Vesuvius Cloud: a Taste of Christmas
Panettone is a traditional Italian Christmas cake. Helga Liberto, the cake maker of Chef dei Grani from Battipaglia, has just presented one her masterful takes on this timeless classic. One of many interpretations, because the Panettone has been declined in countless variations, and the challenge is of course to try to innovate the recipe while being mindful of tradition. A daunting task if you ask me, because a successful recipe should be simple and captivating, adding a personal touch to a cake that has already been perfected over years of cooking history. And don’t forget that Italians are extremely touchy and distrustful of anyone who tries to mess with tradition.
However there is some space for innovation. One of the key ingredients of Panettone is candid fruit, something that people here have mixed feelings about. The other thing that has to be perfectly right is texture. The cake should be soft and light, resembling a very tall muffin, but more spongy. Forever a devoted Chef, Helga Liberto has patiently studied and created her own Lievito Madre, sourdough, to ensure her cakes may rise naturally and slowly, over many hours. Once baked the texture is so light that she has called it Nuvola, Cloud.
To make it unique Helga has resorted to one of the things that make Italy such a beautiful country: Territory. We are blessed with extreme bio-diversity, each local area has its own peculiar produce that can be found nowhere else. Thus the key ingredient of her Nuvola del Vesuvio is the famous Pellecchiella Apricot from – you guessed it – Mount Vesuvius. This very tasty apricot, sought after by jam makers like a precious jewel, is part of the Slow Food Presidia. It gives Helga’s creation that personal, delicate forget-me-not flavour. Orange zest, candid lemon and orange peel, honey, raisins and vanilla complete the picture giving each slice of the cake a balanced bouquet of delicate aromas.
Eating a slice for breakfast really does remind me of the delicate flight of a butterfly, framed by soft clouds with Vesuvius in the background. The apricot, honey and raisins blended smoothly leaving me with an overall sense of well-rounded sweetness, quite a pleasant surprise. Will you have time to savour it after Christmas dinner, with the kids dying to open their presents and aunts and uncles wanting another slice?
Getting the cake home before tasting it was a challenge in itself. The packaging is so elegant, that at first it reminded me of a posh handbag. I had to defend it from many beady eyes along the way. Especially those of my local baker, who has a keen eye for quality and a real passion for handcrafted Panettone. She was quick to read the ingredients and grasp the meaning of this dreamlike Vesuvius Cloud.
Sean Grant Altamura