My husband really loves raisins in his sweets – so much so that we have had a running joke for over 30 years that whenever I ask him how he likes a dessert I have just made, he says the only thing that could make it better would be if I added some raisins. So, I thought I would finally surprise him with a cake where raisins are the star, instead of a grace note to the apples that they are generally paired with. I looked through many recipes but none seemed quite right, and then I came across this unpretentious cake by the noted cookbook author and journalist, Carol Field. It’s simple and delicious with raisins spiked with rum or Marsala and toasted walnuts. Try some with your morning or afternoon coffee or after dinner, accompanied by a glass of dessert wine. And a bonus is that this makes the house smell AMAZING!
Italian Walnut and Raisin Coffee Cake by Carol Field, Italy in Small Bites, Harper Collins, 2004
Yield: One 10-inch tube cake
1/2 cup raisins
6 tablespoons Marsala or rum
10 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
1/3 cup milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups plus 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon walnuts or blanched almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado or demerara sugar
1. Soak the raisins in the Marsala or rum for 30 minutes. Drain, reserving the liquid. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C).
2. Cream the butter and sugar together well. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, incorporating each one well before adding the next. (I used a standing mixer, but you could do this by hand if you prefer.)
2a. Mix together the milk, reserved Marsala or rum, and vanilla.
3. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking powder. If using a standing mixer, on low speed beat the milk mixture into the butter mixture in three additions alternating with the dry ingredients. If doing by hand, use a rubber spatula to accomplish the same thing.
4. Beat the egg whites to stiff peaks. With the rubber spatula, stir one quarter of them into the batter to lighten it, then fold in the nuts and raisins. Once these have been incorporated, fold in the remaining egg whites with the spatula just until there are no more white streaks.
5. Turn the batter into a buttered and lightly floured 10-inch, straight-sided tube pan, sprinkle the top with the turbinado or demerara sugar, and bake for about 45 minutes, until the top is golden and a tester comes out clean. (This is what I used.)
6. If you prefer to use a 9- X 5-inch loaf pan, bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes. Cool the cake in the pan for 5 to 10 minutes, then invert onto a rack, and cool to room temperature. This is even better the next day after the flavors have a chance to really permeate the cake.
Ciambella al Anice: Use 1 tablespoon anise seeds instead of the raisins and nuts. Substitute Sambuca for the Marsala or rum, or omit it altogether and increase the milk to 1/2 cup.