Today, I am taking you to one of the smallest countries in the world to celebrate the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on this 8th Day of December.
Lesser known to non-Europeans, this country is unique for several reasons. Also known as the Most Serene Republic (or Republica Serenissima in Italian), San Marino claims to be the smallest republic in the world, but this claim is disputed since the independence of Nauru in 1968 which has a smaller land mass but covers a much larger area if we include the water territories. The population of San Marino is just over 30,000 and the country is also one of the richest in the world with a GDP per capita comparable to those of the rich European nations.
When my brother Cyril and I were young, very young , our parents often took the whole family to Rimini for our summer vacation. Rimini is located on the Adriatic coast, about 6 miles from San Marino. I remember spending some days shopping in this small picturesque state also known for its low taxes.
Bustrengo is a cake that is eaten year-round but it is also a traditional Christmas cake. Many countries have similar versions of Christmas cakes with fruits or dried fruits. Notable examples include panettone, also Italian but from Milan, as well as Stollen from Germany, or bara brith from the UK. In other countries, these fruitcakes simply bear the name “Christmas cake” or just “cake” as in France.
Bustrengo used to be baked not in an oven but in a fireplace in a traditional copper pot with a concave lid that housed hot coals, allowing the cake to bake on both sides. Bustrengo is quite dense which is why it is usually served in small portions, accompanied by a shot of sweet wine.
One of the ingredients that makes this cake quite unique is cornmeal, popular in Italy in the preparation of polenta. We already published cakes with a dense composition such as potato and cashew-based bolo polana from Mozambique, rice-based mkatra siniya from the Comoros or semolina-based sanwin makin from Burma.
We all enjoyed the cake at home, even though we had a hard time finishing it. Yes, it is quite heavy and we could only eat small portions with each serving.
- ½ cup cornmeal
- 2 cups flour
- 1½ cup bread crumbs
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 3 eggs
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 cups milk
- 5 tablespoons honey
- 1 lb apples , peeled, cored and diced
- 3 oz. dried figs , diced
- 3 oz. raisins
- Zest of a lemon , grated
- Zest of an orange , grated
Preheat oven to 325F/160C. Grease a 9x13 inch (20x30cm) baking dish.
- Mix cornmeal, flour, breadcrumbs, salt, eggs and oil.
- Stir in milk and honey.
- Add the diced apples, dried figs, raisins and zests, stirring gently.
- Bake for 50 to 60 minutes.