten a sliver of the leftover Certosino, I'm newly inspired. 

In The Splendid Table, Lynne Rossetto Kasper writes a two page essay on the "keeping cakes" of winter. According to Kasper, all regions of Italy and many throughout Europe boast traditional holiday fruit cakes into which are baked "the preserved treasures of the autumn harvest." I would like to taste every single such cake as I am somewhat obsessed with fruitcakes and the versions I baked over the last few weeks were so extraordinarily delicious.

I made all three recipes included in The Splendid Table and served them on Christmas Eve. I'm not sure everyone was as wild about them as I was, but at least one of us was deliriously happy. 

We had:

1. Spongata di Berceto (far left in photograph.) This is the cake of Parma and Reggio, and is actually more of a tart. The cookie crust enrobes a nutty, nubbly filling reminiscent of baklava. Some people pronounced this the "best" cake, but I think they were basically fruitcake-haters and were gravitating to the least fruity option.

2. Certosino (middle). The Christmas pastry of Bologna, and my hands-down favorite. A dense, incredibly complex melange of fruits, chocolate, almonds, pine nuts and spices that you glaze with melted honey and festoon with large chunks of jewel-like candied fruit. A bit like panforte.

3. Pampepato (right). The Ferrara cake, sealed by "a full cloak of chocolate." Much like Certosino, but blacker, more intensely chocolate.

I love these cakes and their layered flavors -- of citron, fruit, chocolate, spice, nut, honey -- more than I can say. I honestly do not understand why there was so much left over.


  1. Answer to question...there was so much left over because we had eaten so much great food before dessert AND three cakes for 10 people will generally result in leftovers!

    As to favorite cake, I go along with you. But then I LOVE fruitcake with all the memories it evokes. The others were excellent as well, but a bit less insistently CHRISTMAS.

    You know where to deposit leftovers---with the keeper of all time!

    Congratulations on keeping on keeping on with the blog. I love your work and admire the outcomes, even though I never try the recipes. After all, why should I if I can get regular tastes from you.

    Lucky Mom

  2. The cakes sound delectable, and their photo is wonderful.

    I have been checking your blog nearly every day for the last 2-3 months, although I do not post often.

    I made kasha varnishkes for our annual family Jewish Christmas Dinner. In my experience, people tend to either love or hate k.v., and my sample size of six was split down the middle. But I'm pleased to report that it was the family cooks who loved the dish!

    Happy New Year, and I very much hope that you keep blogging!!

    Amy in Berkeley

  3. oh no! i was on vacation! i missed your blog terribly and was so happy to see two new posts when i got back. keep writing please.

  4. We liked Grand Torino.

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