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Grapefruit and Honey Cake

By Mario Batali/Tribune Content Agency

This article was published December 26, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.

Q: I’m not big on chocolate. What’s a yummy fruit dessert I can make when entertaining company?

A: The Batalis could not sympathize more. When it comes to dessert, we usually opt for seasonal fruity treats over chocolate. For Thanksgiving, we nixed the cocoa in favor of pumpkin pie and simple meringues. And in the absence of chocolate, kids and adults were left perfectly satisfied.

This Grapefruit and Honey Cake is my favorite kind of Italian dessert. It happily rides the line between after-dinner dessert and midafternoon treat. It’s a dry, not-too-sweet cake that I love to snack on late in the day. Dress it up with whipped cream or thick and delicious Greek yogurt. (If you’re feeling fancy, spring for creme fraiche.) Even served without add-ons, I guarantee your company will go crazy for this cake.

If you want to go the extra mile, start a few hours in advance and make candied citrus peel to serve with the cake. Candied citrus keeps for several months when stored in a tightly sealed container. And with only three simple ingredients, you get your bang for your buck.

The citrus in this dish conjures memories of my grandmother, especially during this time of year. When we were growing up, my brother, sister and I would check our stockings each year on Christmas morning to find a perfectly crisp $5 bill and eight clementines. Grandma insisted that clementines were all we could eat before heading to our cousin’s for the multi-course Christmas feast.

So whether it’s the smell of clementines or the taste of Grapefruit and Honey Cake this winter, citrus is the ticket to my happy place.

Grapefruit and Honey Cake

Excerpted from Molto Batali (ecco, 2011)

Serves 8 to 10 people

Ingredients:

3 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup finely ground fresh breadcrumbs

2 medium grapefruits

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup honey

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

Directions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Oil a 9-inch round cake pan with tall sides, and dust it with the 3 tablespoons breadcrumbs.

Using a grater, zest both grapefruits. Juice one of the grapefruits to yield 3/4 cup juice. In a small bowl, combine the zest, juice and olive oil. Set aside.

In a large bowl, beat the eggs and salt with an electric mixer until frothy and light. Slowly beat in the sugar and honey; continue to mix until pale and thick, about 2 minutes more.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, the remaining 1/4 cup breadcrumbs and the baking powder. Then gradually beat the dry ingredients into the egg mixture. Fold in the citrus-zest mixture until incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire for 10 minutes. Then remove the cake from the pan and let cool to room temperature.

Candied Citrus Peel

Excerpted from Molto Italiano (ecco, 2005)

Makes about 1 cup

Ingredients:

1 cup large pieces orange, grapefruit or lemon peel

1 cup sugar, plus extra for coating

1 cup water

Directions:

Put the citrus peel in a saucepan, add cold water to cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes. Drain, and repeat the process two more times.

Rinse the drained peel under cold water until cool. Scrape away the stringy white part of the peel, and slice into strips.

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar and 1 cup water, and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Add the peel, reduce the heat to very low, and cook slowly until all the syrup is absorbed. This may take several hours. Stir occasionally and watch carefully so the peel does not scorch.

Spread the peel on a wire rack set over a baking sheet, separating the pieces, and let cool.

Toss the candied peel with sugar to coat. Spread out on the rack again, and let dry overnight. Store tightly covered.

Mario Batali is the award-winning chef behind 24 restaurants, including Eataly, DelPosto and his flagship Greenwich Village enoteca, Babbo. In this column, Mario answers questions submitted via social media and by people he encounters daily in downtown Manhattan. Keep asking!

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