Pumpkin Cake (Torta di Zucca) with Orange-Mascarpone Topping

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Pumpkin and squash were historically favored by Italy’s Jews. You could find these fall fruits in soups, risottos, pastas, stews, fritters, and yes, even cake. I found recipes for Jewish-Italian pumpkin cakes, but decided to develop an updated version. We served samples of this during my talk in September about the culinary history of Italy’s Jews.

When I started working on this recipe, I wanted it to honor its Jewish-Italian roots but also be accessible to today’s cooks and diners. The olive oil and lemon zest mark the cake’s Mediterranean heritage (and the use of olive oil rather than butter keeps the cake nondairy). The canned pumpkin, well, that’s a nod to modern convenience, because I wanted a recipe that even busy cooks could reasonably have a chance to create.

If you are familiar with Italian cakes, you’ll know that many feature ground nuts (usually ground almonds). For many of us today, ground almonds and sponge cakes also mark a Passover cake. I found one recipe that omitted the ground nuts, and gladly took that route, both to have a clear departure from Passover and also have a cake that people with nut allergies could safely enjoy.

Topping a pumpkin cake can be easy—some confectioners’ sugar can do the trick nicely (which also keeps the dessert nondairy). However, to make this extra special and to play off the cake’s warm spice notes, I created an orange-mascarpone topping. It’s just the right blend of fluffy and creamy, and the orange makes it seem fresh and sweet without the need for much sugar. Honestly, this can be eaten by itself (yes, I’ve seen this done). But let’s say you stick with the plan for putting it on the cake—you don’t need a lot of it; just spoon a little on each slice of cake right before serving. Together, cake and topping make a beautifully flavored dessert for the entire fall season.




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