Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Torta di Zucca eh!

In Italy, that's pumpkin cake with pine nuts and apricots; in Canada, I make it with a twist: maple syrup, walnuts and dried cranberries.  In either country, it's moist, fragrant and easy to bake. Delicious!

My recipe is a twist on the one provided by Eliza Green in her great cookbook "Starting with Ingredient Baking".  I made this cake for an office bake sale and fundraiser.

Using a nine-inch ring pan, this cake will serve 10 to 12.

3/4 cup     dried apricots, diced
1/4 cup     dried cranberries
1/4 cup    maple syrup (or Grappa)
1 1/2 cups pumpkin purée
2 cups      unbleached white all purpose flour
2 tsp         baking powder
1/2 tsp      grated nutmeg
1 tsp         fine sea salt
4 large     eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
1/4 lb      (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted then cooled
1/2 cup    walnuts
4 tsp        grated orange zest (I've been known to substitue 1 tbsp orange juice)

Soak the apricots and cranberries in the maple syrup (and orange juice if substituting for orange zest) at room temperature for at least one hour or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Spray a nine-inch ring pan with nonstick coating or rub with butter and dust with flour.

Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, salt, nutmeg.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the egg yolks and 3/4 cup of sugar until light and fluffy, five to six minutes.  Fold in the melted butter and beat again until smooth and creamy.  Add the flour mixture and beat just long enough to combine.  Transfer the batter to a wide shallow bowl.  Fold in the pumpkin puree, then add the apricots/cranberries and their soaking liquid, half the walnuts and the orange zest (if using).

In a clean, greaseless bowl of the standing mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg whites until fluffy, then add the remaining 3/4 cup of brown sugar and continue beating until the whites are firm and glossy- about four or five minutes longer.  Fold the meringue into the batter in thirds.  Pour the batter into the prepared pan and rap the pan on the counter to eliminate any large air bubbles.  Sprinkle the top with the remaining nuts.

Bake for 50 minutes or until the cake starts to come away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.  Remove from the oven, cool for 20 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack and cool to room temperature.  Store the cake at room temperature for three to four days.

Wanna play?  For amazing depth of flavour, you can roast a butternut squash (about 1 1/2 lbs of squash will yield 1 1/2 cups of puree).  Peel your squash, scrape out the seeds and cut into large chunks.  Roast for about 45 minutes or until the squash pierces easily.  Purée in a food processor or mash by hand.  Use instead of the pumpkin purée.

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