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Saturday, April 26, 2008

Cookin' the Books: Perin Family Buttermilk Cake

Opening Cooking with My Sisters by best-selling author Adriana Trigiani is like stepping into
the middle of her big, loud Italian family. You can hear her and her four sisters teasing each other, see the ghost of their exacting Grandmom, and feel the warmth of the Trigiani parents. Most of all, you can smell the food - baking lasagne, cooling pastries and stewing minestrone. It's enough to make you want to be a Trigiani, or at least an Italian.

Cooking with My Sisters is more text-heavy than most cookbooks, but it's a heck of a lot more entertaining. With her usual humor, Adriana Trigiani talks about her family's love affair with good, authentic Italian food. She also remembers her colorful family members, from her army-deserting great-grandfather to her spoiled, piano-playing father to her Grandmom, who ruled her kitchen with exactness. Viola Trigiani, Adriana's paternal grandmother (called Grandmom) gets a starring role in the memoir, because she was central to the girls' culinary education. Nicknamed "Grambo" because of her "direct, bombastic" (ix) personality and her skill with a rifle, she was "definitely a handful" (32). But, she (along with Adriana's maternal grandmother and her own mother) taught the Trigiani girls the secrets of delicious Italian meals. On of those secrets is to use the freshest ingredients possible. Viola also liked to use fresh ingredients creatively. I loved this vignette:

During the summers in Pennsylvania, if you saw Trigiani grandchildren running alongside the road, you knew Viola had them out collecting something. It was reminiscent of that scene in The Sound of Music in which the captain is driving home with the baroness (hiss) and sees all his children hanging from the big trees lining the roads. The only difference between us and the von Trapps is that they were having fun (151).

Even when she's talking about other, less colorful characters, Adriana Trigiani writes warmly, and with great love for her family, her heritage and, of course, her treasured family recipes. Honestly, it's as entertaining (if not more so) than her novels.

The recipes range from more difficult (homemade noodles) to less so (cakes and cookies), but they all rely on fresh ingredients. In fact, before you try any of the meals (especially those involving pasta), you should stock up on Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, as it is a Trigiani staple. Most of the recipes look delicious (I'm a little skeptical of the Dandelion Salad), and I'm anxious to try them all. There was only one, however, for which I had all of the ingredients, so here it is:

Perin Family Buttermilk Cake

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour

1 1/2 c. (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small bits and softened (but still chilled)
1/2 t. salt
3 c. sugar
2 t. baking powder
1 t. baking soda
3 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2 c. buttermilk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Place the flour, butter, and salt in a large bowl.

In a second bowl, mix the sugar, baking powder, and baking soda. Add this mixture to the flour mixture. Combine, then measure out 1 cup and set aside.

Beat the eggs, vanilla, and buttermilk into the mixture.

Pour the batter into a greased and floured 9 x 12-inch cake pan. Sprinkle the reserved cup of flour-suagar mixture over the top of the batter. Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, watching for the cake to turn a golden color.

Makes 12 servings.

My thoughts on the recipe: My husband and I both LOVE this cake. It's fantastic. It is more moist than most cakes, with a kind of cobbler/pudding cake consistency. I don't know how to describe it, but trust me, it's divine.

I also really enjoyed this cookbook. The memoir aspect is perfect - Adriana Trigiani's stories are warm, funny and lighthearted. The recipes are varied and look scrumptious. My only complaint is that they don't include nutrition facts (probably because we're better off not knowing). Other than that, Cooking with My Sisters is a treasure. I loved it.

Grade: A


  1. I just love Adriana Trigiani! I will have to check this out. What a wonderful combination -- cookbooks and Ms. Trigiani. I was afraid that I'd be disappointed, but with your wonderful recommendation....

  2. That cake looks and sounds wonderful. I'm sure it is so moist and dense. 3 sticks of butter. Yum! I'll have to watch out for this cookbook.

  3. Thanks for the recipe! I love Adriana Trigiani's books I will have to find her cookbook! :)

  4. I LOVE Adriana Trigiani!!! I've read everything she's written and she's called my book club twice! Some of the members even went to Atlanta to meet her! Her cookbook is displayed in my kitchen. I agree that you feel like you are standing in the kitchen with her family. Thanks for sharing. Happy Reading! Bitsy
    PS ~ another cookbook with fun family info is Pat Conroy's. Book club went to see him in Atlanta as well and learned about it there. It's fun, too.

  5. Thanks for this. I've joined the Soup's On Challenge, as well but haven't even picked out the books I want to read, yet. The buttermilk cake looks delicious!!


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