An Italian-inspired dessert full of summer strawberry goodness
Have you ever heard the term philotomo? Even if you have not heard the word, if you had the joy of visiting Greece, or know any Greeks, we’re sure you have experienced it. We have wanted to write about philotomo for a while, but we’ve been hesitant because we suspect that anyone unfamiliar with the term would not be able to appreciate its significance by simply reading about it. Alas, that’s all we can do for now, so we’ll do our best. We’ll also somehow link it to this strawberry ricotta cake with olive oil, we promise!
The etymology of the word philotomo comes from two Greek root words; “philos” which means friend and “timi” which means honour. So, in a way, to express philotomo is to be a friend of honour, or perhaps it means to honour your friend. We’re not sure, and we’re not alone. Capturing and expressing the true meaning of the word is difficult, and that’s something that most people would agree on. So, instead of giving you a definition of philotomo which would surely fall short, we’re going to try to illustrate it, with stories.
Philotomo is our parents, inviting a young Greek man that they had met only briefly, into our home and our lives. Our mother worked for several years in a rehabilitation hospital and there she met a patient who had suffered a horrible accident and was subsequently confined to a wheelchair. He would come in for daily rehabilitation sessions and he and our mother would chat before she started her shift in the housekeeping department. Living alone in the city (his parents were in Greece) our parents felt compelled to help, in any way they could. And so, every week for several months until he was able to fly back to Greece, he was invited for dinner. Our father would pick him up and carry him into the car. He would leave with a belly full, and meals packed for several days. This is philotomo.
Our father started his work shift very early in the morning, leaving the house at 5 am every day. Because a few of his co-workers did not have a car, in the winter months he would leave earlier than he had to and drive out of his way to pick them up so that they didn’t have to wait for the bus in the cold. He never asked (or expected) compensation or anything else in return. He did this because this is what you do. This is philotomo.
We remember many occasions, visiting our parents’ villages in Greece and being invited into the homes of some of the older villagers. If they had only one loaf of bread, or only a few eggs or small bowl of olives, it didn’t matter. It would all be brought out and shared among their guests, with joy and an open heart. The general belief being that a smaller portion for yourself will be more satisfying, and more fulfilling, than eating alone. Sharing is seen as a privilege and a duty. This is philotomo.
When our guests, featured in More Kouppes and Xenes Kouppes, invite us into their homes and share with us their treasured family recipes and kitchen wisdom, they do so with generosity of spirit. They are gracious, inviting and loving, and all because we have asked them to share with us. This is philotomo.
And so, you may be wondering what an Italian-inspired dessert like this strawberry ricotta cake with olive oil has to do with philotomo. The answer is, nothing directly. Except that this is the kind of cake our parents would be sure to have on hand to offer to family, friends and even strangers, should they come by. There was never a plumber, a landscaper or a delivery man who entered our home that wasn’t offered something to eat or drink. And if they were not able to stop what they were doing to enjoy something delicious or refreshing, our mother would pack it up so that they could take it with them. She still does this, and she’s taught us to do the same. This is philotomo; a concept that may be difficult to define, but a blessing to experience and live by.
What kind of ricotta should I use for this cake?
For our strawberry ricotta cake with olive oil we used a 5% milk fat ricotta, and that worked out beautifully. Our suspicion is that any ricotta would do just fine however.
Beating the egg whites separately seems like extra effort. Is it really necessary?
You will see that this is a pretty dense cake batter. By whipping the egg whites until stiff peaks form and then folding them into the batter you produce an airy batter that will bake up fluffy and delicious. The texture of your cake will be softer than if you did not whip the egg whites. It is an extra step, but not one we suggest you omit.
Can I bake this cake in a bundt pan?
You can, if you double the recipe. A 9 inch cake pan such as the one we used holds a volume of 6 cups batter. A 10 inch bundt pan however holds 12 cups batter, so you would need to double the recipe, and of course adjust the baking time. Having never made this cake in a bundt pan we can’t confirm that it will work however.
Can I substitute a different type of oil for the olive oil?
Swapping out oils in recipes while baking usually works out just fine. It will however change the taste and colour of your final product. We love the combination of olive oil and ricotta in this cake and do not find the olive oil flavour over-powering, so we recommend that you follow the recipe as written. However, if you are looking to swap out the oil, you can use another oil with good results. You can also consider using 1/2 olive oil and 1/2 of another oil.
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Strawberry ricotta cake with olive oil
- 9 inch cake pan
- Stand mixer or hand held mixer
- 2 cups (560 grams) sliced strawberries
- 1 tbsp all-purpose flour
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1 cup (200 grams) sugar
- 1 cup (250 grams) ricotta cheese
- 2/3 cup (160 mL) olive oil
- 1 1/2 cup (225 grams) all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp vanilla powder or 1 tsp vanilla extract
- vegetable oil for greasing pan
- icing sugar, optional
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a bowl toss the sliced strawberries with 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour to coat. Set aside.
- In a medium size bowl sift together your flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and vanilla powder (if you are using vanilla extract instead, see next step). Set aside.
- In the bowl of your stand mixer beat together the egg yolks and sugar. When well combined, add the ricotta and olive oil. If you are using vanilla extract, add it at this point as well.
- With the mixer set to low, add in the flour mixture; you will end up with quite a thick dough. Fold in the strawberries either using a plastic spatula, or by setting your mixer speed to low for a few seconds. You don't want to over-beat at this point so that you don't break apart your strawberries.
- Now it is time to beat your egg whites. If you also have a hand held mixer, this is a great time to use it. Otherwise, transfer the dough out of your stand mixer bowl in order to use the stand mixer to beat your egg whites. Beat them on high speed until stiff peaks form; this will take several minutes.
- When your egg whites are ready, fold them into your cake batter using a rubber spatula. To finish incorporating them completely, you can once again set your mixer to low speed for only a few seconds to finish.
- Grease the sides of your baking pan with a bit of vegetable oil. Pour your batter into the parchment lined 9 inch round cake pan.
- Bake in the middle rack of your oven for 55 - 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing your cake from the cake pan
- Once cooled, dust with icing sugar and serve.