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.
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.