You’ve heard of one-pot meals, but have you heard of one-cake desserts? That’s not a thing, but it should be. Here’s the idea: instead of an elaborate cake that you have to frost or decorate or slice in half, a one-cake dessert is one where a batter goes into a cake pan, the pan goes into the oven, and whatever comes out an hour later is what you serve for dessert (sprinkled, perhaps, with powdered sugar). In my years of dinner party-throwing, I’ve been a big champion of one-cake desserts: Al Di La’s pear and chocolate cake, for example. Or my favorite dinner party dessert of all time: Amanda Hesser’s almond cake. Now a new cake comes along to join the pantheon; this raspberry ricotta cake from last month’s Bon Appetit.
So once you have your homemade ricotta, the next question is: what to do with it?
Me, I decided to be ultra-spontaneous. Well mostly spontaneous. On Saturday, I bought a nice loaf of bread, made the ricotta, left it overnight in the refrigerator to drain. Then, on Sunday, with dinner guests coming at 5:30, I opened up my CSA box in the morning to see what was in there. Whatever I found, I’d make up some kind of bruschetta. Lo and behold, I found…
Confession: I’ve made ricotta at home before and found the experience underwhelming. True, the process couldn’t be easier, but after dumping a gallon of milk into a pot, adding some lemon juice, turning up the heat, waiting for everything to separate, and straining out the solid stuff in a colander, I wound up with the tiniest bit of lumpy homemade cheese. “Eh,” I said as I ate the fruits of my labor with a spoon. “I’d rather just buy it from the store.”
Then I read Molly Wizenberg’s new book Delancey and found myself totally intrigued by her ricotta recipe. Yes, there’s almost a gallon of whole milk but, instead of lemon juice, you use buttermilk for the acid and then you also use cream. Most impressive of all: the recipe promises to yield ONE POUND of ricotta. That final bit seemed too good to be true so I knew that I had to make it this past weekend.
One of the very best things about where we live in Atwater Village is our proximity to The Village Bakery. If you live on the east side of Los Angeles, chances are you’ve been to this sunny, cheerful spot; it’s got blue and yellow umbrellas outside, a counter filled with treats on the inside, and the friendliest staff you’re likely to meet anywhere in L.A. Barbara Monderine, who owns and runs the place, is also our neighbor here in our little apartment complex right nearby and what a neighbor she is. When we first moved in, she gave us free cookies; on my birthday, she brought over a box of red velvet cupcakes. But the greatest gift of all came two weeks ago; working up my courage, I asked if she’d share the recipe for one of the bakery’s signature desserts: their berry ricotta cake. To my shock and delight, she said “sure” and went into the back to type it out for me, scaling down the proportions for the home cook. What follows is a recipe that’s about to enter your life in a serious way.
For years, I’ve wanted to make a ricotta cheesecake. One time, long ago, I did it in a coffee mug–I was going through a weird phase of my life, then–but that was it. I never actually made a real ricotta cheesecake.
Then, this weekend, I was supposed to bring a dessert to a dinner party. The original plan was to bring a chocolate dessert, but the day before I had a sudden change of heart. “Can I bring a ricotta cheesecake instead?” I asked the host. The host said, “Sure.” I was all set to make the one out of Gina DePalma’s Dolce Italiano (a wonderful book) until I told Gina DePalma my plan and she let me in on a little secret.
Have you ever eaten something so strange and beguiling you can’t quite wrap your head around it? But you keep eating it and eating it because it’s such a curious phenomenon and, eventually, you decide that you love it but you’re not sure why? That’s precisely what happened to me last week when I finally visited SQIRL headquarters down on Virgil after having enjoyed their jams over the past year and a half that I’ve lived in Los Angeles. The headquarters, which is actually a cafe, may be my new favorite secret lunch spot that’s not-so-secret because lots of people know about it.
We ate a wonderful dish at Franny’s a few weeks ago of sugar snap peas (my favorite springtime vegetable) served on a cloud of whipped ricotta resting in a sea of olive oil. It was such a beautiful dish–the bright greenness of the snap peas, the cooling creaminess of the ricotta–that not only did I serve it as an appetizer at the dinner I cooked for Lizzie and Tyla, but I also served it again two days later when I cooked a dinner for Diana’s birthday. And both times it was a big hit.
When you’ve been blogging for almost five years and many people read your blog, you start to receive things in the mail. Cookbooks, for example. I get many cookbooks in the mail, also general food books like books about oysters. I have a book about oysters on my shelf that I’ve never read.
Sometimes, though, you get sent something that excites you. And such was the case when I received a preview of Andrew Carmellini’s new cookbook, Urban Italian.