I have contemplated the meaning of that phrase for some time, now. I’ve never really understood it. My dad sure loves to use them, but most of those old proverbs seem nonsensical to me. Phrases we all use when they seem apropos but really never stopped to think what in God’s teeth they mean. And, really, do they even have meaning anymore?
A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
What? Okay, I think that one means that it is better to have a small actual advantage than just the chance at a greater one. Well, I beg to differ.
Back to the cake. Let’s try to suss this out. First of all, why would you possibly have a cake and not eat it? And if you have cake why can't you eat the cake? It doesn’t seem to be the kind of thing you’d want just hanging around, getting moldy and gross. Eat the damn cake and get another one, if you must. What’s the big issue? It seems to me, that the proverb implies negativity – it says to us, you can’t have it both ways, and you most certainly can't have it all. Sometimes you can, right? Is it always so simple, so black & white? I think not.
I have never been a baker. I can cook, yes, but bake, no. A couple of Christmases ago, Dixon gave me a baking stone for my winter assignment to myself: Project Bread. I had this romantic notion of never having to purchase bread, out, again. I would bake my own, each morning from my prized mother starter that would continue on for generations of bread baking. I tried to bake bread three times that winter and I failed miserably with each attempt. Dixon seemed almost smugly pleased, and most certainly surprised, at my categorical shortcomings in the kitchen (I’d like to think that’s because they’re rare?). Although I did not succeed, I tried, tried again. Perhaps I tried to walk before I could crawl. Regardless, I gave up.
This is the last day of summer, and I feel that I accomplished my summer assignment: Project Grill, with arguable success. Now, it’s time for my fall assignment. I’m trying again, but now calling it: Project Bake.
I don’t actually have a wild and crazy sweet tooth, except for the occasional I-NEED-CHOCOLATE-RIGHT-THIS-MINUTE kind. I do love a cupcake. But I never order desert and I don’t keep sweets around the house. But, I remembered having a similar desert a handful of times over the past few years, in a couple of different places, that really spoke to me – a sort of olive oil cake. One time it was served with champagne grapes and honey, and the other, fresh berries and cream. I loved it’s subtle-sweetness and it’s simple, complexity - or, perhaps its complex simplicity. I found it surprising and earthy and luscious. Together with a seasonal fruit on top created a beautiful marriage of the bounty of Italy and Southern California.
Well, hello there, fall. I baked a cake!
I must tell you, dear readers, my first cake turned out brilliantly! I was so satisfied and proud of myself all evening, like a little peacock, strutting my stuff. I shared the cake, and its story, with anyone who would listen. I also have eaten quite a bit of it. So far Project Bake is looking good for the fall.
While there is some left, I know it won’t be around forever. But you know what? I can make it again, and I will. It’s so exciting that I successfully baked a cake, shared a cake, ate some cake, and can make cake again. I think I can confidently say that I can, in fact, have my cake and eat it too.
This recipe is from the Italy’s Valpolicella region, and one I have adapted from Saveur (issue #75). I topped my version with a Honey Crème Fraiche (simply mix 2 parts crème fraiche with 1 part creamed honey). Fresh blackberries, figs or champagne grapes would be a beautiful and delicious adornment, as well.
This would pair exquisitely with a Tawny Port.
Pissota con l”Olio
Makes 1 9" cake1 tbsp. butter
3 cups plus
2 tbsp. flour
1 cup sugar
1⁄4 tsp. lemon zest
3⁄4 cup quality extra-virgin olive oil
2⁄3 cup milk
3 tbsp. Grand Marnier or Brandy
1 tbsp. baking powder
1. Preheat oven to 325°. Grease a 3"-deep round 9" cake pan and the outside of a heavy 3"-deep 3" ovenproof ramekin or bowl with butter, then dust with 2 tbsp. of the flour, tapping out excess. Put ramekin or bowl upside down in center of prepared pan. Set prepared pan aside.
2. Beat eggs and sugar together in a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium-high speed until pale yellow, about 1 minute. Add remaining 3 cups flour, lemon zest, oil, milk, and liqueur and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined. Add baking powder and stir until thoroughly combined.
3. Holding ramekin or bowl firmly in place, spoon batter into prepared pan around ramekin or bowl. Bake until cake is deep golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted in center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Transfer cake to a wire rack to let cool completely, in its pan.
4. Top with fruit, a generous drizzle of honey crème fraiche and serve.