A Lemon Cake For A Flemish Portrait & An Esoteric Story Of A Venetian Courtyard


I’ve always told Francesco that he has an ancient face.
He’s got that kind of beauty, that is mysterious and timeless. Once I told him he seems to have come out of a Flemish painting. He certainly doesn’t have an Italian face and the deep red of his beard and the pale green colour of his eyes, remind more of a Nordic person.
What a blessing having him by my side! He seems to have been born to be portrayed with his melancholic beauty and his delicate hands. I don’t think it’s just a coincidence that I like him so much. After all, our tastes mirror what is around us, what we have absorbed around us during the years and what makes an impact in our lives. He complements very well everything that surrounds me with a naturalness that is only the result of his own uniqueness.When I was a child I used to flick through the thick books from our bookshelf, which was overflowing with art history books, artists’ monographs and painters’ biographies. In those pages, in the painting reproductions, there were the same eyes as his. White hands as his, red beards and nose with a fine profile as his. I was already in love with all of them, as if they were characters from the cartoons which I have never watched. I’ve never forgotten those faces, nor the dark interiors where they were often depicted, illuminated only by a candle light.


Their pale skin on a dark background. Lights and shadows. Unforgettable contrasts. They are all fascinating and mysterious, wrapped up in an almost esoteric aura exactly like Venice itself. Venice with its fragile skyline and its enigmatic beauty. Its precious and solid architecture, a contrast of ancient magnificences that have unstable features. Venice is an esoteric city that has not only been marked by the passing of several intellectual people, but also by Freemasonry, obscure characters, and necromancers but also ordinary adventurers who found in Venice a shelter from the Catholic Inquisition. Only a few people know about the occultists, or about the clairvoyants, the plotters, the profiteers, the followers of black magic practices who inhabited the city on the lagoon. What has remained through the centuries, however, are not just passed on stories which were distorted and, in the end, they derived from some old folktales, but also symbols, paintings and sculptures. Not only have certain places been storing the marks of some past stories, they have also retained a particular atmosphere that could be called energies or vibrations.
In my opinion, there is no place in the world able to preserve such an intact, strong and magical atmosphere as Venice. It’s as if history had been printed at a metaphysical level. As if the stones had absorbed energy from every past life. Not every ancient place can give back such a mystery and not everyone is able to sense it. One needs to be willing to listen and look for it.

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There are some hidden places in Venice where these energies can be found. They are itineraries off the beaten track where it’s still possible to stay alone and in silence, in the lights and shadows contrast given, bursts of light that make geometrical patterns on the stones. As it happens in Corte Muazzo where in a narrow and dark arcade there is a byzantine capital, dated from XI century, of rare beauty where strange animals figures and acanthus leaves are depicted. Out of the darkness appears some heads of strange esoteric creatures that guard this courtyard and it seems it’s not by chance. Some folktales tell that before the noble Muazzo family, who gave the name to the place, a congregation of people linked to the magical world such as wizards, necromancers and occultists had lived here.
On the other hand, it’s not necessary to know what happened here, it’s enough to stop here for a moment for sensing the magic or at least for imagining it.
This dark courtyard reminds me of the old and mysterious figures who seem to come from the dark canvases of the old masters. Here he is. I can almost see him coming out of the darkness. Francesco, I’m thinking of you now as ever!
“Come here for a moment and help me to make this lemon cake. It’s for you! But before, please sit down there. You should do nothing but be yourself. And then we can eat the cake”.



Lemon Cake
Recipe type: Sweet, Dessert
For the Lemon Cake Layers:
*This cake should be high enough to be cut into layers. I’ve used a 15 cm/6 inch diameter pan with high edges.
  • 3 eggs
  • 200ml of milk
  • 300g cake flour
  • 200g caster sugar
  • 5 tbsp organic sunflower oil
  • 150g potato starch
  • 15g [2 + ½ tsp] baking powder
  • 1 vanilla bean
For the filling:
  • 400ml milk
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 80g rice starch
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 unwaxed lemon
For the Icing:
  • 100g fresh spreading cheese
  • 100g fresh cream
  • 30g [2 tbsp]of butter
  • 50g icing sugar
  • 1 natural lemon extract
For decorating with Candied Lemon Peel:
  • 2 big lemons
  • 100g caster sugar
  • 100ml water
  1. Start by pouring all the milk (200ml + 400ml) into a little pot. Make a long cut on the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds. Add them to the milk together with the opened vanilla pod. Bring the milk almost to a boil on medium heat. Remove from the heat and leave for 5 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod, filter the milk and leave to cool.
  2. Grate the lemon rind, squeeze the juice and remove the lemon seeds.
  3. In a big bowl whip the 3 eggs with 200g of sugar and 5 tablespoons of sunflower oil till well mixed and smooth.
  4. Add the lemon juice and 200ml of milk previously flavored.
  5. Sift in the 300g of flour, 150g of potato starch and the baking powder. Stir well till dense and remove any lumps. Add the lemon rind.
  6. Grease a baking dish and pour into it the mixture. Bake in a pre-heated oven at 180 C° / 350 F° for 40 minutes.
  1. In a big bowl beat the white of 3 eggs together with 100g of sugar till they are snow-white and frothy. Add the lemon rind.
  2. Add the sifted rice starch and mix well to avoid lumps.
  3. Add the remaining 400ml of milk previously flavored with the vanilla pod. Pour the liquid into a pan.
  4. Put the pan on medium-low heat and stir well to avoid lumps till the cream is thicked. Leave to cool at room temperature.
  1. In a bowl, cream the butter adding the icing sugar a little at a time and stir very well.
  2. Add the cheese and the lemon extract.
  3. Whip the cream and add to the mixture.
  4. Put in the fridge to thicken for at least 1 hour.
*This method is a quick way to candy the slices and the lemon peel that will be needed to decorate the cake. It's better to make this a day before making the cake.
  1. Wash the lemons very well. With a knife, peel them without going too deep into the lemon. Cut it into thin little strips.
  2. In a little pan, melt the sugar with the water. Add the lemon peels and bring to a boil.
  3. Turn the heat off and leave to cool. Repeat this for at least two more times.
  4. Drain the lemon peels and lay them on the baking paper. Leave to dry well.
Final step:
  1. Slice the cake in at least 3 layers and fill each layer with the cream filling. Put the layers back together.
  2. Spread the icing evenly over the top of the cake.
  3. Decorate with candied lemon peels and, if you have, some lemon leaves.
  4. Leave in the fridge for about 30 minutes for the icing to set well.


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  • Avatar
    Reply Francesco 23/06/2015 at 8:41

    Very well Zaira!
    I love your work, and your cake!

  • Avatar
    Reply constance 25/06/2015 at 2:24

    Beautiful cake and photographs. They set a mysterious mood. Well done.

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 25/06/2015 at 11:09

      Hi Constance! Thank you for stopping by, I’m glad you like it!

  • Avatar
    Reply Rakhee@boxofspice 26/06/2015 at 10:40

    Zaira, I just stumbled upon your blog. Absolutely love your work. Beautiful and haunting. <3

  • Avatar
    Reply Matteo 02/07/2015 at 10:30

    I am really impressed by your photography skills. Awesome photos! I love the expressions and poses of the guy, so peaceful. He really seems to come from ancient times, intent in contemplating something. Of course the cake and the decoration behind it is simply amazing. Your food photos look like paintings!

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 03/07/2015 at 12:17

      Hey Matteo! Thanks for the comment, I’m so so glad you like it!
      I was very pleased to hear that and for the great discovery of your blog! I have found it really very interesting and I believe that it will be extremely useful especially for many wonderful cake recipes.
      “Sunshine Citrus Cake” on your blog is absolutely stunning, and the red orange lemon curd..WOOOH!!!!! I shall make it for sure! Thanks for stopping by, hugs from Venice!

  • Avatar
    Reply Vy 07/07/2015 at 4:24

    Your use of light and shadow is amazing! Gorgeous!

  • Avatar
    Reply Nina 07/07/2015 at 4:58

    Beautiful work Zaira… Love the mood. Well done.

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 07/07/2015 at 15:00

      Thank you so much Nina, for your comment and for stopping by!

  • Avatar
    Reply Betty 07/07/2015 at 19:23

    Zaira! Loved connecting with you via instagram – my first time to your site!! It’s so beautiful. I fell in love with your photography on instagram and it is such a happy treat to see it in full scale on a browser! So excited to follow along your journey 🙂

    • Zaira Zarotti
      Reply Zaira Zarotti 08/07/2015 at 10:38

      My pleasure, Betty! The same for me, when I’ve come across your Instagram I quickly realized that you have a real talent. Your photography style is absolutely unique and beautiful! I love your blog and I will follow you anywhere on any social!! Bravissima Betty! Ciao

  • Avatar
    Reply morganmullawirraburka 30/07/2015 at 10:03

    Appreciation to my father who stated to me regarding this website,
    this website is truly amazing.

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