As I’ve mentioned on yesterday’s post, my grandma was a mess in the kitchen. Yet, she had a recipe book (mostly because she had to, I think) which has now been passed on to me. About a third of it is blank, and although all the recipes are written in her beautiful calligraphic handwriting, quite a few are incomplete, lacking ingredients or directions. Really, I would expect nothing different from her.
Today’s ravani (a semolina cake, drenched in a delicious sugar and lemon syrup) is from there. It took me a couple of half- failed attempts to get it right, as I had to experiment with missing ingredients, confusing directions and a very loose interpretation of what the syrup should consist of (what I had to go with was ‘sugar, water and lemon’. Right). If it were for any other recipe, I would probably get upset. But it was hers, so of course it was a beautiful mess. And I couldn’t help but think how little she would care about an unsuccessful dessert. Actually, she’d most probably be quite relieved, and send my grandfather or my mom for a store-bought one; and she’d go back to reading her book, or off to see a friend or attend to one of her endless sweeping activities (hopefully remembering to turn off the oven before).
This is a rocket of a cake; 4 eggs, lots of sugar and vegetable oil (which I swapped for coconut, as I quite like the very subtle flavour it adds) and booze- a good half cup of it. That last bit kinda took me by surprise, I have to say. See, my grandma never drank. Like never. One time, just before heading home from our house in Athens and coming down with a cold, my dad (who is a doctor) prescribed her a heaping whiskey shot. My grandma, who loved and trusted my dad, timidly downed it on the spot- and almost immediately fell asleep for hours, missing her train and probably vowing to never again turn to my dad for medical advice.
Apart from discovering this surprising cake ingredient, I also came to discover another thing: remember how I said yesterday that I’m glad I’m not taking after my grandma in the kitchen? Well, I spoke way too soon. Cause after I put the cake in the oven and going through the recipe again in order to prepare the syrup, it hit me: the semolina, dammit! I had forgotten the semolina, the one thing that makes this cake a ravani! Well, I guess I take lots more from her that her name. I told my mom and, let me tell you, I don’t think there ever was a parent so proud of a baking snafu.
The cake came out delicious any way; sure, it needed additional flour, lowering the oven temperature and extra baking time, but the taste, those too familiar lemony, boozy flavours were all there. So here’s what I’ve learned: alcohol does wonders for baking- scratch that, I already knew this. The big news is that you can play around with your ingredients a little bit, you can kinda make a mess of a cake and still enjoy it. Also, you have to thank your grandma for her recipes, no matter how all over the place they are. Seriously though, thank your grandma, wherever she is.
1 cup coconut oil, melted
1/2 cup half fat Greek yogurt
2 cups caster sugar
4 medium eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 tablespoon lemon zest
1/2 cup cognac
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup semolina flour (don’t forget!)
1 teaspoon baking soda
a pinch of salt
1/3 cup blanched almonds, roughly chopped
for the syrup:
2 1/2 cups caster sugar
2 1/2 cups water
rind from 3/4 lemon
extra blanched almonds to decorate
Preheat the oven to 200C (180 C for air) and line a round baking pan with parchment paper. Set aside.
Beat the sugar, coconut oil and yogurt until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to incorporate in between. Add the vanilla extract lemon juice and zest and cognac and stir.
Combine the flours, salt and soda and add to the wet ingredients; lastly, add the almonds and fold well to combine all the ingredients.
Bake in the preheated oven for 50′ or until an inserted skewer comes out clean.
While the cake is baking, make the syrup. Add the sugar, water and lemon rind in a small saucepan and warm over medium heat; stir with a spatula until the sugar dissolves, about 15′. Let cool before drizzling over the cake.
As soon as the cake is ready, take out of the oven and let cool slightly; remove from the pan, place on a serving plate and, using a soup ladle, pour the cooled syrup over it. Ravani is a quite syrupy dessert, so you will want to use all of the syrup- it will soak it up pretty quickly and you’ll still have some of that lovely stickiness all around the cake. If however you want a drier version (like me), you may not have to use it all. Up to you.