I. The Girl from the North and Her Secret Ingredient
On a warm Spring day, a girl with mousy hair worn in two long braids, walked down the stairs of an airplane in Rimini, in north east Italy. The hot sun kissed her pale skin, and the humid air filled her nose thrills with the smell of the sea. As she took her first steps on the Italian soil —that couldn’t be more unlike her cold, dark and quiete country— she felt as though she had finally come home. She was glowing with that light of those who have found something they had long lost when she met the dark-haired, dark-skinned, fascinating young Roman who stole her young heart away. He happened to be in Rimini by pure chance, substituting a fellow tour driver who had fallen ill at the last moment. He could hardly understand a single word she said, but he fell in love with the Fin girl nonetheless.
More than a year later, she gave birth to a baby boy that decades later I shared a significant amount of my life with. Although our paths later drifted apart and we didn’t get the dolce vita happily-ever-after of his parents, I am eternally grateful for the numerous ways this encounter enriched my life. She evoked the love for great north in me. For a magical Finland that glows in the aurea borealis, that is home to Santa Claus and its breakfasts always smells like big coffees and freshly baked cinnamon rolls.
Although back in the seventies that handsome Roman would bring his own pasta and tomato sauce whenever they travelled to Finland, it warms my heart to say that years later we shared many Christmas and Easter meals (untouchable staples of the Italian cooking tradition) with bountiful spreads of Italian, Finnish and Iranian dishes. If this is not one those marvelous immigrant food stories, I don’t know what is.
One of the Finnish treats that she often baked is this incredible coffee bundt cake. Traditionally the cake is baked around Christmas time, but it’s so good that you’d want to eat it all year round. The cake is dark, moist and sweet just to the right point. There is something of a mystery to the taste of this cake, if you don’t know what the ingredients are. Coffee arrives first of course, but right after that a caramely, nutty note sneaks in, sometimes so stealthily, as if it was disguised in chocolate. There is no chocolate, rest assured. The secret ingredient that together with coffee creates the unnamed flavor, is dates. You know that feeling when you were having a nice dream, yet you can’t quite remember what you were dreaming about? That’s how the combination of coffee and dates tastes like.
Dates are the heart of a Finnish Christmas cake! Isn’t that mesmerizing? Think of the snow, the North Pole, the berries, and dates? There must be another immigrant food story about it that we just don’t know. I also add a good dose of cardamom powder, first because the cardamom-coffee match is made in heaven in North, second because the cardamom and dates match is made in the heavens in the middle east.
II. New Season, New Projects & an Award Nomination
We’re nowhere near Christmas of course, but my I have no few reasons to be celebrating. First, Norouz, the Persian new year on the first day of Spring is just upon us (annual Norouz post coming super soon). I will be moving to a new apartment at the end of April and I have many plans and projects for the new place to share with you in person, and last but definitely not least, I am among the finalists of the first edition of Cucina Blog Award, run by Italian daily paper, Corriere della Sera. Angela Frenda —the food editor of Corriere and cookbook author— has been working hard in the past years to raise the level of the food communication to the top measures of the world. I am honored beyond words to be in the group of 18 talented bloggers, most of whom have been of incredible influence and inspiration to my work.
If you like Lab Noon, you can show your support and vote for my blog in the Best Social Blog category.
The award is part of the yearly food conference called Cibo a Regola d’Arte, organized by Corriere and held in Milan from March 21st to April 2nd. I also have the pleasure to hold a Persian cooking lesson during the very same event on April 1st, that you can subscribe to here. The award ceremony is on the same night where the one and only Honey & Co from London will hold a pop-up restaurant. I can’t wait to meet them and taste their food, and I am thrilled to meet and reunite with other amazing finalist bloggers such as Fotogrammi di zucchero, Two for The Bar, Betty Liu, Il Gambero Russo, Miss Foodwise (Remember my post about her book? I am taking it with me to get it signed!), Juls’ Kitchen, Con le Mani in Pasta, Gnam Box, Valdirose, Hortus Cuisine, Naturalmente Buono, Kraut Kopf and others.
So make sure you follow me around Milan at the end of the month. Because when the conference and award ceremony and the cooking lesson ends, I will be hosting two (sold-out) Persian dinners at the supper club of the one and only A Gipsy in the Kitchen.
Finnish Coffee Bundt Cake at Its Happy Place
The coffee bundt cake is easy to make, and it bakes surprisingly quickly. If you like, you can dust it with icing sure for serving, but it’s a super simple cake. As much as I admire people who make beautifully decorated cakes, my skills end at adding icing sugar and flowers. Remember to not over bake it, as the dates should keep the cake moist. Actually, if you can resist eating it all immediately and let the cake sit for a couple of days, or even a week, you’ll see that it finds its happy place, without going stale. The cake will feel and taste much better, just like a person who has finally found their long lost home. Like a Finnish girl did many years ago.
- 1 cup | 230ml espresso coffee, cold
- 170g | 6oz butter, melted
- 100g | 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp plain flour (all purpose/type 0)
- 100g | 3/4 cup + 1 tbsp whole wheat flour
- 200g | 1.5 cup + 2 tsbp whole grain spelt flour
- 150g | 3/4 cup sugar (better if cane)
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 300g | 1 and 1/3 cup dates, whole
- 180ml | 2/3 cup water
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 organic free range eggs
- 1 tsp powdered cardamom
- 1/2 tsp salt
- Preheat the oven to 170° C | 335° F.
- Butter and flour-dust a 23cm | 9 inch bundt cake pan.
- Brew the coffee and set aside to cool. Melt the butter. Remove the pits from the dates, put in small pan with the sugar and water on medium heat until the date begin to fall apart. Take off the heat and let cool in a large mixing bowl. Add the baking soda and stir. This should turn the dates mixture into a paste.
- Next add the the coffee, the melted butter and the egg to the date mixture and mix very well until every thing is well combined.
- In another bowl, mix the flours, baking powder, salt and cardamom powder. Then add the flour mix gradually to the wet mix until well combined.
- Pour the batter into the pan and bake for 25 - 35 minutes, or until a tooth stick comes out clean. Don't over bake.
- Let the cake cool before removing from the pan.
- When cool, dust with icing sugar, if you like.
- The cake keeps for many days.
Coming from Iran, she mostly develops her recipes by combining the aromas of the middle east with the flavors of the Mediterranean, specially Italy, where she has found her second home.