Mint Chocolate-Chip Cake from Sulmona

choco mint cake square 3 One day this cake did not exist in my world. The next it seemed to be everywhere, in one variation or another.

A few weeks ago, my daughter and I and our friends Nancy and Michael of Abruzzo Presto had pranzo at La Locanda di Gino, in Sulmona. This restaurant is a gem. It opened in 1962 and has been expertly run by the Allega family ever since. The late Gino’s sons, Giacomo and Marco (always impeccably dressed in colorful pressed shirts and ties) keep the front of the house running smoothly. In the back, their mother, Lucia, and wives Titina and Marcella make culinary magic, turning out fresh chitarra noodles, tender roast lamb, vegetable terrines and other piatti tipici Abruzzesi.

We did not have room for dessert. Still, at the end of our meal, out came a plate with bite-size squares of cake on it. I figured it was some typical boozy Italian sponge cake and declined. But as I sat there my curiosity got the better of me, as it usually does in matters of food. I took a small piece. It was not at all what I expected. This mild-looking square of cake, studded inside with small bits of bittersweet chocolate, tasted of fresh mint. The crumb was perfectly tender. I took another piece. I might have fought my daughter for a third.

Me with Mamma Lucia, Titina and Marcella ~ the talented trio in the kitchen at Ristorante Gino

I asked one of the brothers about it, and he deferred to the experts in the kitchen. A little while later when I went back there to meet and thank them I found that they had already written the recipe on a slip of paper for me.

Next morning at Il Marchese del Grillo, the lovely B&B where we were staying, what should be on the breakfast buffet table but a chocolate mint cake? This one was by the mother-in-law of owner Marta Carrozza. It had a pretty, pale green crumb and rich chocolate ganache icing. It turns out I’m not the only one smitten with this cake. My friend Linda Prospero (aka Ciao Chow Linda) fell for Il Marchese’s cake when she was in Sulmona last year and shared the recipe on her blog.

On the flight home, I opened up the July issue of La Cucina Italiana only to find this frozen chocolate-mint cake.

LCI cake Can you blame me for having mint cake on the brain?

Naturally, Gino’s mint chocolate-chip cake was the first thing I made when I got back to my kitchen. The cake’s bright flavor comes from mixing mint syrup into the batter. Fresh ricotta gives it a beautiful, tender crumb.

mint syrup

You could use store-bought mint syrup, or Linda’s clever substitute of crème de menthe. But I have a giant patch of mint growing in the Garden of Neglect, so I made mint simple syrup. It takes next to no effort and is good to have around. In addition to putting it into the cake, I’ve been mixing it into fruit salad and drizzling it on ice cream. My son uses it to sweeten his iced tea. No doubt there are countless cocktails you could devise with it. To enjoy with your cake.

* * * * * * * * * *

EVENT NEWS: If you happen to be in or around Richmond, VA, on Saturday, August 2, please stop by the brand new Southern Season kitchenware store and cooking school. I will be helping to celebrate the grand opening with a book signing from 2 to 4 p.m. And I’ll be back on September 9 to teach a Glorious Vegetables cooking class. Check my Events calendar for more details.

Makes one 9-by-13-inch cake

Mint Chocolate-Chip Cake

The idea of mint in a cake may seem odd, but believe me, one bite and you will be hooked. The taste of mint is subtle, surprising and fresh, and goes especially well with the bittersweet chocolate chips folded into the batter. Take the extra bit of time to make fresh mint syrup. It has plenty of uses beyond this cake. This recipe is adapted slightly from one given to me by Ristorante Gino, in Sulmona (Abruzzo).

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for greasing the baking pan
  • 1 (16 g) packet lievito Pane degli Angeli or 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, plus more for greasing a baking pan
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar or vanilla sugar (see Notes)
  • 3 large eggs, at room temperature
  • 9 ounces fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips (see Notes)
  • 3/4 cup fresh mint syrup, divided

Instructions

Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Butter and flour a 9- by 13-inch baking pan.

Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir well.

In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture on low speed just until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat in the ricotta and chocolate chips. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually pour in 1/2 cup of the mint syrup and mix until fully incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake 30 minutes, until browned on top and a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Remove from the oven and set the pan on a cooling rack. While the cake is still hot, use a pastry brush to brush the top with the remaining 1/4 cup of mint syrup. Let the cake cool to room temperature. To serve, cut into squares and dust with confectioners' sugar.

NOTES
I keep my sugar in a large container in which I bury a stick of vanilla bean. This lightly infuses the sugar with the aroma of vanilla. I use this sugar for everything, including savory cooking.

For this cake, I use small bittersweet chocolate baking chips from France that I buy at La Cuisine, a kitchenware store in Old Town Alexandria, VA. The brand is Michel Cluizel. The chips are smaller than regular chocolate chips (more like tiny disks) and sort of melt into the batter as the cake bakes. They provide the necessary hit of bittersweet chocolate flavor without the hard texture of regular chips. If you can't find them, substitute mini chocolate chips.

Makes about 2 cups

Mint Simple Syrup

I use this mint-infused syrup in my Mint Chocolate-Chip Cake. But it is also good in iced tea, tossed with fruit salad, drizzled on vanilla (or chocolate) ice cream, or as a cocktail ingredient.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar (see Notes)
  • 4 strips of lemon zest (no white pith)
  • 2 lightly packed cups fresh mint leaves

Instructions

Combine the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and toss in the lemon zest. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.

When the syrup is almost at a boil, coarsely chop the mint leaves. Do this at the last possible moment so that you don't lose any of that wonderful mint aroma. As soon as the syrup starts the boil, turn off the heat and gently stir in the mint leaves. Cover the saucepan and let the syrup steep for 3 hours.

Pour the mint syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean jar. Store in the refrigerator.

NOTES
To make vanilla sugar, add a vanilla bean to your sugar container and leave it there.

, , ,

27 Responses to Mint Chocolate-Chip Cake from Sulmona

  1. Helen Free July 28, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    Oh my! Unusual and divine. Happy that I just planted more mint, too.

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:09 am #

      Helen, usually I curse my overgrown patch of mint. Suddenly I don’t have enough.

  2. Ciao Chow Linda July 28, 2014 at 10:17 am #

    Thanks for the shout-out Domenica. I do so love that mint cake from Marta, but now I’ve got another, different mint cake to play around with – and a great way to use up a lot of my mint too. Buon estate.

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:11 am #

      I have to try your recipe for Marta’s cake. What a coincidence that was, to find those two cakes one right after the other. It must be a Sulmona thing. What a wonderful city. I’ve been fantasizing about taking up residence in one of Marta’s rooms…

  3. Rosa Mayland July 28, 2014 at 11:08 am #

    Very original! A divine and blissfully minty cake.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  4. Laney (Ortensia Blu) July 28, 2014 at 2:29 pm #

    Now I know what to do with all that mint!

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:12 am #

      Laney, I’ve made several batches of the mint simple syrup already. My son uses a generous splash every time he has a glass of iced tea so it goes pretty quickly around here.

  5. tori July 28, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    Beautiful! Can’t wait to make it.

  6. elisa July 28, 2014 at 3:35 pm #

    Lo devo fare! Sounds sooo good..and with a side of vanilla ice cream!

  7. bettyannquirino @Mango_Queen July 28, 2014 at 3:37 pm #

    What an absolutely divine cake and such a beautiful story to go with it. I love your travel stories and how they tie in to the culinary heritage of anything you feature. Thanks for sharing, Domenica. You make me want to fly to Abruzzo right now!

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:14 am #

      Come on one of our culinary tours in 2015! How much fun would that be?!

  8. Mark A. Bauman July 28, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    Squisito! Fantastico! Will definitely have to make this. I wonder if Italian Girl Scouts might make this. Definitely a step up from the usual cookie!

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:17 am #

      Ha ah good one Mark. I don’t know too much about GS cookies; I quit the organization after Brownies!

      • Mark Bauman July 29, 2014 at 10:45 am #

        Mint-chocolate chip cookies are one of the most popular cookies sold by the Girl Scouts as a fundraiser. They’re really not that good and most people I know just get them to help out. But it does reinforce the mint-chocolate combination.
        This cake looks way better.

  9. italyonmymind July 28, 2014 at 6:33 pm #

    I love love love this recipe Domenica, I would never have thought mint would work in a cake but cannot wait to try making it on the weekend. I love the photo of you and the ‘cuoche’

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:19 am #

      Grazie cara. There are so many talented Italian women like these working in restaurants in the Italian countryside. They aren’t celebrities, they don’t have Food Network shows or multimillion dollar operations. But I’ll bet they could cook circles around any celebrity chef.

  10. staceysnacks July 28, 2014 at 9:08 pm #

    I made a basil lemon cake w/ basil syrup (same recipe as your mint syrup, just w/ basil). It sounded weird, but tasted great…..I have a ton of mint in the garden, so will definitely try this cake, and anything w/ fresh ricotta has to be good……love the kitchen ladies photo! 🙂

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:21 am #

      Stacey, that sounds divine. I’m imagining a slice of that basil cake with vanilla ice cream and sliced peaches on the side. Or what about a mash-up of the two, a cake infused with basil-mint syrup? Aren’t the ladies wonderful?

  11. jamielifesafeast July 29, 2014 at 4:26 am #

    And thanks for sharing it with us! I am making this… both the mint syrup and the cake which does indeed look gorgeous! I also want to eat at Ristorante Gino….

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:23 am #

      You would love it, Jamie. We will have to have a meet up in Italy one day…

  12. Welcome to Sulmona July 29, 2014 at 5:58 am #

    Dear Domenica, ever since you announced this post we’ve been so looking forward to your version of this mint cake! We can’t wait to make it… meanwhile we might head Da Gino’s and have a slice 😛

    • Domenica Marchetti July 29, 2014 at 9:24 am #

      Lucky you! Wish I could walk over to Gino’s for pranzo today. Looking forward to seeing you again in September. xx

  13. Laura (Tutti Dolci) August 8, 2014 at 7:40 pm #

    I love anything mint chocolate so I know I’d adore this cake!

    • Domenica Marchetti August 9, 2014 at 8:39 am #

      Thanks Laura. It’s always nice to get a compliment from a baking maven like you!

Leave a Comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: