September 28, 2014

No such thing as perfect

A few weeks ago, I wrote about this little ricotta cake—it was stout and petite and rather heavy with cheese. Immediately after making it, possibly even the next day, I made another ricotta cake (see above). I told people that night at dinner, slightly embarrassed, cake in tow, “I’m trying to find the perfect ricotta cake recipe.” My friend Josh—who spent a year baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies every morning (and I mean, every morning) in search of the perfect recipe—wisely said something to the effect of: “Quit while you’re ahead. There’s no such thing as perfect.” 

So, shall I call myself an expert after two tries, and declare this version the shining victor? 

Is that a giant cop-out? 

Does it matter? 
Not really. 

Whether or not I keep going, you still get this recipe, all nestled with Italian prune plums—those dusty, almond-shaped, little specimens, the color of a bruise, that you can only find for a couple weeks in early Autumn. You get those airy, glistening-with-olive-oil pockets of cake as your fork spears the powdered-sugar surface. You get mouthfuls infused with orange zest, the baked plums like spoonfuls of jam. You get all of this—so many things!—and I only had to give it two goes. 

There is the even more dire imperative of needing to get this recipe into your hands before prune plums disappear from the markets. I recommend buying these plums by the bushel. I guarantee you will always find something to do with them. They bake incredibly well, making easy stove-top jam in no time, reducing quickly to an earthy-sweet compote for pork, or eating out of hand, cold and beaded with condensation from the refrigerator. They are so small and tear-drop shaped that you usually want to eat more than one in a sitting. They are a perfectly simple dessert, all on their own.  

We used to buy these plums from a roadside stand in the summertime in upstate New York from a farmer, was his name Walt?, who had a disfigured tongue from a sledding accident. He had a permanent lisp as a result. I think his shining moment was showing the kids who passed by his stand his deformity and gauging reactions. I had never before encountered a tongue injury… but I wasn’t from the country, and there wasn’t much sledding in New York City.

But enough with tongue injuries. 

You know what would be great for your tongue? 
Eating this cake. 

You’ll have to make it first, of course. But you only need a couple of hours for that. I dare say you could even drop figs into this batter, if you wanted to shake things up a bit. 

Speaking of which, I’ll be back soon with more fig recipes. For now, happy Sunday, folks. 

Ricotta Cake with Italian Prune Plums
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen via Food52

Butter for cake pan
1 cup fresh ricotta, such as Bellweather or Belfiore
1/3 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon orange zest (organic, since you are using the rind)
1 cup (scant) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
8 Italian prune plums, or other small plums
Confectioner's sugar (for dusting)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan, line with parchment, and butter the parchment. Halve the plums, remove the pits, and set the halved plums aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the ricotta, olive oil, orange zest, and granulated sugar. Whisk in the eggs, one at a time. Sift the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt into the bowl with the ricotta, oil, and eggs. Fold wet and dry ingredients together gently until just combined.

Pour batter into cake pan. Smooth the surface lightly with a wooden spoon. Place the plum halves, cut side down, onto the batter.

Bake for 40–45 minutes, or until the cake is golden brown, and a toothpick inserting into the center (avoiding the fruit) comes out clean.

Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then remove the cake from the pan, using the parchment to pull it out gently, and finish cooling completely on a wire rack.

Dust with confectioner's sugar (by placing a couple tablespoons of confectioner's sugar into a sifter, and tapping it against your palm over the cake) right before serving.


  1. Thank you! A friend (who is searching for the perfect olive oil cake) sent me this recipe and I was wondering how it would compare to Louisa's cake. I can't wait to try it now.

    Please tell us more about the (fingers crossed they are still at the market this week) prune plums with pork.

  2. oh i can HEAR josh! i love it

  3. Thanks, Noelle! Please let me know what you think when you make it!

  4. My assertion is that "perfection" is not only personal notion but also tethered to time and memory in a way that makes it impossible. That does not mean it should not be strived for. Sometimes gives us magic moments that don't cleanly abide by our logic, that are not able to be formulated or engineered. They are beyond our expectations and are the benchmarks of a life well lived. so although I argue fore a more realistic notion of perfect, I think everybody should be playing the odds, in that the more often they try the more opportunities there are for something beyond our conception to happen.

  5. And this is why we love you, Josh. Don't worry, I haven't give up ;)