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An Italian Bread for Easter | Potizza al Dragoncello

An Italian Bread for Easter | Potizza al Dragoncello

Potizza | Delightful CrumbThis past summer, I had the amazing opportunity to go to Italy for work. My boss and I traversed the north of the country, gathering information to build classes and content we’d share with our members. It was a fantastic experience. I hadn’t been to Europe for years, and I also hadn’t “learned experientially,” as I like to call it, for a very long time. Exhausted after a full day, I’d realize how much information I’d picked up along the way. It was like an adult field trip. We also ate and drank extraordinarily well, a not-insignificant perk of the job.

There is a lot I could say about that trip—so much that for months, I had an awful time trying to write anything about it beyond what landed in my journal. It was such a meaningful experience for me, and though it seems backwards, the things that matter most tend to be the hardest to put into words.

But that’s not the only reason for the long delay in writing this: I had to figure out the potizza. Let me back up.

On this trip, we crossed nearly the whole northern part of the country by car. We watched the landscape morph and change, actually grasped how far one place was from the next, stayed in a variety of cities large and small. We started in Turin and went west first, then reversed course and came east. At the far edge of the country, we arrived in Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy’s last stop before Slovenia. We pulled off the highway and started down winding roads en route to our destination for the night. Rounding a corner, we were suddenly confronted with the most amazing view: vibrant green rolling hills dotted with deep brown houses, vineyards twisting through the landscape, dark hills hovering at the horizon topped with puffy white clouds. I will never forget that moment. I swear to you, this place looks like something out of the pages of a fairy tale.

i Clivi | Delightful CrumbAnd then we arrived at La Subida, in the comune of Cormons, part of the province of Gorizia. I have been to few places so charming as this. La Subida is a hotel of sorts—a rustic, upscale bed and breakfast, you could say. Sitting amidst the vineyards of the Collio Goriziano, it’s made up of a bunch of little houses and structures tucked into the woods on both sides of the road. They have horses and gardens and trails and two excellent restaurants and bright yellow Vespas you can rent to tour around for the day. We checked in with Mitja Sirk, whose family owns the place, and he jumped on his bicycle to lead us to our rooms down the street. When my boss and I met back up for dinner, he said he’d just texted his wife to tell her he’d someday bring her here. I’d texted Ben the very same thing. That’s the kind of place this is, one that begs to be shared with the person you love.

But it wasn’t just La Subida. I was enamored with the whole region, which felt like magic. In the morning, I would run down the trails near my room, turning a corner to see an epic landscape, literally running through vineyards, stopping to admire a four-inch slug, my shoes sticking in bright red clay wet from the rains. I loved every winery visit, too, where the winemakers were thoughtful and fascinating and humble and sweet. I highly recommend the wines of i Clivi, Borgo del Tiglio and Skerk, producers with vastly different but equally earnest styles. (More on that here, if you’re interested in geeky wine info as well as baked goods.)

Dinner at La Subida, where Mitja oversees a fantastic wine cellar, was refined yet rustic. But breakfast was exceptional, too. The spread included thick local yogurt with lots of toppings: big pumpkin seeds, fat raw hazelnuts, poached prunes, various jams. There were breads and cheeses and cured meats and fruits. And there were pastries. Every morning there were several different ones, usually a fruit tart with perfectly latticed pastry, a dense cake and an option more akin to a bread. They were humble and not too sweet, just my kind of treat. In the three days we were there, I sampled a few; all were lovely.

La Subida | Delightful CrumbBack home, still thinking fondly of Fruili, I asked Mitja if he might be able to share a recipe for one of their morning baked goods. Generously, he did. It was for a cake that had caught my attention, a yeasted affair with swirls of a slightly sweet herb spiraling throughout. Mitja explained that this was potizza, a bread made with fresh ricotta and dragoncello, a local variant of tarragon.

The recipe he gave me was written in Italian, for an enormous quantity of cake. It called for brewers yeast and included a line that translated to “give it the shape of potica.” Clearly, I had some work to do.

Research revealed that the bread goes by various names depending on the country: putiza or potizza (Italian), potica (Slovenian) and povitica (Croatian). It is a yeasted dough that’s rolled thinly, filled, tucked into a pan (various shapes are acceptable) and baked. The most common and traditional filling is a mixture of walnuts with honey or sugar.

But the ricotta and tarragon cake is special and, as far as I can tell, limited to a very small corner of the region. I found only one English-language reference in my searching, from the Wikipedia entry for tarragon: “In Slovenia, tarragon is used in a variation of the traditional nut roll sweet cake, called potica.” The bread, Mitja explained, was historically made for Easter, blessed that day, and eaten for luck. Only the rich could afford the ricotta and herbs; those with less means simply made the bread.

It took me a few rounds, but I have a beautiful recipe to share, just in time for Easter. The tarragon adds a lovely and unexpected savory note, with hints of licorice and an herbal sweetness. It swirls through the bread, reminiscent of the green hills of Friuli. I’m totally charmed every time I make it, swept right back to that magical place.

And this is something I love: there’s this tiny corner of Italy I once knew nothing about that enchanted me more than I can possibly express, where Italy’s culture and history bump up into Slovenia’s, and the hills curve and roll from one tiny town to the next, and a drive down the street might take you over the border and back. In this breathtaking region, people eat a variation on a rolled sweet pastry that isn’t replicated anywhere else in the world, along with frico and beautiful pastas and local cheeses, all washed down with white wines of various stripes and rustic Schioppettino and bracingly bitter amaro. And I had no idea that it existed.

What a wonder, this world.

Happy Easter, my friends.

Potizza | Delightful CrumbPotizza | Delightful Crumb

Potizza al Dragoncello

Adapted from a recipe by La Subida, with thanks to Mitja Sirk

I really recommend a stand mixer for this dough; it’s quite firm and takes time to come together. I imagine you could do without, using your hands to knead if you have the strength and time, but I haven’t tried this yet myself. Let me know if you do!

I’ve given a range for the amount of ricotta. The original recipe called for 16 ounces, but as I tested the recipe, I inadvertently purchased containers at other weights, and I’ve had good luck with 12, 15 and 16 ounces. The more ricotta you use, the more fragile the cake, so you can go with less for an easier time—or just pick up whatever is handy at the store. Regardless, do spring for something of high quality, a ricotta that is tasty on its own and not too grainy.

I like to use a springform pan so that I can remove the cake easily for serving—it’s beautiful, after all! Make sure your pan has at least three-inch sides.

For the dough

500g/4 cups all-purpose flour, plus additional

75g/generous 1/3 cup sugar

1 packet (7g/about 2 1/4 teaspoons) instant yeast

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup whole milk

3 egg yolks

100g/3.5 ounces unsalted European butter, at room temperature, plus additional

For the filling

150g/3/4 cup sugar

Zest of 2 lemons

2 small bunches or 1 very large bunch of tarragon, about 30g, finely chopped (yields about 20-25g chopped leaves)

340-450g/12-16 ounces ricotta, drained if at all watery

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt. Mix gently as you add the milk in a steady stream. Then add the egg yolks, one at a time, followed by the butter in three additions.

Mix on a higher speed until the dough comes together and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. This will take several minutes, so be patient.

Form the dough into a smooth, soft ball using your hands. Place it in a large, clean bowl and cover it with a clean dish towel. Let the dough rest in a very warm place until doubled, 60 to 90 minutes.

Shape the dough into three balls, about 320g each. Let them rest for another 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, add the lemon zest and chopped tarragon leaves to the 150g sugar. Blend them together with your fingers until fragrant. Fold in the ricotta and the vanilla.

Once the balls of dough have puffed up, on a lightly floured surface, roll out one ball of dough very thinly (about half a centimeter) into a large rectangle. It should be at least 12 inches on the shorter side. Spread a thin layer of the ricotta mixture on the dough (about 2/3 cups). Roll up the dough into a log, as you would if making cinnamon rolls, and squeeze the dough together at the ends so that the ricotta mixture doesn’t leak out.

Butter a 10-inch pan with at least 3-inch sides. Place the log of dough into the pan, then repeat the rolling and filling process with the other two balls of dough. The loaf will look beautiful no matter what, but if you’re looking for some direction, I usually curve the first log along the side of the pan, then overlap the second somewhat so the ends don’t line up, and keep going around the pan. I swirl the last one nicely in the center. Tuck in the ends as you go, and make sure your pan isn’t filled higher than the brim.

Let the dough rise again, for 45 to 60 minutes, until it has expanded in the pan, then bake at 350 degrees for 40 to 45 minutes. If the cake is browning too quickly, tent it with foil for the last 5 to 10 minutes.

Set the cake on a rack to cool completely before removing from the pan, slicing and sharing!

La Subida | Delightful Crumb

You Are Alive | Cardamom Doughnut-ish Tea Cakes

You Are Alive | Cardamom Doughnut-ish Tea Cakes

Doughnut Tea Cakes | Delightful CrumbI was talking with friends the other night about narrow escapes—dramatic ones, where we might not have made it but did. There were a few harrowing stories, most notably from our friend who, back in some wilder time before we knew him, used to street race à la The Fast and the Furious. He’s a pretty mellow dude these days, so I have an awfully hard time imagining this, but apparently that’s the truth.

I don’t have any dramatic stories (thank God), but I feel this way all the time—like every day that I make it is a miracle. I imagine this is a more common experience for those of us who are anxious. There are so many things that could go wrong and do, for so many people, without rhyme or reason. When they don’t, I honestly feel as though I narrowly missed being hit by a bus. All of a sudden, I find myself standing in a room, going about my day, walking out in the the sunshine, and I realize I’m alive, and it didn’t have to be this way. It’s the feeling of sitting in the doctor’s office, hearing you’re okay. All of those awful things you feared would happen…didn’t. It’s like springtime, bursting forth when you’d stopped even hoping it would come.

(This week, I listened all the way through the seven episodes of S-Town, the incredible new podcast from This American Life and Serial. Among other things, it made me think about how the very experience of life can sometimes feel like an “insurmountable challenge.” I’ll say nothing more for fear of ruining the surprises, but if you are a lover of story and/or podcasts…go listen.)

Sometimes I am struck by how deeply I experience things, how immediate and intense my life feels to me, and I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that this is what we’re all experiencing, millions and millions of us on this planet, all the time.

And this is why I think it’s important to eat cake. Because you are here, and you are alive, today, right now. This particular recipe comes from the cookbook by Jessica Koslow of Sqirl fame, which is titled Everything I Want to Eat. And you know, sometimes it’s okay to do that—to eat everything you want to eat. There are times for diets, sure, but especially for the generally healthy among us, there are lots of times for no diets. There’s a big difference between eating wholesome food and some of the toxic “health” trends that sweep through the internet and our lives these days. I’m not immune to all of this, of course, so my I-can-hardly-believe-I’m-alive moments of revelation are always helpful in kicking me in the rear and reminding me that I should enjoy, as best I can, every moment of life that I’m given. And this includes midday cake, scones, elevenses, etc., which probably top the list of things that make me inexplicably happy.

Koslow’s cookbook has gorgeous salads and delicious things on thick slabs of toast and also dessert, and frankly that IS exactly what I want to eat. I will take my turmeric tonic with a side of cake, thank you very much.

These tea cakes remind me of my childhood, though they’re entirely different from the treat they call to mind. My mom baked amazing old-fashioned cinnamon-and-sugar-coated doughnuts that we all gobbled up when I was a kid. It was a family recipe, and she’d make them for my grandfather, her father, and he’d savor them, keeping them in the freezer and eating them one at a time until they were gone. I like to think of him eating those doughnuts, enjoying his life.

As their name suggests, these little cakes are seriously reminiscent of doughnuts. I must admit that I am not indiscriminately fond of doughnuts, but these charmed even me. They have the sugared coating of a doughnut but the dense crumb of a tea cake. They are excellent at any time of day. They will remind you that you are alive, and that this is something to celebrate.

Doughnut Tea Cakes | Delightful Crumb

Cardamom Doughnut-ish Tea Cakes

From Jessica Koslow’s Everything I Want to Eat (aka the Sqirl cookbook)

Makes 12

These really, truly are “doughnut-ish”—strikingly so! They are best soon after they’re made, but they last a couple of days, tightly wrapped, and reheat nicely in a low oven.

For the tea cakes

10 tablespoons (150 g) unsalted butter, melted, plus more for the muffin tin

2 cups (255 g) all-purpose flour

2/3 cup (135 g) sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 large egg

1 cup (240 ml) whole milk

For the topping

1/3 cup (65 g) sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

Pinch of fine sea salt

Unsalted butter, melted (a couple of tablespoons should do the trick)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter the bottom surfaces (not the sides) of a standard muffin tin.

In a large bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom and salt.

In a smaller bowl, crack the egg, then whisk to break it up. Gradually add the melted butter and milk, whisking. Pour the wet mix into the dry one, stirring with a spatula until just combined. It’s okay if the batter is somewhat lumpy.

Scoop the batter evenly into the muffin tin, filling each well about three-quarters full. Bake until the tops are light golden brown and spring back when you press them, about 25 minutes. Let cool for a few minutes in the tin.

Meanwhile, make the topping. Stir together the sugar, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Put the melted butter in a small bowl. Once the cakes are cooled somewhat, turn them out of the tins, using a knife to loosen the sides if necessary. Dip each top into the melted butter, being sure the whole muffin top gets coated in butter, then into the cinnamon sugar. Brush any bald patches with melted butter and dip into the sugar again.

These are best eaten immediately but can be stored overnight, wrapped tightly.

Nothing Like This | A Few Old Favorites

Nothing Like This | A Few Old Favorites

Chocolate Rosemary Cake | Delightful CrumbA recent evening, after a long, lingering dinner with a friend, I came home not quite ready to turn in for the night, hopped up on soul-filling conversation and good, simple food. I pulled out a few cookbooks I hadn’t looked at in some time and started flipping through, looking for a cake recipe for an upcoming dinner party. Unwittingly, I’d chosen several cookbooks that were my staples when I was first starting to really love food and cooking, when I was 23 or so, living in Grand Rapids in an apartment all my own, single but falling for Ben, dreaming of the ways my life might unfold. That night, sitting on my couch in Oakland, California, cookbook open in my hands, I was flooded with nostalgia. Memories of food are so visceral and powerful, tied to much more than just a dish on a plate. Flipping through these cookbooks, passing recipes I recall making for the first time, others I made many times over, I was brought right back to my little orange kitchen, to my amazement at yogurt cakes and rustic tarts and diverse flours and runny yolks and creamy polenta. I was reminded how far I’ve come when it comes to my food knowledge and skill, shocked to realize that cookbooks I relied on back then don’t have weight measurements for baking, and that an olive oil cake was novel to me—and apparently many others—in 2010.

I’d forgotten how good these old books make me feel. I love them, and their recipes, for both their inherent charms and that feeling. I don’t pick them up all that often these days, too distracted by other cookbooks, but I should. It’s nice to be transported. The recipes from five or so years ago, when we moved here and everything felt topsy turvy (ricotta toast, ice creamlemongrass cake, anything with figs, Sara Forte’s veggie burger, savory cake), are almost there but perhaps not quite; the rough edges of that season are smoother but not soft. But I’ll get there. And someday, I’ll feel this way about the recipes that are easing into our routine today, and then the ones that define the next season, and the one after that, and on and on forever. This is the power that cooking and the simple, necessary act of eating can hold. It’s amazing, and near to holy if not entirely so.

I just finished Joan Didion’s Slouching Toward Bethlehem, which closes with “Goodbye to All That,” an essay that I somehow managed to miss entirely in the course of my liberal arts education. This paragraph is the truest thing I’ve read in a long time—and, at its heart, not actually new in the slightest:

Some time later there was a song on all the jukeboxes on the upper East Side that went “but where is the schoolgirl who used to be me,” and if it was late enough at night I used to wonder that. I know now that almost everyone wonders something like that, sooner or later and no matter what he or she is doing, but one of the mixed blessings of being twenty and twenty-one and even twenty-three is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened to anyone before.

Do you remember that feeling? “Was anyone ever so young? I am here to tell you that someone was,” reflects Didion a paragraph on. Life felt so hard and fresh and new and strange and glorious and everything in between. I didn’t necessarily love that season back then, but recalling it is a different thing entirely.

As it turns out, I’ve already blogged about most of my favorite recipes from this particular window (age 23 through the midpoint of 25, if I am being specific). Though I could make the parallel to another season, or hypothesize about what will someday remind me of this one, it feels right to focus on the first time this ever happened to me, the time when it seemed “that nothing like this…has ever happened to anyone before.” Here are a few of the recipes that were precious to me then and have stood the test of time, from a few cookbooks that defined that season of my life.

In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite, by Melissa Clark

Olive Oil & Maple Granola

Whole Wheat Cinnamon Snacking Cake

Rhubarb Big Crumb Coffee Cake

Cook This Now, also by Melissa Clark

Panfried Asparagus with Ramps, Lemon & Fried Eggs (wherein runny eggs were new to me)

How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, by Mark Bittman

Warm Chickpea Salad with Arugula

Good to the Grain, by Kim Boyce

Olive Oil Cake with Rosemary & Chocolate (the recipe that sparked this musing, pictured above and just as good as ever)

Baking: From My Home to Yours, by Dorie Greenspan

Swedish Visiting Cake

What about you? Does this resonate? I’d love to hear about the cookbooks or recipes that defined a specific season for you.

30 | Everyday Chocolate Cake

30 | Everyday Chocolate Cake

Everyday Chocolate Cake | Delightful CrumbThis has been quite a month, for a whole host of reasons. It’s a new year, and I always find that exciting. I turned 30, which feels like a big deal, except for when it doesn’t. We went to Healdsburg to celebrate. We got the stomach flu when we came home. As everyone knows, a lot of things have happened and are happening in US politics, most of which I find depressing and/or alarming. I worked, got out of bed every day (save for that first ridiculously awful day of the flu), cleaned the apartment, ran around the lake, made resolutions, made dinner. Big things and small ones, all jumbled together.

My reflective nature is something I can’t shake, so of course I’ve thought about turning 30. I’ve always had lots of older friends, starting with my sister right out the gate: cool, smart, interesting people who have kept me from worrying about growing older. Starting especially with those in their thirties, my older friends are notably calm and self-assured, and they don’t give a damn about things that don’t really matter. Plus, women with gray hair are sexy.

Nonetheless, I found myself a little unsure as my birthday approached. I blame it on the societally imposed questions I found ringing in my ears: Have I done what I thought I’d do by now? Have I accomplished what I’d hoped for? Am I on the right track?

The truth is that I couldn’t answer these questions if I wanted to. I never had a clear-cut plan for my life. I’ve always been driven to succeed professionally, but there were plenty of different careers I thought I might want along the way. I did picture myself going off and living somewhere new, and I’ve done that. I wanted a partner; I have an amazing one. And yet, the cascade of questions came anyway. Am I successful enough? Did I follow the right thread of my career? Is there somewhere else I should be living? Should we have tried to have a kid by now? Am I doing this right? And have I appreciated my youth? I will never be as young or as thin or as physically resilient or as sweetly naive as I once was! Is it all downhill from here?

The day after my birthday, I gathered a group for a casual evening of wine and chocolate cake at Bay Grape, the wine shop my friend Stevie and her husband own. Some close friends couldn’t make it, but I figured I’d cast the net anyway, just see who might come. By the end of the night, we filled the one long table, chairs squeezed in, wine flowing, and I sat there looking at my friends, thinking about how little of my life has actually gone as expected.

On my right was Alice. We worked together at Good Eggs but weren’t close until we were laid off together and bonded over shared anger and resume writing. I can assure you, I did not plan that. On my left, Erin, who I met while job searching after that same (devastating) layoff. We had an informational interview of sorts, the job opportunity dissolved and we became fast friends. I ended up finding a totally different job which led to my current job, in large part thanks to Stevie, and now there I was, sitting in her wine shop, which I visited well before I called her a friend. I knew the girls working that night, and several guests, and which wines I wanted to drink, all thanks to this chapter in a career I didn’t plan. Our church small group was represented around the table, a wonderful, surprising, diverse collection of people that couldn’t have found one another otherwise. And Ben, of course. I figured I’d get married around 29, but I found the guy I wanted to spend my life with several years earlier, a reality I found annoying until I realized it was a tremendous blessing. Before that, ten or so years ago, I wanted desperately to move to DC. I didn’t. But I did move to California, a possibility I never even considered, and none of the rest of this would have happened if not for that.

The thing, you see, about those silly have-I-made-it questions is that in trying to answer them and thus second-guessing our lives, we run the risk of missing all of the really amazing things we didn’t expect.

And, after all, so much of that unexpected good stuff is what sustains us, keeps us going in this mad world, lends our lives some much-needed warmth, reminds us to be grateful. In the end, it’s all one grand surprise. Here’s to welcoming that with open arms in the year ahead, and always.

Everyday Chocolate Cake | Delightful Crumb

Everyday Chocolate Cake

From Deb Perelman of Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Allysa Torey’s At Home with Magnolia

This cake is well known on the internet; Deb herself has published multiple versions. But when I made it again for my little birthday celebration, I was reminded of how ridiculously good it is, verified by approving friends. The fact that it’s super simple to make is just a bonus. Sure, it isn’t flashy, but it is delicious, and sturdy, too, with a nice crisp top crust. I’ve made it in a loaf pan and a round one; both work perfectly.

Its flexibility does not extend, however, to the cocoa powder, so if you have natural or non-Dutched cocoa powder, see Deb’s instructions in the headnote to the original recipe for amended leavening quantities.

I find this cake particularly excellent when accompanied by a dollop of whipped cream, perhaps bolstered with something tangy like sour cream or crème fraîche and a bit of lemon zest.

1/2 cup (4 ounces or 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 cup (6 7/8 ounces) firmly packed light brown sugar

1/2 cup (4 ounces) granulated or natural cane sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 cup buttermilk (I always use 1 tablespoon white vinegar/lemon juice plus enough milk to equal 1 cup, left to rest for 5 minutes, then stirred well)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups (6 3/4 ounces) all-purpose flour

3/4 cup (2 5/8 ounces) Dutch cocoa powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/4 teaspoon salt

Powdered sugar, for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter and lightly flour a 9-inch pan (preferably springform if you have it), or a 9x5x3 loaf pan. If you like, line the pan with parchment, and butter/flour that as well for extra ease in removing the cake.

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl with an electric mixer, cream the butter until smooth. Add the sugars and beat until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the egg and beat well, then add the buttermilk and vanilla and mix to combine. Don’t worry if the batter looks uneven at this point.

Add the flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder and salt to the wet ingredients (I typically measure them by weight in a separate bowl, stir briefly, then add them). Stir together with a spatula until thoroughly combined, being careful not to over mix.

Pour the batter in the prepared pan and smooth the top with an offset spatula. Bake for 60 to 70 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 to 15 minutes, then remove from the pan if you like.

Dust the top of the cake with powdered sugar and serve with whipped cream, if desired.

In All Its Fullness | Tuscan Olive Oil Cake

In All Its Fullness | Tuscan Olive Oil Cake

Tuscan Olive Oil Cake | Delightful CrumbHopefully this finds you surrounded by loved ones, reveling in the season, belly full of cookies. I wanted to get this Christmas greeting out before the day itself, but we’ve been busy, and I imagine I’m not the only one. Thankfully, I’ve never minded stretching out the season.

This, of course, is because I love Christmas. I mean, I really, really love Christmas. I am a sucker for twinkly lights and gift giving, for traditions and holiday treats, for sparkling wine and parties large and small. I love picking out the tree, listening to Christmas music, pulling out the holiday decorations from where they’ve been perched in the closet, re-watching movies, carefully wrapping presents, rehearsing old traditions, making new ones. This to say, I’m all in with Christmastime.

I realize, however, that some people don’t love Christmas, for a whole host of reasons, and this less cheery sentiment is often shamed—but it shouldn’t be. We’re living life, after all, which is amazing and awful and everything in between. Earlier this month, a friend’s father passed away unexpectedly. Another friend’s newborn baby spent two trying weeks in the hospital—I read an email update from her while en route to a fancy holiday party and wondered at the disparity. We were gathering to celebrate while people died in Aleppo. We are living and dying and laughing and weeping, all at once, all the time.

And if you ask me, Christmas isn’t about ignoring this complexity. I have no interest in closing my eyes to the pain of the world just because I’ve been swept up in festivities, nor do I think this brokenness means we can’t celebrate what’s good. In fact, just the opposite: we need to celebrate, because the shocking, glorious thing is that there is light pushing through the darkness, goodness along with the pain. And if we examine the story that kicked off this whole celebration, it’s quite clear that there was nothing easy or rosy about it. came to give life, Jesus said later on, life in all its fullness. What I think he’s getting at here is that he came so we could have the fullest experience of the world—that we could love far beyond our imagined capacity, that we could actually feel our own heartache and even that of others, that we could really, truly live.

So that’s what I wish for you this holiday season, as we ease on into a new year, mustering up all of the hope and courage we’ve got: that you might live life in all its fullness, with great joy about the good stuff, sorrow and mourning in times of sadness, righteous anger when it’s needed, a soul full of feeling.

I also wish you cake. This isn’t technically a holiday recipe, but it’s pretty dang appropriate for the season. It’s made with olive oil and full of whole oranges, rosemary, wine-soaked raisins and pine nuts, with a snowy layer of powdered sugar atop. It’s fragrant and not too sweet, with a woodsy note from the rosemary. The topping is pleasantly crumbly and crisp, but the cake itself isn’t a bit dry, with a lovely crumb. I hope you’ll make it sometime soon to ring in the new year.

Tuscan Olive Oil Cake | Delightful Crumb Tuscan Olive Oil Cake | Delightful Crumb

Olive Oil Cake with Oranges, Rosemary & Boozy Raisins

Adapted from Nancy Silverton and Carolynn Carreño’s Mozza at Home, via Food52

This recipe is from Dario Cecchini, butcher and restauranteur in Panzano, in Tuscany, by way of the fantastic Nancy Silverton. The original recipe calls for vin santo, but I used a dessert wine similar to the French Sauternes, and it worked perfectly. I think bourbon or rum would work as well, though with an obvious impact on flavor.

Also, a quick note on the oranges. While it may seem out of the ordinary to include whole oranges, they soften up while baking and taste delicious. I make an extra effort to use organic citrus when using the zest or peels.

1/2 cup plump raisins (about 5 ounces)

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweet dessert wine (see note)

1/3 cup pine nuts

Butter or olive oil for the pan

1 1/2 navel oranges, unpeeled and halved through the stems, seeds discarded

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons Italian leavening (like Benchmate or Paneangeli) or 1 teaspoon baking soda plus 1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons cane sugar

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 3/4 cups pastry or all-purpose flour, plus additional for the pan

Rosemary tufts pulled from 2 long sprigs of fresh rosemary

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

In a small saucepan over high heat, bring the raisins and wine to a simmer. Turn off the heat and set the raisins aside to absorb the wine for at least 30 minutes, up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Spread the pine nuts on a baking sheet and toast them in the oven while it is heating, until they are fragrant and golden brown. Check on them every few minutes, shaking and turning the pan. They will be toasted in about 6 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and set them aside to cool to room temperature.

Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees. Grease a 10-inch bundt or angel food pan with butter or olive oil. Dust it lightly with flour.

Lay the orange halves on a cutting board, flat sides down. Cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices, including the peels. Cut the slices into 1/4-inch-thick cubes.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (you can also use a hand mixer), combine the eggs, leavening, and 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons of the sugar on medium-high speed. Mix until the batter thickens, about 3 or 4 minutes. Continue mixing while pouring the olive oil into the bowl in a slow, steady stream. Mix until the batter is combined. Reduce the mixer speed to low. Add one-third of the flour, and mix until it is no longer visible. Add one-third of the raisins, mixing just to incorporate. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat two more times, stopping again to scrape down the bowl, until all of the flour and raisins have been incorporated. If there’s a little extra wine that hasn’t been soaked up by the raisins, feel free to add that, too.

Turn off the mixer, and remove the bowl from the stand. Gently fold in the chopped oranges. Set aside the batter to rest for 10 minutes.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Scatter the pine nuts on top, then sprinkle the cake with the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar. Stick the tufts of the rosemary into the batter.

Bake the cake for 10 minutes. Rotate it, then lower the oven temperature to 325 degrees and continue baking for another 30 to 35 minutes. Rotate the cake once more during the second baking time. The cake is done when it is golden and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the cake from the oven, and let it cool to room temperature.

To serve, put a large plate over the top of the pan and flip the cake onto the plate. Invert the cake again onto a large serving platter or cake stand, so that the sugar, pine nuts and rosemary are on top. Use a fine-mesh strainer to dust the top of the cake with the confectioners’ sugar.

Tuscan Olive Oil Cake | Delightful Crumb