My brother, Eric, texted me on March 8th to say, “It’s official. Apartment hunting in Boston is the worst possible experience.”
He is right.
When he and his girlfriend, Amanda, entered what would otherwise be reasonable search criteria into Craigslist—namely they wanted a dog-friendly place with in-unit laundry for less than 2,000 dollars per month—one entry in all of Boston proper came up. And it was a scam listing.
Finding an apartment here is not for weaklings. You need about 6,000 dollars upfront, to cover first and last’s months rent plus a realtor’s fee, which often involves forking over a couple grand to a bro in his mid-twenties so he can physically open the door and lie straight to your face that the apartment comes with a dishwasher.
Eric and Amanda are planning to move here from the D.C. area and when they came to visit last weekend, we stopped into a real estate agency, hoping some face-to-face contact might improve their chances. Eric relayed the same reasonable criteria—minus the laundry, which I assured was an illusory ambition—and the realtor made the kind of face a crummy oncologist might give before awarding you a diagnosis of pancreatic cancer.
Despite all of this, as we walked around the city, Amanda said she thought the people of Boston were nice. To which I had a good laugh. The city was founded by Puritans, after all, and boasts a proud history as a place where angry mobs literally tarred and feathered people. It was ten degrees that day, which was not breeding any benevolence from inhabitants, either.
While the city does not coddle, it does offer some fun. We visited one of my favorite restaurants, Hojoko, a Japanese-style spot that until a few years ago, was a Howard Johnson. They serve an addictive okonomiyaki and also offer something called wasabi roulette, wherein a pecan-sized nub of wasabi is encased in bits of raw fish and participants take turns eating similar pieces from a rotating dish until a poor soul stumbles upon the one with wasabi. This is the type of thing that the diseased people of Boston find hilarious.
We also visited Eataly, which has imported pasta and limbs of meat hanging from the rafters, which is what sold Amanda on Boston, I think, once we discredited her nice Bostonian theory. We ended the night at a comedy club located on the third floor of a Chinese restaurant in Harvard Square, whose floors will allegedly bow if enough people are on them.
So we toured the city, ate and drank to fight off the cold, and despite the gnarly weather and depressing housing prospects, had a good time.
Before they left for their 7 AM flight back to the land of the cherry blossoms, I tucked away a few slabs of this cake for the airport.
The recipe comes from a butcher named Dario who has a restaurant in Tuscany. You can read more about its origin here.
To make it, you throw a couple oranges, rind and all, into the batter, along with some wine-soaked raisins. It is perfumed by fronds of rosemary and studded with pine nuts, which I never really kept around before, because I felt pecans could do the job of a pine nut when it came to pesto. But I will now.
The result is a fragrant, citrusy cake with a moist crumb. I typically soak the raisins in amaro along with a splash of sherry, because the recipe calls for vin santo, which I do not have. Although I have many characteristics of an eighty-year-old Italian man, drinking vin santo is not one of them.
Though the cake itself is not overly sweet, thanks to the dusting of granulated sugar, it has a sparkly top layer that looks like icy snow crystals. Plus it involves a tube pan. I love a good tube pan.
It also serves as a convenient metaphor for Boston. Its ingredients are a bit finicky and at some points you feel like things are going all wrong. The recipe calls for less than a cup of sugar, so it is by no means a saccharine dessert. Even the natural sweetness from the fruit is tamed by bitter notes from the orange peel and amaro.
It is a solid, reliable dessert made for sturdy people. Just don’t call it nice.
A Butcher’s Orange Rosemary Cake with Pine Nuts
Adapted from Food52
- ½ cup raisins
- ¼ cup amaro plus 2 tbsp of sherry (or 3 ounces of vin santo)
- ⅓ cup pine nuts
- 1½ oranges, unpeeled and halved (seeds removed)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¾ cup plus 2 tbsp granuated sugar, divided
- ½ cup plus 1 tbsp olive oil
- 1½ cups plus 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- 2 long fresh rosemary sprigs
In a small saucepan, heat the raisins and amaro-sherry (or vin santo) on high heat until simmering. Turn off the heat and let sit 30 minutes. (So the raisins can plump and soak up the liquid.)
Set the oven to 325 degrees and roast the pine nuts on a baking sheet for 8 to 10 minutes, until they are golden brown and smell nutty. (Rotate the baking sheet halfway through to ensure even cooking.) Let cool.
Increase the oven temperature to 400 degrees.
Grease (I use butter) and flour a tube pan (or angel food cake pan), tapping out the extra flour.
Place the orange halves cut-side down and slice longitudinally into ¼-inch slices. Leaving the peels attached, chop the slices into ¼-inch cubes.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, place the eggs, baking soda, baking powder, and ½ cup plus two tablespoons of sugar. Using the whisk attachment, mix on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes lighter in color and thicker (3 to 4 minutes).
With the speed on medium, gradually pour the olive oil down the inner side of the bowl and mix until emulsified.
Turn the speed to low and mix in one-third of the flour until it is barely visible and then one-third of the raisins until just incorporated. Stop the mixer to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Repeat two more times, each time adding one-third flour and raisins and then stopping to scrape the bowl.
Remove the bowl from the stand and fold in the oranges with a rubber spatula (no bits of flour should be visible, but do not over mix). Let the batter rest for 10 minutes.
Scrape the batter into your prepared pan (it will be very thick and loaded with oranges) and gently smooth the top with your spatula. Scatter the pine nuts over top and then sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup of sugar.
Cut the rosemary sprigs into manageable pieces (I like mine a couple inches in length). Stick the tufts into the batter so that they lay on the surface in a design of your choosing.
Bake the cake for 10 minutes, then turn the temperature down to 325 degrees and bake for another 30 to 40 minutes, or until the cake is golden and an inserted toothpick comes out clean. (Rotate the cake once during the process to ensure even baking.)
Place the cake on a wire rack and let cool to room temperature.
Run a knife around the inside of the pan and gently flip the cake upside down to free it, letting it fall gently into your hand (or nearby plate). Quickly flip the cake back and onto a serving platter, so that the pine nuts and rosemary are facing up again.
- If you have pastry flour, 1¾ cups of it can be used in place of the all-purpose flour and cornstarch.
- The cake can be covered and left at room temperature overnight, but I would freeze any leftovers beyond a day or two.