I’m a food nerd. I know everyone is surprised (shocked, really). So, when Caitlynn comes to me with a recipe for a 2000-year-old cake from ancient Rome, well, I’m intrigued.
And since I seem to have more time on my hands these days due to the that pesky virus invading the planet, she and I spent an afternoon trying two different versions of this cake. I’ll be honest, this recipe is not mine (obviously, since I’m not an ancient Roman). We took a cue from this site: https://www.howtocookthat.net/public_html/2000-year-old-cake-recipe-ancient-rome/. If you watch through the video, you’ll see that the cook tried three different versions of the cake and ended up liking the one with yeast the most.
Yeast in cake. This makes total sense as there weren’t many options for creating leavening in cakes back then and it got me thinking. I’m not convinced they would have had dried yeast back then. They likely would have had a sourdough starter. And they may have had wine with some fizziness, like Moscato.
In the absence of a chemical leavening agent like baking soda or baking powder, perhaps they used a fizzy wine, along with a sourdough starter to make their cakes. Or maybe they didn’t use the starter at all and just used the wine. All this speculation makes me want to travel back in time to find out for sure. Me in ancient Rome? What a sight to behold!
All this leads me to my version of the cake. I chose not to use yeast but to use Moscato Wine either by itself or with my trusty sourdough starter. And… since everyone is baking at home these days, finding whole wheat flour is impossible (really, people? All the flour?). In my hunt for whole wheat flour, I found the next best thing – whole farro, which happens to be an ancient grain. Yeah, it went old school real quick.
Our verdict: the version with the Moscato was the winner. Fair warning -- the cake is not that sweet. It’s dense with savory notes and a hint of sweetness. It’s actually quite delicious with a glass of Moscato. I baked the cake in a 9x5 loaf pan but you could certainly bake this in a smaller cake or loaf pan.
And you can make this cake however you see fit – all Moscato or using a blend of Moscato and sourdough starter, or maybe you want to use instant yeast with the Moscato. You can also use whole wheat flour if that’s what you have. In that case, can I borrow some?
Note the quantities for the recipe are in metric (grams, milliliters). If you have a scale, this will be perfect for you.
Yield: 1 cake
^We used a food processor to grind the wheat berries and almonds (separately). OR you can use whole wheat flour if you have it.
*For sourdough use these quantities for the Moscato wine:
Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Generously grease a small cake or loaf pan.
In a small bowl, whisk together the ground wheat, almonds, rosemary, and cinnamon. Set aside.
In another small bowl, whisk together the wine, honey, grape juice concentrate, and milk. Pour the wine mixture into the dry ingredients. Let sit for 15 minutes at room temperature.
Bake for 20-35 minutes, depending on the depth of the pan or until the cake starts to pull away from the sides of the pan. In a 9x5 loaf pan, the cake baked for 23-25 minutes.
Remove cake from pan. Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with hazelnuts. Serve at room temperature.