Responding to a rap at the window, I had opened the door to find the entire frame filled with yellow. The vision moved and a head popped out above the yellow fuzz. I wasn't familiar with mimosa flowers at the time, having only recently moved to Tuscany from London, and barely knew the elderly lady bearing the enormous bouquet. She transferred the cloud to my arms wishing me a lovely 8 March and left. It was my introduction to "La Giornata delle Donne" - Women's Day - in Italy. Ever since I have had a fondness for this modestly celebrated day. And for the bearer.
The exchange of fronds of mimosa between women and to women, is a low-key and thereby, all the more touching, note of thanks and friendship. One I'm happy to embrace because it has managed to avoid the heavy commercial attention that submerges other symbolic dates such as St. Valentines Day, Halloween and Carnival.
Over and above its symbolic value, I truly love mimosa for itself. The haze of yellow smudging the Tuscan countryside between the olive trees and cypresses, as the trees cautiously at first and then in wild abandon, explode into a haze of tiny yellow puff balls filling in the graceful fronds like a Manet painting taking form, are the first bursts of colour in the barely-end-of-winter landscape. As such, the progress of the blossoming trees is always a subject of conversation and consternation as they should be in full flower for March 8, but are sensitive to prematurely warm days or late frosts. Infact, as I write this, Italy is in the freezing midst of a particularly chilly cold spell. The mimosa trees that were already anticipating March with their suggestions of pale yellow smudges in the hills, have cruely felt the bite of the icy wind from Siberia followed by snow. I'm hoping that in some sheltered corners protected by old stone walls, at least some of the cheerful blossom will yet survive. The mimosa is an enormously generous tree and I delight in filling vases with ts good cheer and our old house with its profuse perfume.
I was tickled pink years ago, to come across a traditional Tuscan Spring-time cake inspired by the flowers and called, what other than, Torta di Mimosa, Mimosa Cake. My fresh-egg supplying neighbour introduced me to it years ago and handed me down her recipe. Double happiness. These days its not so easy to find in homes or on menus, probably because it looks more complicated and time-consuming to make than it actually is and the recipe calls for 10 eggs. I love the fuss of making it, am a glutton for it's oozy yummyness, and get a kick from it's presentational wow factor. So Happy Women's Day from under my very own mimosa tree.
Mimosa Cake Recipe
For the sponge cake:
Prepare a round medium size spring-form cake tin
120g of plain flour
180g of sugar
Level teaspoon of baking powder
Grated rind of one lemon
Half a teaspoon of vanilla essence
Maraschino - half a small glass mixed with an equl quantity of water. This will be used to drizzle over the cake.
Divide the whites from the yolks. Beat the whites and set aside. In a bowl mix together the sugar and egg yolks followed by the flour and baking powder. Add the lemon rind. Fold the beaten egg whites into the mix.
Bake in oven at 180° for 25 minutes
To make the cream filling:
4 egg yolks
Half a litre of milk
Half a litre of cream
40g plain flour
Few drops of vanilla essence
Grated rind of one lemon
Mix all the ingredients together except the milk and cream in a pan. Place on a gently heat and gradually add the cold milk, mixing constantly until smooth. When it begins to thicken sufficiently to be able to hold its form in the middle of the cake without running out all over the place, remove from the heat.
Beat the cream in a separate bowl until thick. Add this to the mixture.
Leave to cool and chill in the fridge.
When the cake is cold, remove from the tin. Cut the cake into 2 layers. Here's the fun bit; carefully scrape out a shallow hollow in each of the 2 halves, taking care not to break the cake layers. Place the crumbs that have been hollowed out, onto a plate and break them gently into breadcrumby pieces. Set aside to decorate the cake.
At this point drizzle over the 2 halves, the maraschino and water mix to soften the sponge a little without making it soggy.
When the cream is ready and cold, spoon it into the hollow of the bottom half of the cake and place the other on top. Reserve sufficient cream to spread on top of the assembled cake and then sprinkle the fine cake crumbs all over the top to resemble mimosa flowers.
Totally yummy and finger-licking oozy.