Gino’s Mint Chocolate Chip Cake
La Locanda di Gino is a gem of a restaurant in the city of Sulmona, Abruzzo. It was opened as a tavern in 1962 by Gino Allega and has gradually evolved into a fine restaurant serving traditional cucina Abruzzese. These days, the late Gino’s sons, Giacomo and Marco, run the front of the house while in the back their mother, Lucia, and wives, Titina and Marcella, turn out fresh noodles for spaghetti alla chitarra, tender roast lamb, vegetable terrines, and other Abruzzese specialties.
This is the restaurant’s signature cake, simple in appearance and packed with fresh mint flavor, thanks to homemade mint syrup, which is both baked into the cake and brushed on top of it once out of the oven. Mint grows all over the mountains in Abruzzo and is featured in recipes both savory and sweet, including liqueurs, candies, and desserts such as this one.
Yield: One 9-inch by 13-inch (23- by 33-cm) cake
Heat the oven to 375° F (190° C). Butter and flour a 9- by 13-inch (23- by 33- cm) baking pan.
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir well.
In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat together the butter and sugar until fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Beat in the flour mixture on low speed just until incorporated. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat in the ricotta and chocolate chips. With the mixer running on low speed, gradually pour in 1/2 cup (118 ml) of the mint syrup and mix until fully incorporated.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake 30 minutes, until browned on top and a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
Remove from the oven and set the pan on a cooling rack. While the cake is still hot, use a pastry brush to brush the top with the remaining 1/4 cup (59 ml) of mint syrup. Let the cake cool to room temperature. To serve, cut into squares and dust with confectioners' sugar.
Note: To make vanilla-infused sugar, simply bury a vanilla pod in your sugar canister.
Fresh Mint Syrup
Difficulty level: low
Cooking time: 3 hours, 10 minutes, including steeping time
I use this mint-infused syrup in my Mint Chocolate-Chip Cake. But it is also good in iced tea, tossed with fruit salad, drizzled on vanilla (or chocolate) ice cream, or as a cocktail ingredient.
Yield: about 2 cups
1 cup (240 ml) water
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 g) vanilla sugar (see Notes)
4 strips of lemon zest (no white pith)
2 lightly packed cups fresh mint leaves
Combine the water and sugar in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and toss in the lemon zest. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
When the syrup is almost at a boil, coarsely chop the mint leaves. Do this at the last possible moment so that you don't lose any of that wonderful mint aroma. As soon as the syrup starts the boil, turn off the heat and gently stir in the mint leaves. Cover the saucepan and let the syrup steep for 3 hours.
Pour the mint syrup through a fine-mesh sieve into a clean jar. Store in the refrigerator.