I take walks some mornings to clear my head.
This morning as I started up the hill I was hit with the honey scent of a flowering tree. It took me right back to Via Fogliano, the cool, tree-lined street in Rome where my aunts lived and where I spent part of my summers as a girl. For a moment I was seven or eight, walking along the sidewalk with my sister, my mom, and my three aunts, rounding the corner past the pizzeria toward the neighborhood gelateria where I always ordered, without fail, gianduja con panna.
I passed a garden, obviously lovingly tended, with blooming roses and peonies, and striped clematis trailing up a lamp post. My thoughts shifted to my newspaper days in Detroit, and to the weekly column I wrote for a time called Green Thumb, in which I profiled gardeners. It didn’t matter what else I wrote about; those short profiles of people and their gardens always got the most response from readers. I thought about the woman whose name I no longer remember, who really liked how I described the collards in her garden as having leaves so broad you could swaddle a baby in them. She even called to thank me.
It occurs to me that I don’t actually clear my head when I walk; I fill it.
When I’m walking, memories bubble up, along with ideas; I write entire paragraphs and work out kinks in ones that are giving me trouble; I interview people and compose emails; I make up recipes. I recall things from my distant past that I thought were gone forever. By the time I’m on the final leg of my walk I am nearly bursting with new purpose.
And then I open the back door and am hit, not by a memory or an idea or a turn of phrase, but by a pile of laundry. And so the day begins.
The question is: Which side of me will prevail? That depends. Sometimes it’s both.
Take today. Today I have a post, sort of, but no new recipe. My laundry basket, however, is stacked with clean clothes, all neatly folded.
Still, I feel a little guilty. I don’t want to leave you empty-handed right before a long weekend. So I am posting one of my all-time favorites. It’s my Sour Cherry-Mascarpone Pound Cake from Big Night In. It’s glorious—tall, with a dense, cream-colored crumb, and liberally studded with ruby-red cherries. And there’s a bonus: it’s easy to make. A piece of cake. A cakewalk. You’ll have plenty of time left after making it to fold the laundry.
from Big Night In: More Than 100 Wonderful Recipes for Feeding Family and Friends Family-Style (Chronicle Books, 2008)
- 1 1/2 cups ( 3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more to grease the pan
- 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more to flour the pan
- 2 cups fresh sour cherries, pitted and halved
- 3 1/2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 6 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 8 ounces mascarpone or sour cream, at room temperature
- Confectioners' sugar, for dusting
Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter and flour a 10-inch Bundt or tube pan and set it aside.
In a small bowl, mix the cherries with 1/2 cup of the sugar. Let the mixture steep while you prepare the batter for the cake.
In a medium bowl, mix together the flour and salt. Set aside.
Put the 1 1/2 cups butter in the bowl of a standing mixer and beat briefly on medium speed to soften. Add the remaining 3 cups of sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, and beat at high speed until light and airy, 5 full minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula as needed. Beat in the vanilla. Change the speed to medium and alternately add the flour-salt mixture and the mascarpone or sour cream, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. Beat until incorporated.
Drain the cherries, reserving the syrup that collects in the bowl. With a rubber or silicone spatula, fold the cherries into the batter.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and shake lightly to even out the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes.
While the cake is baking, put the reserved cherry syrup in a small saucepan and boil for about 5 minutes, or until slightly thickened. Strain and reserve the liquid.
When the cake is done, place the pan on a cooling rack and cool for 20 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan. While it is still warm, brush the top and sides with the warm cherry syrup. The cake will absorb the syrup. Let the cake cool to room temperature.
To serve, transfer the cake to a decorative platter or cake stand. Dust with confectioners' sugar.