Celebrating a Winter Birthday in Venice

This week, we’re celebrating a special birthday here at La Venessiana: Nonna Lina, heart and soul of the blog and our culinary project Roses and Spices, is celebrating her 97th birthday!

It doesn’t happen often that her birthday starts with sunshine, as 23 December in Venice is usually wet and feels really cold. This is the time of the year when the geranium and cyclamen on the window sill wear plastic sheets at night to save them from the frost!

Between December and January it can get really cold here in Venice, and the icy feeling is accentuated because most mornings start foggy. By now, we should have overcome the acqua alta season if it weren’t for the (forgotten effects of) winter solstice, the major shift of seasons of the year. It always accentuates the trend of the tides.

2019 is different, in so many areas, and the tide on 23 December, and on La Vigilia, 24 December, was rising above 140 cm: At least 60 per cent of the city were flooded.

Lina’s home and garden flood whenever the water rises above 130 cm, so everyone was busy (we’ll tell you soon what we do when the flood enters the house and garden). But in the afternoon, Lina’s day was brightened by so many messages from you, our friends and readers on Facebook and Twitter.

Most of all, we would like to thank our wonderful friend JoAnn Locktov for sharing Lina’s birthday with you all, on her Facebook and Twitter pages.

As this morning another flood hit the city, we’re keeping this blog post shorter, and I have to delay the other story I was going to tell you. For tonight, just a few impressions of Lina’s house on the premises of the San Zaccaria monastery, and the recipe of a very special and festive cake!

Lina’s birthday cake is the lushest cake I’ve ever seen and tasted. We bake it when a special event is celebrated, like this winter birthday: The way Lina celebrates her birthday and the holidays reflects the wintry Venice at night. It’s dark in here, simple but there’s much warmth and many candles. She loves the candles more than anything else. And her favorite cake, the real torta venexiana.

We use a few mint leaves from the garden and blueberries as topping, because it’s Lina’s favorite combination. Instead of the blueberries, you could also use figs and mint leaves, or leave out the chocolate frosting and just sprinkle the cake with a cinnamon-icing sugar mix.

If you are in Venice, you could taste torta venexiana, on festive occasions, at Al Giardinetto da Severino. Lina shared her recipe with the mother of today’s owner, so there’s a good chance that you can taste her recipe at this restaurant.

Torta venexiana was created in the 17th century by the grandi caffé in Piazza San Marco, who also offered delicious cioccolata densa, the lush Venetian hot chocolate. While the menu for Lina’s winter birthday is faraona in salsa di arancia e melograno (guinea fowl in orange and pomegranate sauce), with a fine selection of Venetian winter salads, everyone is really waiting for the lush dessert! We make this cake 1-2 days earlier to be sure it’s there when needed 🙂 and because the cake needs a little time to bring out all its flavors. The secret is that we add a few spices that accentuate the chocolate flavor..

Ingredients for the cake (8 portions)

  • 200 gr dark chocolate
  • 8 tablespoons milk (or gluten-free: use unsalted almond milk)
  • 200 gr butter (or margarine)
  • 200 gr caster sugar
  • 3 heaped tablespoons vanilla sugar
  • 6 medium-sized eggs
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil (makes the really creamy!)
  • 300 gr wheat flour (or gluten-free: almond flour)
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon and cardamom each
  • Blueberry jam
  • Ingredients for the filling (see below)
  • Ingredients for the frosting (see below).

Please note: For a smaller cake or to try it out first, use half the ingredients and a smaller cake form.

Method

  1. Slowly melt the chocolate with the milk in a sauce pan.
  2. Beat the sugar with the butter and vanilla sugar, add six egg yolks one by one. Add the olive oil to make a creamy mixture.
  3. Add the egg-sugar mix to the chocolate and create a smooth dough.
  4. Mix the flour with baking powder and add the beaten egg whites carefully.
  5. Make a smooth dough and bake it in a round cake form at 175 degrees Celsius for approx. 50-60 minutes, or until the dough is light brown and looks well-baked!
  6. Leave the cake to cool for 1 hour, then cut it into two slices. Spread each slice with blueberry jam, and the chocolate filling: Melt 1 cup sweet cream with approx. 1 cup dark chocolate, add a hint of ground spices like cinnamon and cardamom. You need to create a smooth cream: Let it rest until it thickens, or adapt the amount of chocolate as needed.
  7. Spread the cake with the frosting: 2 cups dark chocolate, 1 tablespoon butter, 1 tablespoon sweet cream, a hint of cardamom: Mix the ingredients and wait for approx. 10-15 minutes, until it thickens enough so you can spread the cake.
  8. Garnish with mint leaves, figs or blueberries, or leave it as it is and sprinkle it with cinnamon-icing sugar.

Enjoy this cake at home during the holidays, it takes you back to the ancient Venice, during the last week of the year. For now, we wish you all Happy Holidays – Buone Feste!

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