the aromas of sweetness and comfort

ricotta-orange pound cake | the merry gourmet

My daughter had a fever Friday night. Her eyes were glassy, and she didn’t have her usual bouncy enthusiasm for our Family Movie Night. Instead, she was sluggish and tearful. After dinner – and after chewing some children’s ibuprofen – she wrapped herself up in a cozy, red blanket and headed upstairs to her room. While she read a book on her Kindle, my husband and I watched Turbo (for the third or fourth time) with our son.

Maddie didn’t stay up late reading, though, as has been her habit lately. She was fast asleep by 8:30 or 9:00, tucked under her quilt and at least two other throw blankets. My husband, expecting her to wander downstairs in the middle of the night with pain from another fever, had set out an assortment of symptom-relieving medicines where they’d be easy for us to find without having to rummage through the cabinets. But she didn’t come down that night. She slept hard until morning.

On Saturday, her temperature was lower, and I could tell she felt a little better. She still wasn’t herself, though. When she didn’t want to take a trip with us to the local library to get a new book, I could tell she was still not feeling well.

I didn’t feel so great on Saturday either. I didn’t have a fever, but I felt a little achy, and my allergies were flaring up. Mostly, I just felt…blah. Unexcited, uninspired, and unmotivated. I wanted to feel like cooking, but I didn’t. And — I’ll confess it here — despite receiving a beautiful baking cookbook in the mail the day before, I didn’t even feel like baking.

As the morning turned into afternoon, I remembered that, sometimes, just committing to something – jumping in and immersing myself in an activity – can be inspiring, even if I wasn’t feeling it from the beginning. Writing is often this way for me. Often, I dread it, and I feel like the words – the right words – will never come. But if I just start writing, if I force myself to sit and focus (and no matter how many times I may end up hitting the ‘delete’ key), eventually something emerges, and I feel better about things. I feel better about writing, about what I have written, and about my life in general.

So, on Saturday, I decided to bake a cake. I let the butter and eggs come to room temperature, and by that point, I was committed. There was no turning back.

(Okay, okay, I could have put those eggs and that butter back in the refrigerator, but that would feel too much like defeat. And I am not one to easily admit defeat.)

By the time the cake was in the oven, I did feel better.

By the time the cake was out of the oven, filling the house with the aromas of sweetness and comfort, we all were feeling better.

Baking, for the win!

ricotta-orange pound cake | the merry gourmet

Yield: Serves 8-10

Cook Time: 50 minutes.

Ricotta-Orange Pound Cake

There's something special about the simplicity of a pound cake. Pound cakes are reliable and versatile, and everyone seems to like them. This one is no exception. And while this pound cake is gussied up a bit, it's not over the top. A slice of this cake, served simply with a dusting of powdered sugar or a dollop of sweetened whipped cream, would satisfy any guest of any age, on any occasion.


1-1/2 cups (145 grams) cake flour
2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1-1/2 sticks (170 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
1-1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups ricotta cheese
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
1 teaspoon vanilla paste
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting


Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with the oven rack in the middle position. Butter and flour a deep 9-inch round cake pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed until pale and fluffy. Add the ricotta and beat until smooth. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, until just incorporated. Beat in the Grand Marnier, vanilla paste, and orange zest. Add the dry ingredients in three batches, beating on medium after each addition, just until incorporated. Give the batter a final stir by hand.

Pour batter into prepared cake pan and bake for 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out a few crumbs. Transfer to a rack to cool for 20 minutes, and then invert cake out of pan to cool completely. Dust the pound cake with confectioners’ sugar.

Very slightly adapted from this recipe by Giada de Laurentiis in Food & Wine.

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32 Responses to “for jennie, for all of us: frozen peanut butter pie”

  1. Ellie — August 16, 2011 @ 9:04 pm

    Thank you Merry, for writing this because I have been so concerned about Jennie, At least I know now that there were times for smiles along with the tears…Ellie

  2. LiztheChef — August 16, 2011 @ 9:07 pm

    I finally get why all of us are so eager to meet you. I was away on vacation – but you interrupted your life to care for a friend. Hope your practice had a back-up and looking forward to that cocktail here in San Diego in, Liz

  3. Eleanor Hoh (wokstar) — August 16, 2011 @ 9:20 pm

    What a good friend you are!

  4. A Boston Food Diary — August 16, 2011 @ 9:24 pm

    Beautiful post….you are a wonderful person

  5. kamran siddiqi — August 16, 2011 @ 9:29 pm

    M-J, having met you twice this year has been such an honor. You are truly a good friend and a great person. You aren’t even close-by, yet you did what any friend would do, you got on a plane and helped Jennie, gave her a shoulder to weep on, and gave her some time for herself.

    I know I’ve said this before, but I simply must say it again, I feel truly blessed being part of such a great community filled with amazing, loving, supportive people (like you).

    I made the pie with my loved one’s on Friday, a few hours after I got back from the potluck. When the pie was ready, we cried as we ate it; we tasted the love that we all put into the pie. “I love you’s” and hugs were exchanged. We spent the rest of the day together. We didn’t do much, but knowing that we were all together was all that mattered.

  6. Renée J. (RJ Flamingo) — August 16, 2011 @ 9:35 pm

    I’m so glad you were able to go and be with Jennie. I know you were more help than you maybe you think you were, and so happy to hear that it wasn’t all tears. You are sensational. Oh, yeah. And so is the pie. 😉 xox

  7. SMITH BITES — August 16, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

    am so, so glad you went MJ – i wanted to go too but i’ve not met her in real life and i knew it just wasn’t feasible . . . i haven’t stopped thinking about Jennie and her children since the terrible news hit twitter . . . it’s all been so surreal . . . but am thankful for this community and that you’re part of it

  8. Winnie — August 16, 2011 @ 9:42 pm

    You’re not just a good friend; you are an amazing one. And the pie looks fantastic xoxo

  9. Maria Raynal — August 16, 2011 @ 9:43 pm

    You are such a warm, generous person and friend. It was comforting, knowing you were there for Jennie and her girls. And I love your version of the pie.

  10. Jen @ My Kitchen Addiction — August 16, 2011 @ 9:46 pm

    Beautiful post… I am sure that having you there with her was a huge comfort. I love that you made a pie when you got home, as well. It looks lovely!

  11. Chris — August 16, 2011 @ 9:52 pm

    Thanks for this! I have been wanting to know how the trip went. It was so good of you to go. The two of you broke the molds of truly special people. 🙂 Hugs! Can’t wait to chat with you again…

  12. Barbara | Creative Culinary — August 16, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

    I am certain your visit was everything Jennifer needed from a friend. Making her a priority, doing dishes, playing with the girls and most importantly being a loving shoulder in her time of need; you didn’t have to do more.

    The pie is a symbol of love…you have shown her and her family that in spades.

  13. Ethan — August 16, 2011 @ 10:41 pm

    You wanted to make the pie and we all wanted to be there in Brooklyn.
    You are one of the great ones M-J, blown fuse and all:)

  14. Paula — August 16, 2011 @ 11:14 pm

    I’m sure you were so much more than *a help* to Jennie and her family. Your presence and your actions at a time when nothing made sense, providing your friend and her children the support and the love needed to get through those days… You were a blessing.

    I’m glad that you baked the pie when you got home and I’m happy that you were able to share it with your own family.

  15. Wendy Read - Sunchowder — August 16, 2011 @ 11:29 pm

    Beautiful post and you are a wonderful friend. I am sure you were a comfort to Jennie and her children. I will never forget when you took the time out to call me when my neighbor was struck down with Lymphoma. You are amazing and I am so looking forward to meeting you in New Orleans.

  16. DessertForTwo — August 17, 2011 @ 12:13 am

    I’m so glad you were able to go up there and be with her. I’m still in shock a little too.
    On the bright side, I absolutely love your chocolate decorations on this pie! So original! 🙂

    Any chance you’re going to Food Blog Forum in Nashville in October? Would LOVE to see you again 🙂

  17. Liren — August 17, 2011 @ 1:58 am

    MJ, only you would feel badly that you did not make a peanut butter pie, when you were already being the sweetest and most supportive friend to Jennie. The gift of your presence, to be there for those very difficult moments so soon after Mikey’s death – I am certain that means more to her than anything. But I know what you mean about needing to make the pie, and am so glad you were able to enjoy it with your own loved ones.

  18. Prerna@IndianSimmer — August 17, 2011 @ 2:19 am

    Oh MJ, you are the sweetest kindest person! We all wished to be there with Jennie, by her side when she was weak but you actually did what a true friend should. You flew all the way.
    Thanks for letting us know that Jennie is sort of doing ok and she has a friend by her side (physically) when she needed one!

  19. Kulsum at JourneyKitchen — August 17, 2011 @ 2:35 am

    MJ you did exactly what a true friend does.Thank you for letting us in on how Jennie is doing. I have said it a million times but what an incredible community we are and Jennie is one of the bravest woman I know.

  20. myFudo — August 17, 2011 @ 5:10 am

    You are such a good friend, Hope Jennie is alright. Love your photo

  21. Brian @ A Thought For Food — August 17, 2011 @ 7:10 am


    That was so touching of you to go be with Jennie. I can only imagine what help you were… I have no doubt that she appreciated everything that you did.

    Sending you loving thoughts as well…


  22. Aggie — August 17, 2011 @ 7:35 am

    You are a good friend MJ. Your pie is beautiful, just like you.

  23. Lynda — August 17, 2011 @ 11:12 am

    What a beautiful post, and pie, and friend. xo.

  24. Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite — August 17, 2011 @ 12:24 pm

    Thank you. For being there when so many of us couldn’t. I am sure you were way more help than you imagine. Hugs XOX

  25. Caneel — August 17, 2011 @ 5:08 pm

    I’m so glad you were able to be there, as a friend, a comfort and a help, for her. I wasn’t able to make my pie until this week, either, but I’m glad I did. Thank you for sharing your beautiful pie.

  26. amelia from z tasty life — August 18, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

    M-J: you acted as a true friend… being there, just listening, living a few hours of every day life, baking the pie, sharing this with all of us. We are all distraught by this event. I too have been thinking about Jennifer every day since this tragedy. It has helped me appreciate my daily family moments so much more. Last Friday I took a day off and took my kids peach picking, just ’cause. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  27. Kathleen — August 18, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

    I always remind my 24 year old daughter of the great importance of girlfriends. They can help you get through anything and everything! Your pie looks delicious and I love the swirls!

  28. Mike — August 18, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

    MJ, what you did showed just what kind of person you are. A lot of us say we’d do the same thing if the circumstance arose and yet, for various reasons, many wouldn’t. You did. You momentarily paused your life so someone you care about could go forward. Everyone needs a friend like you.

    By the way, the pie looks so good. Only fitting that you were able to take some time for yourself to make this.

  29. IlinaP — August 19, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

    I am so glad to have met you but wish it was under better circumstances. I flew in and out so quickly and left for vacation early the next morning. I owe Jennie a peanut butter pie. First thing I’m gonna do when I get home and settled. Thanks for being such a good friend!

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