When my husband and I hooked up as uni students living in the same share house on Lygon Street in North Carlton in the early-mid noughties (you can just hear the phrase reverberating – ahh, those were the days…) we combined our then modest cook book collections. Apart from my double bass and his mac computer, which I sold a year later on ebay to buy a pram (the computer, that is, not the bass – that’s still cluttering up the living room), the books were our only real possessions. My husband had a cook book by Stefano de Pieri, Modern Italian Food, and it quickly became a favourite of mine. Nearly ten years later, it still is.
The book is divided up into chapters featuring different classic ingredients in the Italian repertoire – salt, olive oil, wheat, polenta and rice, vegetables, fish, poultry and meat, Italian cheese, Italian wine and preserves. This is the book that introduced me to the beautiful, flaked pink Murray River Salt, and to making my own fresh pasta and gnocchi. This is the book I used when I started my very first forays into bread making with soft white dinner rolls and rosemary focaccia. My husband has made delicious baccala mantecato (creamed cod) using this book.
In the wheat section, aside from the recipes for bread, pasta and gnocchi, there is a wonderful recipe for a lemon cake. Stefano writes that the recipe came from his mother-in-law, who bakes it for family get-togethers. When I asked my daughter what cake she felt like for afternoon tea, she said ‘lemon cake’ without any hesitation. As we were making the cake for an afternoon tea with extended family, I thought it a very appropriate choice.
Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease a 23cm springform cake tin and line the base with baking paper.
Beat the butter, sugar and zest until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, gradually, beating until well combined. Add the flours, alternating with the milk. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin and bake for 40 minutes until the top is golden and a skewer tests clean.
Mix the lemon juice and sugar together and pour over the cake wile still hot. You might need to do this in a couple of stages. Let is rest for some time in the tin and turn out to cool on a wire rack.
It is rather a plain looking cake – but there is nothing plain about how it tastes. It is light, moist and intensely lemony, thanks to the lemon syrup that soaks its way through the crumb.