Put a ring on it

Rachel Roddy pro­poses ri­cotta and olive oil cake

The Guardian - Cook - - Front Page - Rachel Roddy

There were so many de­lays in the ren­o­va­tions of Moka bar in Tes­tac­cio that I dared to hope it would never hap­pen. Then it did. Toni re­tired to his gar­den and, like so many oth­ers in Rome, the old mar­ket bar was given a vig­or­ous facelift: 50 years of wrin­kles, cof­fee stains and smoke swirls – but also life and ex­pe­ri­ence – were smoothed and sanded. Progress, I know, but what sad­ness when his­tory is swept away like that.

I just hope some­body saved the zinc bar with its panelled base, the chiller cab­i­net that once upon a time dis­pensed wine like petrol, the fridges and lu­mi­nous lat­te­ria sign, the wo­ven plas­tic chairs, the coloured cups and saucers that were a bit too thick, the heavy­weight juicer, and the plas­tic dome with an or­ange base that pro­vided a home for a

ciambel­lone cakes.

Ciambel­lone means “big ring” – in this case a cake; pos­si­bly the most ubiq­ui­tous of Ital­ian cakes. Ev­ery­one has a recipe, and al­most ev­ery work­ing bar in Rome has one on the counter, along­side the lat­ticed jam tart and

cor­netti filled with nutella. The

ciambel­lone that sat un­der the dome at Moka was three times bigger than the one I make, the crust the colour of dark honey, the crumb of straw. It was more func­tional than fun, but de­li­cious in its own way: not too sweet; soft and springy at the out­set, then drier as the days passed – which meant you’d need a sec­ond cap­puc­cino to chase it down with, and then to dab the last crumbs with a damp fin­ger­tip. Over the past decade, many morn­ings be­gan with that cake – af­ter­noons too.

Not any more though, the newer, sleeker Bar Tes­tac­cio – to which I wish ev­ery suc­cess – has nei­ther cake nor dome, although I am told they will. Un­til then, I have a do­mes­tic ver­sion, which be­gan life as the yo­ghurt pot cake – a recipe taught to me by my friend Ruth. It is a neat and nim­ble bake that re­quires a pot of plain yo­ghurt, which you tip into a bowl, then use the empty pot to mea­sure out three lots of flour, one of su­gar, an­other of olive oil, to which you add eggs and bak­ing pow­der. One bowl, one spoon, one tin and de­mand­ing about two min­utes of your time if all the in­gre­di­ents are to hand. Then af­ter 40 min­utes in the oven ... it is a eureka cake. On learn­ing it, I de­vel­oped a sort of cake twitch and couldn’t stop pro­duc­ing big rings: friend com­ing round – cake; friend not com­ing round – cake; email to write – cake; 3 min­utes to spare – cake. I also be­came a yo­ghurt-pot cake evan­ge­list, spread­ing the word and recipe, of­ten while hold­ing a cake be­fore me like it was a new­born ... “Look what I made – and it only took two min­utes!”

Then I tin­kered. First, with the pro­por­tions of su­gar and olive oil, then sub­sti­tut­ing ri­cotta for yo­ghurt and more of it, un­til even­tu­ally a set of kitchen scales seemed wise, which only adds about a minute to pro­ceed­ings, but cre­ates one more thing to wash. I am sure, though, you could make this a ri­cotta tub cake.

Beating is im­por­tant – both the eggs and the bat­ter. As is – stat­ing the ob­vi­ous – the bak­ing pow­der: don’t skimp and, if you can get hold of a lit­tle packet of Ital­ian lievito – a rais­ing agent of seem­ingly mag­i­cal pow­ers – use that.

The com­bi­na­tion of ex­tra vir­gin olive oil and ri­cotta – lac­tic and lovely – makes for a ten­der cake, with the sort of fat, craggy crumbs that beg to be pinched be­tween fin­ger and thumb. The ad­di­tion of lemon zest, and plenty of it, makes it fra­grant too. This is also a cake that in­vites im­pro­vi­sa­tion. You might well be tempted to punc­ture the ring and drench it in lemon syrup, or zig-zag it with a cob­web of lemon­scented ic­ing. Al­ter­na­tively, for­get the lemon, and add a hand­ful of choco­late chips, or or­ange zest and some ground

al­monds, sul­tanas and chopped ap­ple. Mashed banana works, ap­par­ently – although not around here: I am banana-in-cake in­tol­er­ant.

What­ever you add, the scent of it bak­ing fills the kitchen with good­ness. As my granny used to say: “There is noth­ing like the re­as­sur­ing promise of a cake in the oven.”

It is also an ac­com­mo­dat­ing cake: func­tional enough for break­fast, but nice enough for morn­ing cof­fee or af­ter­noon tea – pud­ding even: just add some ground al­monds to the mix, stew some blush­ing plums and chill a bowl of thick cream. It keeps well too: just wrap it in grease­proof pa­per, then foil, or keep it on an or­ange base un­der a plas­tic dome, and slice as re­quired.

Ri­cotta, lemon and olive oil ring cake

Makes 12 slices

But­ter or oil, for greas­ing 250g plain flour (Ital­ian 00-grade is ideal)

150g su­gar

2 tsp bak­ing pow­der (or a packet of Ital­ian lievito)

250g ri­cotta (cow’s or sheep’s milk) 200ml ex­tra vir­gin olive oil

4 large eggs

Zest of two un­waxed lemons

1 Set your oven to 180C/350F/gas 4 and but­ter/oil and flour a ring tin (about 23cm) or 2lb loaf tin.

2 Sift the flour, su­gar and bak­ing pow­der to­gether in a large bowl, then mix well. In an­other bowl, use a fork to mix/mash the ri­cotta with the olive oil, then add the eggs, one by one, beating be­tween each ad­di­tion.

3 Scrape the wet in­gre­di­ents into the dry and beat with a spoon un­til you have a smooth bat­ter. Grate in the lemon zest and beat again. Scrape the mix­ture into the ring tin.

4 Bake for 35–45 min­utes – this will vary de­pend­ing on tin size – or un­til the top is golden and springy and the in­side cooked through (test with a strand of spaghetti, which should come out clean.) Al­low to cool in the tin for 20 min­utes be­fore turn­ing on to a cool­ing rack.

Cook’s tip ITfhye­orui­choatv­tae can lbeeftroevpelar coel­divwe ith oyi­ol­gfhruomrt –fr­ty­hi­incgk, tfhuell-sflaicteGs,ri­eteckan beifnil­gtei­dredala. nd uAslseod,ath­gaeimn ix­ture can be baked in most tins – rings, loafs, muffins, spring­form ... just ad­just...

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