It’s not a very tantalizing name for a cake, is it? This cake is a riff on that Italian Easter time dessert, Pastiera Napoletana di Grano, a dessert made with whole cooked wheat grains and ricotta. It wasn’t a big thing in my house growing up, but we did have it every once in a while. It’s delicious in a very comforting way, slightly chewy, slightly custardy and not too sweet. I used cooked barley in it, as opposed to wheat, and impastata ricotta, which is a richer, smoother ricotta used for cannoli filling. I’m pretty sure regular ricotta will work just fine. And other cooked grains? Why not give it a try? Cooked grains add a great texture to cake, and the grains in it feel virtuous. I’m a proponent of anything that makes daily portions of cake a “healthy” option.
Last week, I started finishing up the items in the pantry that are more wintry, like pearled barley. I had a small amount left and got the idea to make a sweet dish, something like a rice pudding. I pressure cooked the small white grains (1.5 cups) in half coconut milk and water (equaling 3 cups) and a pinch of salt. Almost half way done, the liquids started coming out of the pressure cooker and it was a bit of a disaster, burnt coconut milk all over the stove. I went ahead and cooked it until tender with the lid off despite the mishap. (Not sure why it happened? My cooker is fine, as I cooked rice in it afterwards and it came out perfectly, no mishaps. It wasn’t overfilled. Maybe it was the fatty nature of the coconut milk? I’m noting it here, so that you may be warned.) I ate that coconut barley (which is what is was, a cooked grain, instead of a pudding, but whatever) for breakfast a few days in a row, adding cinnamon and maple syrup. It was tasty, with that slightly unyielding chewiness that barley offers. But I was over it after a few days, and there was still a bit left.
What else to do with it? I thought baked in a cake of some sort was the answer. But what kind of cake is that? And the idea of the grain pie came to me. I liked it because the grain pie is sort of involved, and I liked the idea of the filling but not bothering with the pie shell. The grain pie will often have candied citrus in it, but I wanted to use up some pear jam, so the fruitiness of this cake come from that. The jam also gives it moisture and cohesion, so I’ll bet you could swap it with applesauce and then add about a third of a cup of chopped candied citrus, if you prefer. This cake stayed moist for a good five days sitting out. It was quick to put together and a good easy breakfast. Who doesn’t want cake for breakfast?
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch springform pan.
1 cup cooked barley
1/2 cup impastata ricotta
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup pear jam
1 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
Add the ingredients in the order they are listed here, but mix the flour, powder, soda, and salt together before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. Poured and smoothed into the pan, it was baked for about 25 minutes. Let cool.