840 years ago today, construction began on the Pisa
Campanile, most commonly referred to as the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The tower is
part of the Piazza del Duomo in Pisa, made up of the Duomo (cathedral),
Campanile (tower), Camposanto (literally the “old cemetery) and the Bapistry of
Saint John the Baptist. The campanile was built over the course of 117 years, beginning on
August 14, 1173. Over the course of construction, several architects
contributed on the design of the structure as the people of Pisa fought
Florence, Genoa and Lucca in various wars, further delaying the completion of
was built on soft, uneven ground, which was unable to support the weight of the
massive tower (183 feet on the lower side and 186 feet on the higher side). Since
1990—after about twenty years of studies—modern architects have worked to
prevent a rapidly increasing tilt (5.5° in 1990); starting by securing with
cables and later shifting soil from the higher side to the opposite side and removing
the bells. The “lean” is now close to 4°, and the tower was declared sound for
the next 200 years, greatly contrasting the cake I baked this weekend, which
was certainly not intended for longevity. In fact, this slim, 8-layer cake
lasted less than 24 hours in my two-person household.
of all-purpose flour)
and save for cake-cutter)
pans with parchment paper. Beat the butter and sugar on medium speed until
fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the salt, scrape the vanilla bean and add the
egg whites and egg mixing completely, but not too much (or the cake will be
tough). Mix in the flour and yogurt, alternating between each. Finally, gently
fold in the basil and lemon zest, and split between your two prepared pans.
Bake for 30 minutes (start checking a couple minutes before), and then transfer
to cooling racks to cool for an hour.
the can-cake-cutter 4 times, resulting in 8 identical pieces. Wrap individual
cakes in saran wrap, and let chill for minimum 3o minutes, or up to a day,
Frosting (you will have some frosting left over, but that’s not a bad
icing, so that the construction of the cake layers becomes a bit sturdier. Carefully
spread a glob of frosting between each layer, adding another and repeating,
until you use all 8 layers. Spread a layer of frosting over the cake as a
whole, and cover in plastic wrap. Chill at least 30 minutes before proceeding.
being careful to smooth the service as much as possible. Chill for a couple
minutes to set the frosting (usually not necessary, but since it is still
pretty humid around here, it can’t hurt!). I found that I didn’t have to add any artificial tilt to my
cake—the act of stacking 8 layers together resulted in a cake that leaned just the
perfect amount. When you are ready to cut and eat, I found it to be a bit
easier to lay the whole cake down on it’s side to slice.
short period, it is reassuring to know that the tower is still a standing and a major attraction to all that visit—just check out my touristy pose below, circa 2008!