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.
I first tasted this cake when my old landlord, Rebekah, met me at The Village Bakery for lunch. (That’s a very L.A. thing: staying friends with your old landlord.) After we finished our sandwiches–I’m partial to their chicken salad sandwich, which is made with yogurt instead of mayo–she said, “Tell me you’ve had their berry ricotta cake.” “Actually, no, I haven’t.” “Oh my God, we have to get a piece. You’re going to DIE.”
Sometimes people exaggerate when they enthuse about cake, but she wasn’t kidding. This cake magically combines the fluffiness of a traditional yellow cake with the richness of a cheesecake and the coarseness of a corn muffin due to the surprising addition of cornmeal.
The process of making it couldn’t be simpler. You beat butter with sugar and salt; add canola oil, eggs, vanilla, and honey; sift in flour, cornmeal, baking powder and baking soda; and then, at the end, mix in ricotta and sour cream. Now the ricotta you’re supposed to drain overnight, which I did…
…but the ricotta I used wasn’t particularly wet, and hardly released any water, so next time I’ll skip that step. (It really depends on your ricotta.) Once you mix in the dairy, you pour half the batter into a buttered pan and dot with berries of your choice. (Barbara says you can even use stone fruit).
Then top with the rest of the batter and the rest of the berries.
Into a 350 oven it goes and 50 minutes later, out it comes looking golden and beautiful.
Dust with powdered sugar:
And then pack it up to take to Easter brunch. (Well, that’s what I did.) Once you cut in, people won’t be able to resist it.
If you’re ever in L.A., come to the Village Bakery and order yourself a slice. Chances are you’ll see Craig drinking his latte or me working on my play while eating their granola bar (it’s so good) and drinking coffee from a mug. If you’re not coming to L.A. anytime soon, gather up the ingredients and treat yourself to a perfect cake for spring and summer. Then thank Barbara in your mind before digging in; she’s pretty much the best neighbor of all time.
Recipe: The Village Bakery’s Berry Ricotta Cake
Summary: Adapted from Barbara Monderine of The Village Bakery in L.A.
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter (at room temperature)
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoons vanilla
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 3/4 cup + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup + 1 tablespoon cornmeal
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 cup drained ricotta (drained overnight in a sieve lined with cheesecloth; may not be necessary if ricotta isn’t at all wet)
- 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon sour cream
- Raspberries, blueberries, blackberries or sliced stone fruit
- Preheat the oven to 350 F.
- In a Kitchenaid mixer, beat the butter, sugar and salt with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.
- Whisk together the canola oil, eggs, vanilla and honey and then add them to the mixer; mixing just until the eggs are well incorporated.
- Sift together the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and baking soda and add to the mixer. Mix until just combined.
- Lastly, add the ricotta and sour cream and mix until evenly distributed. “BE CAREFUL NOT TO OVER BEAT!”
- Spread 1/2 of the batter into a buttered and floured springform pan. Top with half the berries. Pour the remaining batter over the berries, smooth, and top with the rest of the fruit.
- Bake for approximately 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
Preparation time: 20 minute(s)
Cooking time: 50 minute(s)
Number of servings (yield): 12