Thursday, January 14, 2010

ricotta cake

I'm pretty sure that there was only one cookbook in my mother's kitchen when I was a child. Or at least only one that mattered.

I remember sitting on the floor with the cookbook on my lap, dressed in mini patchwork bell bottoms and lace up boots, perusing the handwritten recipes, the "mushroom strudel", the "cauliflower cheese pie," the "heavenly compotes".
I liked the cookbook. I liked the hand drawn pictures and the "apple- honey custard pie" the best.

I was pretty sure that my mother had written the book, although I wasn't certain. I was sure in the way that I knew that my mother and I being vegetarians had something to do with us also being Sagittarians. It was just the order of things.

In the first few pages of the lonely and beautiful cookbook, there was a picture of the author.
The book was written in her handwriting, a hand so familiar to me. I saw it on the sheets of paper that my mother wrote songs on, and the inspirational "breathe" notes taped in the bathroom. I looked at the author, and I was cheered by the thought of my mother and her daffodils.

Written just a year before my birth, it was obvious that my mother had been busy that year before I arrived- crafting recipes, writing out directions and creating whimsical illustrations of zucchinis and tostadas. She would have been 21, maybe 22 by the time it was finished and I was starting to grow in her belly.
Was I delusional?
You tell me.

The cover of the book was perfect and simple, the title arched across like a proud banner.
Moosewood Cookbook.

Underneath, rounding out the arch of the banner of the title,

By Mollie Katzen.

Did that dissuade me? Of course not. Look at me at nine months old! I was all knowing, or at least I thought I was. I was stubborn. I was already me.

And my mother was the queen of the tofu meatball. She knew everything there was to know about tamari, young as she was.

Somewhere along the way, I figured out that Mollie Katzen actually was not my mother, and my mother was not she. I continued to love and revere them both, and the cookbook remained an essential element on every kitchen shelf I have arranged since.

The Moosewood empire has grown over the years. Although I have never made the pilgrimage to Ithaca, I have cooked out of so many of the array Moosewood cookbooks with great success and much comfort. And while I always go to Alice Waters to get inspired on the alchemy of wine and meat and fresh herbs, it is Mollie Katzen who never fails to convince me to throw some eggs and maple syrup into a blender and make dessert. It works every time, and quickly.

You see, I really believe in dessert. I like that it is special, and I like that it is wonderful. I like that everyone hushes while they taste and enjoy. But when I was a kid, dessert wasn't chocolate cake. It was carob covered rice cakes. Remember those? Oh, those of you who are part of my tribe, you know you remember them. I bet you even think fondly on them every now and then.

I shun carob now, but what stayed in me was the sense that if you call it dessert, it is dessert. A little sweetness is all that is required. And although my kids have far more sugar at their disposal, they seem to share this sensibility.

Don't get me wrong, the girls love sweets, real sweets. They'll eat spoonfuls of sugar if permitted. But when I offer them a slice of cake made of ricotta, eggs, and a touch of maple syrup, they cheer. It's dessert. Who would say no?

This one, like most of Mollie Katzen's desserts, is not only unbelievably simple, but is also so so good.

This is for a day that might not being going so well, a day that you know that everyone could use a little extra boost. It will add about 10 minutes to your dinner prep time, and everyone will cheer.

Ricotta Cake
adapted from Mollie Katzen, The Moosewood Cookbook
(The Original Moosewood is no longer in print, now it's called "The New Moosewood Cookbook." But if you find an old copy at a bookstore, grab it up. It's a real find.)

3 cups skim or whole ricotta
3 eggs
1 cup buttermilk
scant 1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
juice and grated rind on one lime or 1/2 lemon
1 cup plain yogurt
3 Tablespoons fruit preserves

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Put a pan (how about a metal one) filled with water in the oven. Combine the ricotta, eggs, buttermilk, maple syrup, vanilla, lime zest and lime juice in the blender. Puree until smooth and fluffy. Pour into a lightly buttered spring form pan (a 9-inch cake pan will do in a pinch). Bake for 45 minutes.
Allow cake ot cool completely. Combine the yogurt and preserves. Spread the mixture on the cake. Eat immediately or chill until dessert time.


  1. wow. Not only does the ricotta cake look amazing, but we've been treated to such a lovely tribute to your mom and such beautiful photos of she AND you. Beautiful lady, and you were cute as a button. Wonderful read heart warming. Hope you had a wonderful holiday and New Year!

  2. I love the photo of you and Mom! :)

  3. Oh, Lisa, here I was thinking you were going to scold me for my lack of satay, and then you go and be so nice... Thank you dear, and I hope your year is off to a good start too.