Peggy and Lori at her farmhouse in Tuscany. 2000
Lori de Mori, food writer and one of my best friends, gave me this recipe a few years back. It was given to her by Contessa Lisa Contini Bonacossi of Tenuta di Capezzana one of the finest wine and olive oil producers in Tuscany. Whenever we gather for big lunches or dinners, Lori most often says, ‘Via, I’ll make Capezzana cake and we’ll all be happy’. Big tea drinkers, we are even happier when there is some left over for tea as well.
A great-grandmother, with seven children of her own, Lisa Contini knows a few things about cooking and no less about sweets. Her husband, Conte Ugo, is one of the best producers of Vin Santo, the quintessential Tuscan desert wine. The Tuscan’s aren’t big on pastries, preferring dolce secche ‘dry sweets’, like cookies or a simple cake.
Tuscan’s are no strangers to doing things their own way, refusing to use salt in their bread to avoid being taxed. Here, they avoid using butter, in favor of using what they have; orci, large terracotta containers full of some of the most flavorful olive oil in the world. Records show that olive trees were first planted in Capezzana over 1200 years ago.
This cake is moist and delicious. I varied the recipe to include almonds, as I adore nut cakes. I have also been known to substitute a cup of honey for the sugar. It deepens the flavor and harmonizes with a glass of Vin Santo, like ‘a kiss on the lips.’
Capezzana Olive Oil Cake
Grated zest of 3 oranges, juice of one
1 ½ cups granulated sugar (or 1 cup of honey)
2 cups flour
1 tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp baking powder
1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil (the better the olive oil, the better the cake)
1 ½ cups whole milk (or milk alternative)
3 large egg
1 cup of crushed almonds (optional alla P.M.)
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan. It should be no more than three-quarters full. Place in the middle of the rack.
p.p.s. Lori’s book, Beaneaters and Bread Soup, photographed by her husband, London photographer Jason Lowe, is one of the most endearing books on Tuscan food artisans. Lisa Contini Bonacossi’s cake recipe is in there, with a charming photo, only Jason could capture.