|Limoncello Buttermilk Mini Bundt Cakes |
with Limoncello Glaze and Whipped Cream
Though lemons are grown year-round with a peak harvest in the winter months, we often begin to anticipate the warmer weather here in Canada with these vibrant, yellow citrus fruits. With the arrival of Spring our spirits are renewed and our thoughts turn to warmer climates and sun drenched vistas. In Italy, limoni are everywhere from hand-painted ceramics to lemons at the fruit stands the size of grapefruits. They are a world renowned symbol of the coast where they are as popular and widely used as simple spices like salt and pepper. Just like in my own kitchen.
|The magic of the peninsula|
Today our journey begins here on the winding coastal roads to the west of Sorrento sweeping along hilly slopes lined with olive and lemon groves at the urging of Amanda Murray and Marco Predieri on what was to be one of the highlights of my trip. After our journey to Gragnano and its pasta factories we headed back towards the coast and a fairytale landscape dotted with over 30 tiny hamlets clinging to their charming heritage in the area of Massa Lubrense. Zig zagging our way up past towering rocky bluffs and plunging gorges, the beautiful combination of the mountains mesmerized us where the land meets the crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Naples. Enchanting fishing villages seduced us from their protected harbours. Driving on the roads of Massa Lubrense, we spotted terraces of lemon and orange groves climbing high up the steep cliffs. They are protected from winter winds by an elaborate armour of chestnut tree scaffolding and trellis systems. It is quite the experience to spot the bright citrus fruits caught somewhere between the majestic mountains and the cerulean blue sea. Many visitors to the area pass through this beautiful stretch of cape and head straight for the more infamous Amalfi Coast without ever experiencing the spectacular views of the gulf sparkling in the afternoon sun and the network of trails that wind through the fragrant lemon and citrus groves.
The people who have lived here over the centuries, have benefited from the fruits of the sea and land, as well as the crops and livestock of the Lattari Mountains. Typical products of this area include Mozzarella di Agerola, Fior di Latte (whole cow’s milk cheese), Provolone del Monaco, extra virgin olive oil, limoncello, Sorrento tomatoes and walnuts. When I visited last fall I was lucky enough to wander through lemon and olive groves, make my own pizza, witness cheese being hand-made, and taste limoncello and olive oil through the generosity of some very engaging local families in Massa Lubrense. The protagonist of this performance is the enchanting village of Schiazzano on the outskirts of the town of Sorrento where the Gargiulo, Gregorio and Esposito families and friends invited us to experience their extraordinary food and wine through their tour "Schiazzano and Traditions." It was not only an opportunity to spend some time with locals who have a passion for the land they have cultivated for generations but to catch a glimpse into their culture and traditions. The bonus was to taste some of the quality products and ingredients indigenous to the area.
|Ancient Olive Tree with Eugenio Gargiulo|
There was so much packed into one afternoon that I will highlight each experience separately and honour each person with a recipe of my own. Today we are warmly welcomed by the Gargiulo family at their farm "La Masseria" whose ancestors cultivated the land in 1898. With Ferdinando and his son Eugenio I had the opportunity to stroll along the terraced fields and paths of the farm which were draped in netting to catch the falling olives, listening to their stories and gaining an insight into their production and time honoured traditions. The mild climate, the green of the chestnut woods and the intoxicating perfume of the lemons beckoned us to taste and savour the fruits of their labour. The farm covers approximately 2 hectares consisting of olive and Femminiello lemon groves dotted with orange, tangerine, grapefruit, walnuts, kiwi, apricot, cherries, plums, medlars, peaches, pears and persimmons.
“Never throw away squeezed lemon, but keep them for the day by the sink.
Then you can use them to remove fish,
onion or garlic smells from your fingers.
Or you can stick them on your elbows while you are reading a book,
to soften and whiten your skin.”
Jennifer Paterson, Two Fat Ladies Obsessions
After a pleasant walk through the groves we returned to their home and sampled sliced lemons so sweet they could be eaten picked straight from the trees and freshly squeezed lemonade made by Eugenio's mother Maria Cacace under a shady pergola. We visited the area where they press olive oil and sampled several different types from their straw coloured signature oil with greenish reflections to oils flavoured with lemon and citrus. Topping it all off was an ice chilled limoncello made with their IGP lemons. If only I had more room in my suitcase!!! It was a wonderful experience that I would highly recommend with more to come in upcoming posts. The beauty of the land, the flavour of the food, and the spirit of the people who were welcoming us created a timeless and unique opportunity to break from the tourist trail. With fresh air and good food, on this tour I was fortunate to share an interesting cross-cultural experience where locals cling precariously to their traditional ways so that generations to come can still be fascinated by the art of preserving their unique products that are typical to the region. For an afternoon I shared what they love in the hopes that these traditions will never be forgotten.
|Femminiello Massese or "Oval of Sorrento...notice the thin edible skin|
A lemons tart, citrusy flavour is celebrated in both sweet and savoury dishes throughout the seasons around the world. They bring a tangy flavour and tart fragrance to our cuisine, where its cheery, refreshing presence dresses leafy salads and serves as a light marinade to Spring and summer pasta dishes. They are used in marinades to tenderize meats, and are my favourite ingredient in seafood dishes where their acidic juices neutralize the undesirable “fishiness.” Lemon is also one of the most popular sweet flavours in Italy right alongside almond, hazelnut and chocolate. Its tart, citrusy flavour is celebrated and featured in everything from biscotti, cakes and gelato to the nationally recognized beverage, Limoncello (an Italian, lemon-flavoured liquor produced in Southern Italy).
|Ripe for the picking even in late October and November|
The lemons I tasted were the "Femminiello Massese" or better known as "Oval of Sorrento" which was introduced to Massa Lubrense in the 1600's. The Sorrento Lemon is a government-recognized product whose name is protected by its place of origin. It is grown year-round on the Sorrento Peninsula and all over the island of Capri, allowing lemons to easily be the most famous fruit in Italy. Eugenio says, "Seventy percent of the lemon production of the Sorrento Peninsula comes from Massa Lubrense and we have exclusively this variety due to the fact that we have the IGP European trade mark and it is safeguarded."
Their skin is of a medium thickness and is very fragrant due to the rich presence of essential oils, and yellow citrine. The "Oval Sorrento" is a cultivar that can flourish 3-4 times a year. If weather conditions are favourable, the cultivar blooms until early November. This type of lemon has a great quality called reflorescence, meaning that it bears fruit several times a year and produces fruits with varying characteristics. The first flowering, in March, yields a very juicy lemon known commercially as "Marzano," in the late autumn and winter. The main flowering takes place from mid-April to mid-May and yields "winter fruit" from the end of September-October to March known as "primofiore". From the end of May to early June a third flowering produces lemons that often grow in clusters, called "maialini" or "biancucci" because of their pale yellow colour. The July-August flowering yields "verdelli" lemons that ripen in summer. If the autumn season is mild the plant flowers a fifth time and yields "bastardi" or "codoni".
"With eternal flowers the fruit lasts eternally;
And while one sprouts, the other ripens."
|"Pagliarelle" made of chestnut and canvas|
To protect the plants from the salty or northern winds, arbours were devised, with chestnut poles supporting "Pagliarelle" made of straw matting in the shape of a cabin known as "Cogne."With this system, the farmers achieve the double aim of protecting the plants from bad weather and delaying the harvest, since the "Pagliarelle" reduce the intensity of the light and heat, thus slowing down the maturation of the fruit. The straw mats have been replaced by modern tarping but the purpose is the same.
Around the 10th of July the "Festival of Lemons" is held every year in Piazza Vescovado in Massa Lubrense. The aim of the festival is, "To celebrate the smell, taste and the manner in which the lemon is cultivated and consumed according to the secrets passed down for centuries from generation to generation." The products, typically based on the lemon, flow freely. Citrus honey, lemon cream gelato, lemon crushed ice, delizie (lemon delicious), mousse, baba` al limone (traditional cake soaked in a lemon liqueur) and limoncello are available from the locals. The festival ends at midnight with a hot lemon cornetti (croissant type pastry) for everyone.
A lunch or dinner on the coast quite often ends with a bottle of Limoncello, the typical local liqueur. The "femminiello" lemon is characterized by a very clear peel and has very few seeds inside. These lemons, prized for their brilliant yellow rinds, intense fragrance, juicy flesh and balanced acid, are considered the finest lemons for limoncello and produce a particularly pleasant flavour. The unique nature of this fruit depends on the microclimate, the proximity of the sea and protection from the cold winds thanks to the use of traditional pagliarelle mentioned previously. Limoncello has its roots in Southern Italy, primarily along Italy's Amalfi Coast and Sorrentine Peninsula, which are known for their meticulous lemon cultivation. With no disrespect to any of the other fine limoncello's I tried throughout the country the limoncello made by the family at "La Masseria" was the best I had the opportunity to try. And I tried many!! I do not have their recipe, nor do I have their lemons which would make all the difference.Unlike many other liqueurs, limoncello is easy and inexpensive to produce, requiring only sugar, water, lemon zest, alcohol, and time to mature. Homemade limoncello often has a stronger, more pronounced lemon flavour than brands sold in stores. It is traditionally served chilled as an after dinner digestivo and straight from the freezer it is "the elixir of the gods." In a word, a few degrees transforms this lemon liqueur into something extraordinary. The sweetness is swathed by the cold that heightens its typical, and unique, citrus flavour.
When and how do you drink it? The ideal combination is with a Neapolitan pastry, often flavoured with lemon or filled with lemon custard or as a digestive after a meal. But a tiny sip on a boat between meals has never done anyone any harm! But don't just drink it. Eat it!! Limoncello can be a wonderful ingredient in cooking and baking.
With a zest-filled cake, a lemony soak and a tart glaze, this cake celebrates all things lemon. I wanted to honour the family for their kindness and generosity by using their limoncello as well as highlight lemons in a dessert that would WOW my guests. These mini bundt cakes are in honour of Ferdinando Gargiulo and his wife Maria Cacace and their son Eugenio (who has been an invaluable source of information). Of course we cannot forget Lucio Esposito owner and chef of "Da Francesco" located in a beautiful eighteenth century building and Benedetto De Gregorio of "Il Turuziello" (whose production of the "provolone del monoco DOP" is the pride of the whole farm) whose hospitality during the tour will not go unrecognized in future posts. You can try these lemony bundt cakes "as is", with fresh berries or with whipped cream sweetened with a little icing sugar and more limoncello. Close your eyes, take a small bite and join me on this special journey through a stunningly beautiful area of the Sorrentine coast with a family that is passionate about their traditions. Just thinking about leisurely strolling through this sun drenched grove puts a permanent smile on my face,
**Limoncello Buttermilk Mini Bundt Cakes with Limoncello Syrup**
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus more for greasing, at room temperature
1 3/4 cups sugar
2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups buttermilk
1 tablespoon lemon zest
5 tablespoons lemon juice
4 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more as needed
For the soak
½ cup granulated sugar
½ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Generously grease and flour a (9-inch) Bundt pan or line 36 muffin tins or mini Bundt pans with paper liners.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter and sugar and beat on medium speed until the mixture is smooth and light in texture, about 5 minutes. While the butter is beating, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt, and set aside. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, lemon zest, and 4 tablespoons of the lemon juice and set aside.
Add the eggs to the butter-sugar mixture, one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition. In 3 additions, alternate adding the sifted dry ingredients and the wet ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture, stirring on low until just incorporated.
Pour the batter into the prepared Bundt pan or fill each muffin cup two-thirds full with batter. Bake until the center of cake springs back when touched and a skewer inserted near the center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 15 minutes. Bake cupcakes until they rise in a dome shape and spring back when lightly pressed with a fingertip, 16 to 20 minutes.
While cake is baking, make the soak: Combine 1/2 cup granulated sugar with 1/2 cup lemon juice in a measuring cup and stir until the sugar dissolves and makes a syrup.
When the cake is done, remove pan from oven and let cool for 20 minutes, then invert cake onto a rack and immediately invert it back into the baking pan (this insures the cake is loosened from the pan). Pour soak over the cake while it is still in the pan, allowing some to run down the outer edge of the cake. Allow the cake to cool completely, and then turn it onto a cake stand or cake plate.
4 tablespoons limoncello
3 tablespoons icing sugar
Make the glaze by warming the limoncello with the icing sugar until the icing sugar has melted. Serve the cake warm cut in slices with a drizzle of limoncello syrup.