I woke up to a white sky this morning and, while it will no doubt further complicate my travel plans above and beyond the usual pre-holiday Manhattan exodus traffic, I just love the first snow of the season. I trekked through the light storm, one that fluctuated between gentle flakes and stinging hail, to Adeena‘s place to pick up peanut butter brownies to support Sharsheret‘s annual Pies for Prevention sale. (Check out this post for a bit more about the pie sale, Adeena’s mom Steffi, and a recipe for pumpkin cranberry bread.)
I felt a little sheepish showing up in Adeena’s apartment where nearly every surface was covered with pumpkin or pecan or chocolate chip pie having just outed myself as a pie hater. But I brought a piece of cake as a peace offering.
The cake is an Italian olive oil cake strewn with shredded pumpkin (or in this case, kabocha squash) and studded with toasted cashews. I recently transferred from Union Square Cafe to Marta — the newest restaurant in our family and inspired by the uber-thin crust Roman pizza — and was editing our menu a few weeks ago when I noticed a new dolci item: torta di zucca. I snagged a slice, downed it a few bites, and started to plot a way to get the (parve!) recipe.
Plotting wasn’t really necessary as all I had to do was ask our head baker, Chef Pat Clark. We chatted for a bit in the prep kitchen while he stirred a huge pot of marmalade over a low flame, and then he emailed me the directions he wrote out for his team.
I spent a day tweaking the recipe, converting the gram measurements to cups, trying a few different winter squashes, testing different-sized pans, and tracking oven time like a hawk. By evening, I had reproduced the torta in my own kitchen.
The torta bakes up tall and proud. Due to its long time in the oven, the edges are thick and golden brown — a crust that pie wishes it had. The cake interior has a tight crumb punctuated by delicate squash ribbons and cashew nubbins. Its top is slick with a burst of citrus. Day two cake can stand on its own, but throw a slice in the toaster and smear it with a little butter or marmalade for a real breakfast treat. The freezer is kind to this cake, so, please, double the recipe. Or triple it.
Now, earlier this month after a particularly bad day, I was speaking to my aunt Leslie, the one who always hosts Thanksgiving. Sessie is a great listener and had some helpful advice and when I thanked her, she said, “call me any time. As Bubbie used to say, ‘open all hours.’”
As I walked home from Adeena’s today, ducking beneath the shelter of scaffolding wherever I could and ticking off a mental packing list, that refrain kept interrupting my thoughts. Open all hours.
So, as we approach Thanksgiving and we get together with people we love, people we like, people we like a little less, people who drive us crazy, people we’re crazy for, I consider myself blessed to have a handful of people in my life who are open all hours for me. They live in my neighborhood and downtown, have moved away or have been far away for years, reside in the US and out. Luckily, they understand when I only bring three-quarters of a cake to dinner.
Here are a few more stories of Thanksgivings past
2013: Cornbread apple stuffing
2012: Applesauce (with our without cranberries)
2011: Pumpkin cranberry bread
And now, the recipe.
Marta’s Torta di Zucca (Roasted Pumpkin and Cashew Olive Oil Cake)
Adapted from Marta’s Torta di Zucca by Chef Pat Clark.
I tested this cake with kobucha squash and butternut squash, and both worked well. A 1 ½ pound gourd has about 1 pound of usable squash which, shredded, yields 2 ¼ very tightly packed cups. Use what every squash you like, just make sure to watch carefully while it roasts so that it doesn’t burn. You can substitute any nut for the cashews – I think almonds or pecans would work nicely. While Clark’s original recipe called for hand-grating the squash, I used my food processor which yielded slightly thicker pieces of squash.
The bake time for this cake is quite long and will vary depending on your oven and the type of pan that you use. I used a 9-inch round springform pan with high sides and the total bake time was one hour and ten minutes. For the first 30 minutes or so, cover the pan with aluminum foil that you’ve poked holes in – this will allow the cake to bake without letting the top burn. The holes prevent the cake from steaming.
The cake will indeed soak up all of the lemon-orange glaze, just keep at it.
Serves 8 to 10
For the cake
– 1 ½ lb kobucha squash (or 1 lb pre-peeled and cut butternut squash)
– ¾ C cashews
– 2 ½ C all-purpose flour, plus extra for preparing the pan
– 1 t baking powder
– ½ t baking soda
– 1 ½ t kosher salt
– 3 large eggs
– 1 ¾ C white sugar
– 1 C less 1 T extra-virgin olive oil
– 2 t vanilla extract
For the citrus glaze
– ½ C orange juice
– ¼ C lemon juice
– ¼ C sugar
– ¾ C confectioner’s sugar
Preheat the oven to 425°F.
Grate. Cut the squash into quarters. Remove the stringy bits and seeds. Use a vegetable peeler to remove the outer layer of your squash. Grate the squash using the large holes on a box grater or a food processor.
Dry. Spread the grated squash out on a baking tray and flash in the oven for 8-10 minutes to remove excess moisture from the squash (a little color is okay, but don’t let the squash burn).
Toast. Turn the oven down to 350° F. Toast the cashews for about 5 minutes until just slightly browned. Allow the nuts to cool and then coarsely chop.
Spray and dust. Prepare a 9-inch springform pan with high sides by lightly spraying with oil. Dust the greased pan with flour, covering all surfaces and tapping out the excess flour.
Sift. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Mix. With a stand mixer on medium to medium-high, paddle together the eggs, sugar, olive oil, and vanilla until light and creamy. Turn off the mixer and scrape down the sides with a rubber spatula.
Mix, more gently this time. Add the dry ingredients all at once. Mix on low until just together. Use a rubber spatula and scrape down the mixing bowl again. Add the squash and toasted nuts all at once, mixing on low until just incorporated. Don’t overmix.
Bake. Poke a few holes in a piece of aluminum foil large enough to cover your cake. Lightly tent the top of the cake, leaving room so it won’t touch the surface of the cake as it rises. Place the pan on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 minutes. Remove foil tent, rotate cake, and bake for 35-45 more minutes. Toothpick test the dead center to make sure your cake is fully baked.
Whisk. While the cake is baking, whisk together the citrus glaze ingredients and leave on top of the stove to fully dissolve sugar. Whisk again prior to use.
Brush. Cool for 15-20 minutes and de-pan onto a cooling rack. Immediately use a pastry brush to coat the top and sides with glaze, making sure to use all the glaze. You will think it’s too much, but it’s not. Allow the cake to completely cool before cutting.