I was in charge of dessert for Christmas dinner and decided to try to replicate the lemon cake we had in Sorrento, Italy, that is a local specialty. Googling did not help me find a recipe. Then I talked to my hair stylist who lived in Italy until he was a teen and frequently visits the Amalfi Coast. He suggested two cookbooks – Sophia Loren’s cookbook (now out of print: she is from the Amalfi Coast area) and The Silver Spoon, which he described as Italy’s The Joy of Cooking. I was able to get both books at the library. Sophia did not help me, but the Silver Spoon has a recipe called Lemon Delight. It sounded like it was at least close.  Here’s the recipe:


5 eggs

1/2 cup superfine sugar

1 1/4 cups flour

1 tsp baking powder

zest of 1 lemon


Chantilly Lemon Cream:

4 1/4 cups milk

1/2 vanilla bean, silt lengthwise

zest of 6 lemons

6 egg yolks

1 cup superfine sugar

scant 1 cup flour

3 tbsp cornstarch

1 drop lemon extract

1 1/4 cups heavy cream


Bergamot syrup:

3 cups superfine sugar

1/4 cup lemon juice

1 1/2 tbsp bergamot extract

3 drops lemon extract


To make the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a 9 inch cake pan with wax paper and brush with butter (I used a silicone pan I sprayed with cooking spray). Whisk the eggs and sugar with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Sift flour and baking powder and stir in lemon zest, then fold into egg mixture. Spoon into cake pan and bake 30-40 minutes (mine took 25 minutes), until a toothpick in the center comes out clean. Allow to cool, then cut the cake in half horizontally.

To make the lemon cream:

Pour milk into a pan. Scrape seeds and pulp from vanilla bean into the milk and add all but 1 tsp of lemon zest. Bring to a boil over low heat. Meanwhile, whisk egg yolks, sugar, flour and cornstarch together in a heatproof bowl. Remove the milk from the heat as soon as it begins to boil and gradually add to the egg mixture, constantly stirring. Pour it back into the pan and bring to a boil over low heat, stirring constantly. Boil, stirring constantly for 2 minutes, then remove from heat and pour into a bowl and let cool, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin from forming. (Note: I strained this through a fine sieve since it was full of lumps, then I covered it with plastic wrap to prevent the skin). When it is cool, whisk until smooth, adding remaining zest and lemon extract. Stiffly whisk the cream in another bowl then gently fold into the lemon mixture.

To make the syrup:

Pour 4 1/4 cups water into a pan and add the sugar, bring to a boil, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Boil, without stirring for 2 minutes until thick and syrupy, remove from heat and let cool (see my note below about this). Measure 1/2 cup of the syrup into a bowl and stir in the lemon juice bergamot syrup, and lemon extract. Pour the syrup into a large shallow dish (I used a round platter).

To assemble:

Soak each round of cake in the syrup. Put one round on a serving dish and spread with half the chantilly lemon cream, then top with the other round, using the remaining cream to cover and decorate the cake.

My notes:

Now, there are a few problems with this recipe. You’ll notice that it tells you to use 4 1/4 cups of water to make the bergamot syrup, but then you are only supposed to use 1/2 cup of it. I think there is a mistake in the translation here. So, instead, I boiled the water down for a lot longer until it was thick and syrupy. It had some crystallization of the sugar, which actually ended up being a really nice touch – having a bit of crunch when you bite into the cake.

The other issue is the bergamot extract, which I could not find. So in place, I used a few drops of lemon extract and orange extract. It worked out well.

I used gluten-free flour in this recipe and it was not a problem. I also used lactose free milk without issue.

I found the filling/frosting to be very runny and there was simply far too much of it. So I served the excess in a bowl and some people added some to their cake on the side, but it really wasn’t needed.

Overall, this was a very delicious cake with a very strong lemon flavor, but it is NOT the cake I had in Sorrento. That cake had almost a meringue on it – much lighter and fluffier than this cake was. This cake is a lovely soft sponge with intense lemon flavor with a creamy sauce on it.

This recipes was a lot of work, but it was very different than anything I’ve been served stateside, so in that respect it was a success.

I was in charge of dessert for Christmas dinner and decided to try to replicate the lemon cake we had in Sorrento, Italy, that is a local specialty. Googling did not help me find a recipe. Then I talked to my hair stylist who lived in Italy until he was a teen and frequently visits … Read more

Hands off veggie buffet at Aurora

The Amalfi Coast of Italy was stunning in its scenery. It was the furthest point south we visited and I looked forward to exploring the culinary delights of this region.

Day One

We arrived in Sorrento after a stop in Pompeii. Our Pompeii tour guide told us THE place to eat in Sorrento

1/2 pizza 1/2 calzone

is Aurora pizzeria, on the Piazza Tasso, the center of the town. Aurora is more than just a pizzeria – they own two more restaurants next door, so it’s a compound at this point. I was pretty excited about dinner here. You walk past the side of the restaurant and there is an open window into the pizza kitchen, where you can watch the chefs making the pizzas and baking them in the wood oven.

The restaurant has what looks like a small buffet near the front. This is a selection of vegetables for the

Pizza oven at Aurora

“selection of vegetables” listed as a starter. My daughter and I each got this. Just when we thought we had the hang of this whole Italy thing, they showed us we did not at all. It’s not a buffet in the American sense. You go up with your waiter and you tell him which items you want and he fills your plate. Now, this is hard to do when really I just wanted a tiny taste of everything, but I felt like a huge pig to ask for this. There were also cheeses on the buffet but I was told “no, no” when I pointed to them. Turns out they were extra.

Fish at Zi’Ntonio

The vegetables were cold on the buffet (previously cooked) and stuck in the microwave once we selected them (I am not a fan of the microwave approach here). Despite this, all had interesting flavor combinations. It was a nice selection. My son started with ravioli Caprese style and my husband had stracciatelli soup, which is very similar to egg drop, and thus he loved it. For our secondi, we went with pizzas and calzones. My son got a Romano

Deboning the fish

pizza (anchovy, mozzarella, tomato, and mushroom). He enjoyed that. My husband got four cheese pizza which we thought was a bit boring (no sauce). My daughter got a calzone Napoli (cottage cheese, ham, and mozzarella). She liked it for the most part, but again, there’s no sauce, so it is kind of dry. I got the Aurora No. 4 which was supposed to be half pizza, half calzone with ham, cheese and mushroom. It ended up being a calzone with just one little flat part. I wasn’t a fan. A pizza without sauce

Unnamed fish

is like a sandwich as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if it is red or white, it needs something to make it tasty. Overall, we were disappointed by the pizzas.

Day Two

A guided tour took us to the town of Anacapri on the island of Capri where a lunch was included in our tour. Hands down the worst meal of the trip. You know you are in trouble when you are asked to choose between “fish or meat.”

Wild strawberry cake

Sorry, but I need more details! Which fish, which meat, and how is it cooked?  Everything here was pretty bad – cooked in huge pans and served at the table by the waiter. Just disappointing.

We rebounded however and dined that evening in the Marina Grande area of Sorrento (on the waterfront) at a restaurant recommended to me by my hair stylist who grew up in Naples and visits Sorrento often. Zi’Ntonio Mare was magical. It’s situated on a pier over the water, next the sand

Sorrento Lemon Cake

beach where we came and swam the next day. Mount Vesuvius is in the background. You can see the cliffs of the coast and hear the water lapping.  The language barrier was heavy here, and because we ordered some specials I am not exactly certain what we had! I started with a Caprese salad which was perfect. Then I had a special which was fish. I originally ordered something else from the menu and was told they were out of it. The waiter suggested this fish instead, the name of which I could not


understand, but which he said was like a sea bass. It was fantastic. White, flaky, mild, but filling and full of the flavors of the sea. My daughter had linguine with scampi and these shrimp were huge and delightful. My husband had spaghetti with clams (which I think he ordered just about every other day on this trip!) and then sea bream baked in salt. The sea bream was fantastic. I’ve had salt-crusted meats and fish before and it is always a surprise how non-salty they are, and how the salt crust keeps the moisture and the flavor inside. My son had ravioli and deep fried squid and

Inside L’Antica Trattoria

shrimp. Every item on the table was magnificent, but we weren’t done yet. My daughter had cannoli and the rest of us shared a wild strawberry cake (teeny, tiny, amazingly sweet wild strawberries all over this moist cake) and a lemon cake, a specialty of the Amalfi Coast. The cake is baked inside a meringue. This is on my list to replicate.

Day Three

After a morning at the beach, the


kids collapsed at the hotel and my husband and I did some shopping and brought sandwiches back.  We also brought back

Another wild strawberry cake

a wonderful little wild strawberry cake which was just as wonderful as the on we had the previous night. Where are the Italians growing all these wild strawberries? Why can’t we get them at home? What strikes me about the sandwiches is that they only have meat and cheese

Angel hair and prawns

on them. You can’t get lettuce or tomato or anything else, at any kind of traditional sandwich shop.

Dinner that night for our final evening in Italy was at L’Antica

Lamb medallions

Trattoria, chosen in most of my guidebooks as “the” place to eat in Sorrento. It was truly a beautiful setting. There is a small restaurant inside, but most of it is outside under an arbor. There is artwork and pottery all over and the service was quite elegant. I began with gnocchi (always good no matter where we had it) then had pesce bandieri with fried prawns. The husband had angel hair pasta with prawns served in half a lemon (loved the presentation and as always, loved the prawns), then

Pesce bandieri with prawns

lamb medallions with Mediterranean herbs. Unlike the lamb in Rome, this was cooked properly and was delicious. The son had ravioli and the daughter had quail. We finished our last night in Italy with another Sorrento lemon cake I’ve really got to work on replicating this) and a plate of lovely cookies.

Italy was the best food I’ve had on a trip, hands down, anywhere to date. I would go back in a heartbeat. The

Sorrento Lemon Cake #2

beauty of it was none of us gained a single ounce. As always on vacation, I lost weight because we are constantly moving and you just eat less when someone else is portioning out all of


your food.

The Amalfi Coast of Italy was stunning in its scenery. It was the furthest point south we visited and I looked forward to exploring the culinary delights of this region. Day One We arrived in Sorrento after a stop in Pompeii. Our Pompeii tour guide told us THE place to eat in Sorrento is Aurora … Read more