No visit to Rozanne Gold’s grand, bohemian brownstone in Park Slope would be complete without a slice or two of her Venetian Wine Cake. Once sold locally through a bakery in the ’70s, it is one among the thousands of smart, delicious dishes Rozanne's created throughout her career. It’s also the only recipe that she does not give out. Instead, the cake has a permanent home in her airy kitchen, ensconced in a worn green cake tin on an iron stand next to the window.
So when I showed up one morning to interview Rozanne for a profile in this month's Eat, Drink, Local issue of Edible Manhattan, naturally she cut me several slices of her cake and brewed me a cup of coffee. “I had something vaguely like it in Venice,” she said of her creation, “very simple. I came home and kept on experimenting.” It was her husband Michael Whiteman’s idea to add rosemary, which Rozanne points out is more Tuscan, and typical of the Renaissance style of coupling the sweet and the savory. Her family and their guests go through at least a cake a week, and for the past 15 years, her housekeeper Irene has started her weekly visit off with coffee and a slice of wine cake.
In the picture above, you can see the cake on the right, and behind Rozanne, the beautiful collection of china serving platters that Michael has collected throughout his long career as an international restaurant consultant.
Rozanne’s done so many things well in her life, that it’s difficult to sum her up. In a way, her wine cake does it best. The author of the best-selling “1-2-3” three-ingredient cookbooks used little more than olive oil, sugar flour and rosemary for this toothsome torta, I guessed, yet there is a keen palate, a knowledge of culinary and cultural history, an entrepreneurial streak, and a poetic sense of refinement at play here.
Although she’s written 12 cookbooks and wrote a column on simplified entertaining for Bon Appétit for five years, the author candidly confessed as she prepared our coffee, that, let’s face it, entertaining on any scale takes some attention and effort. Being in awe of Rozanne from the outset, this came as something of a relief to me, a little as if Martha Stewart had just confided that she struggles to conquer a secret, messy, room in her home.
Our hours-long interview was fascinating because Rozanne’s life has been a string of adventures and achievements, and because she blazed her own unique trail through the Manhattan culinary world of the late '70s and '80s, when women often didn't get the get the respect and credit that they deserved. But the taste memory of her wonderful cake will probably be the most lasting for me. Let’s hope she brings it back on the market soon.