When Pantone announced that the plummy-brown shade of Marsala would be their 2015 Color of the Year, everyone pounced. It’s made its mark on runways and the red carpet, from Beyoncé to Tilda Swinton, and we here at Heirloom Finds fell under its spell, too.
Marsala is way more than just a color. This robust and storied Sicilian wine has a history centuries old, and is making a comeback in restaurants and forward-thinking wine shops across America and beyond. Bloomberg Business reported early this year that “higher-grade vintages are displacing cooking-quality wine in stores and on shelves. Cocktail maestros such as Death & Co’s David Kaplan are experimenting with it as a new ingredient to add to their menus, and it’s slowly surfacing on high-end wine lists.”
Such fortified, often sweet sipping wines have fallen out of favor in recent decades, and they’ve never truly taken hold in America (they’re all but an institution in the U.K.), but they’re slowly making a comeback, and for good reason. They’re a wonderful final act for a multi-course dinner, either at home or at a restaurant. A small, chilled glass of the dryer styles also makes a wonderful aperitif and awakens the palate when served with nibbles like nuts or hard cheeses.
Marsalas are classified according to their color and sweetness; unlike its Pantone namesake, marsala the wine varies in palate from gold to amber to ruby. Just stay away from the stuff sold with the cooking wines at the grocery store. And even if you don’t have access to a wide selection of marsalas, you can get a fairly decent bottle for all of seven to ten dollars.
Since marsala is a fortified wine, it keeps fairly well at room temperature once it’s opened. You can store it in your liquor cabinet (or, as I do, refrigerator, just so I remember it’s there) for three to four months with only a little flavor deterioration. That’s quite a few aperitifs and batches of zabaglione and chicken marsala.
But there are other ways to polish off a bottle. This splendid pound cake, made with olive oil and an entire cup of marsala, offers a complexity of flavor that easily trumps its buttery cousin, and only gets better as it ages a day or two.
Olive Oil and Marsala Pound Cake
Adapted from Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
Makes one standard tube pan or Bundt, or two 8 x 4-inch loaves.
I used marsala instead of medium-sweet sherry in baking doyenne Alice Medrich’s ingenious recipe (rush out and buy any one of her many excellent cookbooks – you can’t go wrong). Don’t balk at the olive oil, which adds a fruity element to this dense, fine-grained pound cake. You’ll need an electric mixer to make it. It freezes well, and keeps at room temperature for about four days. I like it with a dab of creme fraiche and a little fresh fruit.
3 cups (13.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon table salt
1-¾ cups granulated sugar
1 cup fruity, good-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
5 large eggs, cold
1 cup marsala (we used Taylor, which is medium-sweet)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and position a rack in the center. Grease and flour one tube or Bundt pan, or two 8 x 4-inch loaf (4 cup) pans.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the sugar, olive oil, and orange zest until blended. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula and continue to beat at high speed for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture is thick and pale. Stop the mixer and add a third of the flour mixture; mix on low speed until incorporated. Scrape down the bowl, add half of the marsala, and mix just until blended. Repeat with another third of the flour, followed by the remaining marsala, and then the remaining flour, stopping to scrape the bowl down each time.
4. Scrape the batter into the pan(s). Bake until a wooden skewer or toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 50 to 60 minutes. Set the cake(s) in their pans on wire racks to cool for 15 minutes, then unmold and set upright to cool completely. Well wrapped, the cake will keep for four days, or frozen for up to three months.
by Sara Bir