Happy new year! Christmas is gone, so are the new year's celebrations but the festivities are not quite over yet, there is still Epiphany to come.
New year's eve was especially great for me this year. We spent it at home with friends and we had a proper Italian cenone (big dinner): food and drink kept coming to the table until almost midnight, in fact we managed to have our dessert just before midnight when we opened up a bottle of champagne (prosecco was for aperitivo) to toast to the new year.
I made some nibbles to go with our aperitivo (like mini bruschette, stuffed anchovy bites, olives and filo pastry rolls), then we had a wide range of finger food as a starter (lots of shellfish too) and a veggie lasagna. My friends made a main dish of pulled duck with potatoes and lentils and a delicious chocolate mousse for dessert. After midnight we did fireworks in the back garden and the children were super excited.
We are now waiting for "la Befana", the old witch that brings sweeties to children during the night of the 5th of January. Epiphany is a such a lovely tradition; all over Northern Italy large bonfires are made and people drink mulled wine and, in some regions, like Veneto and Friuli, they eat the traditional Epiphany cake: the Pinza. This is a rich cake made with cornmeal flour, fruit, nuts, citrus zest and fennel seeds; it goes very well with a glass of dessert wine. I just love it.
As I was not in Italy this year and I did not want to miss it I decided to make it. There are many different recipes, they vary from region to region, and there are sweet and savoury versions too. Here is mine which originates from Veneto, if you like rustic cakes this is a good one to try. The 6th of January is also my daughter's birthday so it is double celebration in my family and I will make an extra cake too. Great!
Happy Epiphany day.
- Prep Time : 25 minutes
- Cook Time : 60 minutes
- Yield : 10
- corn meal flour - 250 g - 1 + 2/3 cup
- plain flour (sieved) - 100 g - 1 cup
- baking powder - 2 tsp
- water - 1.5 Liters - 51 fl oz
- butter - 120 g - 1/2 cup
- sugar - 150 g - 2/3 cup
- sultanas (raisins) - 100 g - ½ cup
- dried figs - 10
- apple - 1
- fennel seeds - 2 tbsp
- orange zest - of 1 orange
- pinenuts - 50 g - 3/8 cup
- almonds - 50 g - 1/3 cup
- brandy or grappa - drop
- salt - pinch
Wash the sultanas (raisins) under the tap, put them in a bowl with a drop of liquor and let them rest for 30 minutes.
Peel and thinly slice the apple and chop the figs. In a bowl mix the corn meal with the plain flour.
In a large sauce pan bring the water to the boil then slowly, whilst mixing all the time, add the flours with a pinch of salt. Stir well to avoid the formation of lumps.
Cook the polenta for 20 minutes over a gentle heat whilst stirring all the time.
When it is cooked add the sugar and the butter. Mix well then add the roughly chopped almonds, the pinenuts, the diced apple, the sultanas (drained from the liquor), the orange zest and the sifted baking powder. Mix well.
You might find it hard to mix it just with a spoon, as the mixture is so thick, use your hands like I have done. Much easier.
Mix well and pour the mixture onto a well buttered round baking tin with a diameter of approx 28 cm or 11 inch. Press well on top so the surface will be even.
Sprinkle with fennel seeds and cook at 200C or 390F for the first 25 minutes then turn the heat down at 180C or 350F and continue cooking for a further 15 minutes until golden on top. It will be cooked when the top looks slightly wrinkly and the edges detach from the sides of the pan.
Switch the oven off and let the cake cool down in the oven with the door left adjar.
Enjoy it with a glass of sweet dessert wine.
Happy Epiphany day! Buona Epifania!