I have just recently come to terms with the fact that, for the biggest part of my life, I missed out on one of the most delicious things nature has to offer: honey. Unlike, say, beetroot, which I continue to dislike no matter how much I try to masquerade it under thick layers of horseradish-injected dressings or to blend it into chocolate cake (I just can’t get past the very earthy flavour), my feelings towards honey have changed with me. They grew as I grew, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, increasing and amplifying at every stage, spreading like a spoonful of oil on a smooth surface, slowly, unavoidably. And so, I gradually went from being the kid who couldn’t stomach a drop of it to the grown-up addict who eats her weight in liquid sugar, jar after jar after jar.
I’m writing about this lovely pumpkin olive oil chocolate cake from my new kitchen in London. Now, if I lift my head from the computer screen and glimpse at the little back garden just outside the kitchen door I see a quintessentially English photogram. The weather is cloudy, a bit gloomy, chilly but not cold. There’s a mild wind that makes the vine growing along the wooden fence bounce and dance – a slow waltz, maybe. Earlier I saw a squirrel jumping over onto our portion of pebbles. I suspect it’s hiding its acorns in our yard, but I might need to investigate further.
It feels good to be here. This autumn feeling has a soothing effect on me – it slows my pace, makes me more focused. I have skipped this season twice this year. Now I realise that I missed wishing for the comfort of a woollen blanket, of a pot of stew bubbling on the stove for the good part of an afternoon. I now have many such days to look forward to here. Which is why, so as not to arrive unprepared, with me I brought a few recipes to match the spirit of the upcoming season. Long braises and spiced cakes I am eager to try.
But first, this cake.
We entered the deli in via Marmorata, in the bustling Roman neighbourhood of Testaccio, short after noon. A well-nourished crowd of locals was populating the tiny space, raising their voices to make themselves heard by the people serving behind the counter. All were waiting, more or less impatiently, to be served their daily dose of pecorino, guanciale, ricotta, and pizza bianca. We joined the crowd, famished after an early rise and a long train journey.
Testaccio is a great place to be for food, as good traditional trattorias, street food branches, delis, markets and bars aren’t short in the neighbourhood. From our previous Roman trip, we vaguely remembered there was a good deli on the main road linking the river to the Pyramid. Our well-seasoned plan was to just walk until we stumbled upon it. We eventually did and recognised it immediately for the bountiful displays of preserves, hams and whole cheeses in the window. And so, we joined the not-so-orderly queue and started to think about what we wanted for lunch.
We have been settling into January at the slowest possible pace, trying to hold onto that feeling we brought back from Italy. Calm. Peace of mind. It didn’t last long – back to work and all that jazz – but we still managed to keep weekends on the resting side after all. There was a lot of sitting around, a lot of cookbook flipping, some reading and some walking. There was a lot of baking, too.
This cake is what we baked the most, by far. It’s nothing fancy, really, but it reminds me of the cake my mum used to make when I was little – that silly-easy cake (the only one she knew how to make, really) that takes a pot of yoghurt as a measuring unit. it’s a classic, but also, a cake that bears some uniqueness – in its aroma as much as in its backstory.
Camille are the mini cakes of my childhood. Mum has always been picky when it came to food. In our home, we didn’t have a lot of sugary things to choose from as a snack – mostly, we got yoghurt or fruit. Sometimes, though, she’d buy some lovely little cakes made with almond meal, grated carrots and orange. I loved them. These are my attempt at reproducing them at home, years later, in a moment of nostalgia.