I don't normally eat mint cake with chocolate frosting for breakfast. But I don't normally eat breakfast sitting on a rooftop patio in Sulmona, Italy surrounded by the Maiella mountains either. Luckily I did both of those things earlier this summer when I stayed at Il Marchese Del Grillo, a wonderful bed and breakfast owned by Marta Carrozza and Alessandro Maceroni.
A bountiful table of treats - from fruits and yogurts - to cheeses, salumi and cakes - was set out each morning. For me - a diehard cake lover - it was hard to limit myself to one cake only. So I did what any self-proclaimed glutton would do - I took a slice from all of them - the mint cake, an orange cake, and an apple cake.
Marta was kind enough to provide me with the recipe for all three cakes - made by her mother and mother-in-law, and I recently made the mint cake, my personal favorite.
The recipe calls for mint syrup, but in the absence of any, I used crème de menthe, which was already in my pantry. There is barely any alcohol taste in the cake, so if you can find mint syrup, you might as well save yourself some money and use that.
I took it a step farther than Marta's mother-in-law's version, making sugared mint leaves for decoration. Just whisk some egg whites and paint mint leaves with it, then dip the leaves into sugar and place them on some waxed paper to dry out a bit.
Speaking of sugared things, the town of Sulmona is known throughout Italy for its production of confetti, sugar coated almonds that are always offered as favors to guests at weddings.
They're always presented in groups of five and are meant to symbolize health, happiness, long life, prosperity and fertility. Sulmona's streets are jam packed with store after store showcasing confetti wrapped in many creative ways, from flowers to peacocks:
Aside from confetti, Sulmona is known as the birthplace of Ovid, the 1st century Roman poet. A statue of him dominates one of the city's main squares:
Also notable is the 13th century aqueduct running through the middle of town (and a great gelato shop just opposite the aqueduct). The majestic mountains provide a spectacular vista from anywhere you walk.
The Marchese Del Grillo is located within walking distance of everything and has only about four or five rooms. Most of them are on the third or fourth floors, and are traditional with plaster walls and antique furniture. But my room on the ground floor was renovated in elegant simplicity, with stone walls and vaulted ceilings providing a rustic backdrop amid lovely antiques and the classic, translucent, Phillipe Starcke ghost chair.
My visit to Sulmona seems like a distant memory, but recreating food from my trip is one way to keep the memory vibrant. I plan to make the other cakes at some point, but this mint cake turned out so well that it's bound to be part of my permanent repertoire of desserts. I took it to a Labor Day picnic and everyone loved it. Even the planter lady on my deck seemed to express approval:
And maybe you will too. Try the recipe and see for yourself:
Mint Cake - recipe from Marta's mother-in-law
Versione Italiana sotto.
Printable recipe here
11 tablespoons of softened butter (1 stick plus 3 T.)
3/4 c. sugar
pinch of salt
2 1/4 cups plus 2 T. flour
1 T. baking powder
3/4 cup milk
1/2 cup of mint syrup or crème de menthe
In a mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy, then add the eggs and beat for a few minutes until smooth. Whisk together the salt, flour and baking powder and add to the egg mixture, alternately with the milk and the crème de menthe. Pour into a cake pan (I used a 9 inch springform pan) and bake for about 1 hour and 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
Let cool and cover with chocolate glaze. I used a ganache made by melting over a double boiler 4 ounces dark chocolate and 1/4 cup heavy cream. Blend until smooth, then let it cool a couple of minutes to thicken up a bit. Pour over the cake.
Torta di menta
150 gr. burro o un bicchiere di olio di semi (circa 170 ml)
150 gr. zucchero
un pizzico di sale
250 gr. farina
una bustina di lievito
175 gr. latte
10 o più sciroppa di menta
Cuocere per 1 ora e 15 minuti a 180 gradi. A cottura ultimata fare raffredare e coprire la torta con glassa al cioccolato.