What can be better than chocolate cake?

Valentines’s Day is around the corner and Carnevale (in Italy) is in full swing, ending next week with Ash Wednesday. These are good times to celebrate one of my favorite cakes, La Torta Eritrea, and share it with you. It is a densely chocolate almond flour “torte” which in its simplicity, knocks your socks off! True to its name, it is a flourless cake that makes use of ground almonds and consequently it is heavier in texture and heft than a regular cake made with flour, intensifying the chocolate flavor. In Italian the word “torta” is a generic term for cake and does not refer to any particular type. But if you want to read more about the difference between cake and “torte”, the following article at Food 52 https://food52.com/blog/16595-cakes-versus-tortes-what-s-in-a-name will give you an entertaining look at this question.

The recipe for the Torta Eritrea comes from the classic Italian cookbook Il Talismano della Felicità that I have quoted many times on this blog. But as usual when faced with baking from an old cookbook written in Italian with different ingredients and terms, I had to make some modifications and adjustments to meet my readers’ understanding and usage. And so here it is after much testing and tasting, for my friends far and wide!

La Torta Eritrea

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups or 8.8 oz raw almonds

1 cup sugar

5 whole eggs + 2 egg whites room temperature

10.5 0z. dark chocolate (three 100 gr. tablets)

18 oz. (2 sticks +2 oz) butter

1 tsp. vanilla extract

1 tbl. potato starch (optional)

¼  tsp salt

Flour to dust the pan

Powdered sugar to decorate

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and prep the pan. If you do not have a non-stick pan, it is best to place a parchment disk at the bottom of the pan. Use 2 tbl. to grease the bottom of the pan and sides, flour lightly. 

2. Organize your ingredients according to how you will use them.

  • Eggs, almonds, chocolate, vanilla, salt, potato starch

3. Separate 4 eggs, the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a mixing bowl. You will need 2 more egg whites (reserve the extra egg yolks for another use). Whip them in the mixer at high speed until they are firm and light. Set aside.

4. Lightly toast the almonds in a pan or oven. Place them in a food processor, add the sugar and pulse until the mixture has the look of a fine flour. Add 1 whole egg and the 4 yolks and pulse again until the mixture resembles a paste. Remove and place in a large bowl.

5. Melt the chocolate gently in a double boiler. Once melted, remove the chocolate from the heat and add the butter. Whisk until smooth and silky. Cool approximately 5-10 minutes.

6. Add the chocolate mixture to the almond mixture incorporating it gently until the batter is smooth and uniform. Add the vanilla, the potato starch (if using – this is optional), and salt. 

7. Gently add ⅓ of the whipped egg whites to the batter being careful not to lose its lightness. With a spatula, fold in the next ⅓, then the next making sure the batter remains light. Spread the batter into the greased pan. Tap gently to remove any air pockets. 

8. Bake in a 350° oven for 45-60 minutes depending on the strength of your oven. Watch that it does not burn on the sides. Remove from the oven, cool, and dust with powdered sugar.

Here the Torta Eritrea has come out of the oven in consort with a load of tortellini!
As you can see, the texture of the cake is dense and rich, but not heavy like a brownie.

My father loved this cake so much it became his birthday cake even though my mother made it for other festive occasions as well. In fact it has become a legendary part of our family lore so much so that my sister just made it for her son’s wedding. The photo you see above is her lovely decoration with roses and all.

The cake is best served with whipped cream or your favorite ice cream. It is befitting then as we enter the season of joyful celebrations whether they be Valentines’s Day or Carnevale, to enjoy a little chocolate without too much guilt, some whipped cream with it, spreading the warmth that comes with it and a glass of wine, port or vin santo! Salute!

Torta di Mele – An apple cake and sweet comfort!

I know the turbulence created by the political elections lately here in the United States has been hard and difficult to beat down no matter what the results you were hoping for, but if I asked you for one short afternoon to forget it all and bake away merrily…will you do so?

My mother’s apple cake, or torta di mele, is a classic and quite simple. Yet like all simple things, it is difficult to get right and easy to mess up. I became obsessed with recreating the flavors and textures of my mother’s cake as I remember those afternoons when I would return home from school to find a beautiful fluffy, yet buttery cake chock full of sweet apples! I know that memories distort things more than a bit, but I remember this cake to be wonderously wide (maybe 12 inches!?), three inch high, and light and airy – enormous! With my teenage hunger in full gear, I would easily pack away three slices. Since then it has been difficult to reproduce the same lightness as the cakes my mother used to bake in Rome. When she came to the States, she had to recalibrate the recipe and I never succeeded until now. After much discussion, we decided that several things were different, essential ingredients such as the butter, the flour, the leavening, even the apples! And so we went from the original recipe from the quintessential Italian cookbook Il Talismano della Felicità by Ada Boni to the rough notes in my mother’s hand to the version I have below.

What I have here to share with you is the result of some tinkering with the basic recipe to produce a very satisfactory result. Begin with some good apples, sweet and juicy. I tried several kinds, but ended up with the Golden Delicious as my favorite because they remained juicy, yet still somewhat tangy when cooked. Notice I suggest Crisco or vegetable shortening to lighten the butter and I used potato starch, a basic in Italian baking, to produce a fluffier cake.

Torta di Mele della Nonna

Yield: Makes one 9-inch round cake

INGREDIENTS

3-4 Golden Delicious apples – peeled and cored

7 tablespoons room temperature unsalted butter (5 tbl. for the cake, 2 tbl. for greasing the pan)

2 tablespoons Crisco or vegetable shortening 

¾ cup sugar

3 eggs (room temperature)

¼ cup milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup all-purpose flour or Italian flour tipo 00

1/4 cup potato starch flour

¼ teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons baking powder

Powdered sugar as needed to decorate

EQUIPMENT

1 (9 x 3) inch round springform pan (non-stick works well)

Parchment paper (optional)

Stand mixer with  2 bowls, two other small bowls to hold ingredients

Spatula

INSTRUCTIONS

1. Heat the oven to 350°F and prep the 9 inch round springform pan. If you do not have a non-stick pan, it is best to place a parchment disk at the bottom of the pan. Use 2 tbl. to grease the bottom of the pan and sides. 

2. Organize your ingredients according to how you will use them.

I know, I know…this looks like organized chaos!! This is not publicity for Morton Salt…oops.
  • Sift the dry ingredients (the flours, the baking powder, and the salt) in a small bowl.
  • Separate the eggs, the yolks in a small bowl and the whites in a mixing bowl.
  • Peel and core the apples. If you want more fruit, more “appley” cake, use 4 apples, or if you like more cake, use 3. Cut 2 or 3 apples laterally and thinly. The other two apples, cut lengthwise. These will be used for the decoration on top.
  • Place the butter and Crisco in the mixing bowl and keep the measured sugar, vanilla, and milk near your mixer.
  • Spread the laterally cut apples evenly on the bottom of the greased pan.

3. Whip the egg whites with the mixer at high speed  until stiff and light. Set aside.

3. Cream the softened butter and the Crisco with the mixer. Add the sugar slowly until the butter mixture and sugar are light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks one at a time and the vanilla.  Then gently  add the four, slowly mixing. The mixture will be very thick. Add the milk to loosen it up a bit. Then by hand, gently fold the egg whites into the batter with a spatula until they are just incorporated paying attention to not overbeat the batter.

4. Pour the batter into the pan over the laterally cut apples,  using the spatula to smooth the top. Tap the pan gently to release any gaps. Then place the slices of apple in concentric circles tucking each slice inside another and pushing slightly downward in the batter.

5. Bake for 50-60 minutes or until the top of the cake is golden and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Baking will vary according to the apples and heat of your oven.

6. Cool on the counter or on a rack for 10-15 minutes. Gently run a butter knife around the edges, then remove the springform circle. Cool completely before sprinkling powdered sugar on the top.

I wish you the joy of making this cake to share with your friends and family. Buon appetito!