Baking Days: In Honor of My Italian Grandmother

The last time I stayed with my relatives, I went through my aunt’s recipe folder. Among the newspaper and magazine clippings were her own handwritten recipes, or those from other family members. Two in particular caught my eye: Cream Cake and Italian Cheesecake, both in my grandmother’s faded handwriting. They had to be from the ’40s or ’50s. The Italian Cheesecake even called for “pot cheese,” an old term for ricotta.

My father’s mother passed away in 2011. I’ve never tasted¬†any of the famous cakes she made for special occasions, since she stopped making them before I was born. My mother still waxes nostalgic about Grandma Millie’s Orange Chiffon Cake. I wanted to start with that because my mom loves it so much, but since my aunt hasn’t found the recipe for it yet, I decided to try the Cream Cake first.

Fair warning, I’m not including my grandmother’s recipes here. I doubt they’re secret, and it’s not like my blog is so popular, but I feel funny sharing them in the hopes of getting a few clicks. I’ll just say that the ingredient list for Cream Cake is surprisingly simple: eggs, sugar, salt, flour, baking powder, heavy cream and vanilla.

I worried so much about making this cake. Aside from sentimental value, it’s traditionally baked in a Bundt pan. We all know the horror stories about Bundt pans, right? Cakes sticking, refusing to emerge until you finally have to chip it into pieces and make a trifle or something. I’d received one in my Christmas bag of goodies but viewed it as my baking final exam, something to put off until I’d tackled everything else.

But I wanted to make this Cream Cake. I reasoned I wasn’t making this for anyone else, just an everyday treat for my immediate family, so it didn’t matter if I messed up.

I still greased and floured the hell out of that Bundt pan. I think I used a whole tablespoon of butter.

One unique element about this cake is what I call the “Ugly Duckling” batter. At first I worried I messed up, because the eggs and sugar mixture looked like it separated as soon as I stopped mixing. Even when I added the flour it seemed odd. But when I folded in the whipped cream everything came together. The batter took on this gorgeous smooth, fluffy texture and golden brown color. I should’ve taken a picture but I was so relieved I just poured it into the pan.

After a good amount of fretting while the cake baked in the oven, I took it out and flipped it onto a cooling rack. The moment of truth:


And it’s good! It even tasted good! The crunchy top, mushy underside and fluffy cake all work together. The recipe’s classic and retro but also delicious. I might start making it for birthdays just like my grandma did.

While we’re on the subject of Italian recipes, here’s the tiramisu I made with my mom since we had Mascarpone cheese. For this we just used the recipe on the package of ladyfingers. We agreed that it needs more flavor (I didn’t want to flambe the rum, another cooking technique I’d rather put off) and the bottom layer had too much coffee. It’s tasty with fresh whipped cream though. We’ll ¬†make some adjustments whenever we try again.