As five of us celebrated a quiet Thanksgiving down here in Virginia, the rest of my family journeyed north to Vermont to the shores of Lake Champlain for a wild gathering with my aunt and uncle. Upon returning, my mother gave me the full report: Of course, the turkey, which she had prepared, was over-cooked, gross and inedible but roasted Jerusalem artichokes saved the occasion as well as an orange-and-ricotta pound cake that her sister prepared twice during their five-day visit.
I had to make the cake immediately. My mother was right. Flavored with orange zest and orange (or almond) liqueur, this incredibly tasty and moist — thanks to a generous amount of ricotta cheese — pound cake is the perfect treat, a particularly nice afternoon snack with a cup of tea, to have on hand this time of year. It would make a lovely gift as well.
Notes: The first time I made this, I used a standard-sized loaf pan. For whatever reason, the batter rose way above the top of the pan and spilled all over my oven. Now, I should have known better — the batter filled the pan almost to the top edge. If you are baking this in a standard-sized loaf pan, I would recommend not filling it higher than 3/4 or even halfway to be safe. I had no trouble with the mini loaves and they were filled about halfway up (maybe a little more) with batter. Also, when I used the big loaf pan, I did have trouble removing the loaf from the pan without it splitting a little bit. So, with the mini pans, I let it cool almost completely in the pans before removing, and they popped right out. Finally, I should note that my aunt had no trouble with spillage so if you have a large enough large pan, you will not have the troubles I had.
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the baking pan
1 1/2 cups cake flour (I used all-purpose)
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups whole-milk ricotta cheese
1 1/2 cups plus 1 table spoon granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 orange, zested (I used two clementines)
2 tablespoons amaretto (I used Cointreau bc I didn’t have amaretto)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Grease a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan with butter (grease it very well). In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Stir to blend.
2. Using a mixer, cream the butter, ricotta and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. With the machine running, add the eggs 1 at a time. Add the vanilla, zest and alcohol until combined. Add the dry ingredients, a small amount at a time, until just incorporated.
3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick comes out clean and the cake pulls away from the sides of the pan, 45 to 50 minutes (about 35 minutes for mini pans). Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool completely. (For the mini loaves, I let them cool completely in their pans, which I think may have helped them stay intact during their removal, but I can’t say for sure. In the large loaf pan, such a long cool time in the pan might affect the texture.)
I wrapped the loaves in parchment paper, which is a pain as far as fastening goes — nothing sticks to it. I used a little needle and thread to secure the ends before folding and wrapping it in baker’s twine.
1. Anything from Fish’s Eddy.
This past August, my sister and I met met up in NYC for one night to spend some quality time together before her baby arrived. After devouring prosciutto-stuffed croissants at Eataly, we started wandering and discovered Fish’s Eddy along the way. Had we not had a show to get to, we would have spent the whole day there. It is SO much fun. Anything from this store would make a wonderful gift. I fell in love with this wood pig bowl.
2. A selection of oils and/or vinegars from the Temecula Olive Oil Company.
It has been awhile since I’ve mentioned the Temecula Olive Oil Company, one of my favorite spots to visit when we lived in southern CA. Every single bottle of olive oil and vinegar that TOOC produces is as good as gold, but if I had to pick my favorite four, these would be it:
3. Pasta from Po Valley Foods.
For those of you without direct access to Eataly, don’t despair: Po Valley Foods sells Afeltra pasta online. The Afeltra pasta, of course, is a treat but so are many of the other varieties, in particular the La Campofilone and the Moro Buckwheat.
4. Homemade granola with a recipe card.
I saw this packaging idea in a Better Homes and Gardens Food Gifts issue that I picked up at Michael’s last week. It’s so easy to put together and it looks really cute. Also, the same packaging can be used for countless baked goods — biscotti, cookies, cookie mix, hot cocoa mix, muffin mix, Chex party mix, etc. BH&G used it for a fruit and nut oatmeal mix.
As recommended, I used kraft paper, which I purchased at Michael’s, and set up my file to print four cards per page. I have a rounded corner puncher, so I used that on the corners after I trimmed them up.
I have a couple more thoughts: It’s especially nice if the paper is thick. I ended up spray mounting a piece of kraft paper to a thicker piece of paper before printing, so that when I cut the cards and tied them to the jars, they didn’t look so flimsy. I did not adhere the recipe card to the jar as BH&G recommends — I just secured it with the baker’s twine. I am thinking it might be fun to glue a magnet to the back of the recipe card so that the recipient can stick the recipe card to his/her fridge.
I also picked up a sheet of self-adhesive cork, and I’m thinking about trying to print directly on it, but I’m also scared about ruining my printer. I’ll keep you posted.
Also, if you cut a circle from your kraft paper to cover the top of the jar, you could use the space to write a note or adhere a cute holiday bell or wreath or candle or something.
5. Julia Child notecards and/or holiday cards.
6. Homemade vanilla extract.
Remember that vanilla you started steeping back in July? Well, it’s time to bottle it up and wrap it in ribbon.
7. Lake Champlain Fair Trade cocoas.
8. Chef’s Electrolytic Cleaning Plate plus a box of washing soda.
This isn’t very exciting, but if you hate polishing silver so much that any silver you own stays hidden for nobody to enjoy, this is something you should try. It is really kind of magical. This is what you do: fill up your sink with the hottest water you are able to get out of the tap; add washing soda; add electrolytic plate; add silver, making sure the silver touches the plate; rinse; dry; inspect; repeat if necessary.
This book kept me up till the wee hours of the morning. It is nearly impossible to put down once you start. Gabrielle Hamilton’s story is as incredible as her writing. There are so many memorable anecdotes that I want to share — that I’ve wanted to share since I read the book this summer — but I don’t want to spoil anything. It’s such a great read.
10. The above-pictured orange-ricotta Loaf or any homemade goodie.
Nothing here catching your eye? I have a pinboard dedicated to homemade food-related gifts (and non-homemade food gifts) but if you don’t see anything there either, just move on to the wonderful world of Pinterest…surely you will find something there.