A 90 year old, Brooklyn born, Italian. He walks several miles daily, still drives, and frequently pulls out his refrigerator for cleaning. I haven’t done that in…yeah, never. He frequents the OTB, the local butcher and every single bakery on Long Island.
At 90, his physical strength and overall health are astounding. The secret to his longevity? Cake. You should know that his “cake” is any form of Italian pastry. Crumb, sfogliatelle, and pie keep his heart ticking. At his last doctor’s visit he checked “no” to all the health history questions: High blood pressure? High cholesterol? Heart disease? In disbelief, the nurse re-read the questions as if he didn’t understand. He stopped her – “Lady, the only problem I have is that I eat too much cake. Is there a box for that?” Well…he’s right.
Cake is eaten for breakfast, mid-day, and after dinner. When you’re eating cake, you discuss what cake you’ll be eating next. It is ALWAYS on his mind. Most recently, while shopping with him for a new car, I found myself asking the salesman at the dealership to wait just a minute as I had an urgent phone call to make. My grandfather was insisting we call to place an order for two coconut custard pies, right there in the middle of the show room. And on the way home from the dealership, we stopped at two bakeries – one for crumb cake and one for something new to me, a Philly Fluff. The pies were for the morning.
But there comes a time for change and after 90 years, Grandpa is moving here. Here, as in not New York. Here, as in you can’t have your pick of Italian bakeries. Here, as in there are no Italian bakeries.
This is a serious issue, so we tried to break the news gently. To him, it was incomprehensible nonsense. How could there be a place on this earth without an Italian bakery? Why would anyone live there? His response was total denial. “I will scour the town to find the best cake near you.” He’s not getting it. The scouring has already been done Grandpa. If you want good cake in Virginia, you have to make it yourself. And I’ll start with that Philly Fluff.
When I asked my Grandpa to describe a Philly Fluff he said “Oh. Kris. It’s real nice.”
Cute, but not necessarily helpful in terms of recipe re-creation. The bakery explained that a Philly Fluff is pound cake made with cream cheese. They had two variations, Marble or Plain. He ordered two of each. Did I mention he eats a lot of cake?
After talking with the bakery, a great deal of cookbook research, and two failed attempts, I think I nailed it. The cake is extremely moist. Its texture is dense and the flavor is light. I made both variations. Grandpa will need both. He called to tell me he ate a marble one for breakfast (and I don’t think he meant a slice), and that he has a plain one for later. I don’t have a favorite. They’re both sublime. The marble is made with bittersweet chocolate, so it’s not overly sweet. The plain is perfect on its own or could easily be enhanced with a little citrus zest or almond extract. Either way, it’s fabulous.
I really want Grandpa to like it here and I like to think my baking just might help ease his transition. Once he realizes that there really are no bakeries within a 50 mile radius with an acceptable pignoli or linzer cookie, I think he’ll be overjoyed that I can make him his “cake,” for a small price of course. So Grandpa, about cleaning behind that refrigerator…
Philly Fluff – Cream Cheese Pound Cake (makes one 9×5 loaf cake, plus 8-10 cupcakes)
8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
1¾ cups sugar
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract (I used Mexican vanilla)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, melted (optional – use only for marbled variation)
Posted on February 19, 2011