As much as I ate and enjoyed Italian food when I was younger, I lived with the idea that American desserts were superior to Italian ones. Sure, Italians had tiramisu and gelato, but those were nothing compared to raspberry topped cheesecakes, towering chocolate layer cakes and fudgy brownies. There were very rarely surprises and creativity in Italian desserts as far as I could see. The Italian restaurants I went to offered the same list of desserts (panna cotta, tiramisu, the occasional profiterole), and I was slightly disappointed when offered the usual cantuccino or two with coffee after lunch at my nonna’s house. Even worse were the lunches where I was given—gasp!—a bowl of strawberries. Where were my chocolate chip cookies, cupcakes and apple pie a la mode?! Italians, I was convinced, were great when it came to pasta and pizza, but missed the mark when it came to desserts.
Since learning to bake and living in Italy, however, I’ve learned to appreciate the simplicity of Italian desserts. Though I will always have a soft spot for American sweets, I’ve realized that often the best way to finish off a multi-course meal is not with a slice of pie but rather a few simple but delicious biscotti (or cookies); an ice cream sundae is not necessary when you have a scoop of pistachio gelato that tastes exactly like toasted pistachios; and you do not really need a three-layer devil’s food cake when you have a torta caprese.
Torta caprese, for those of you who don’t know, is a chocolate cake made with ground almonds that originates from the island of Capri, near Naples. Its ingredients are simple– only eggs, butter, chocolate, and almonds—and makes for a very dense and intensely chocolate-y cake. The use of ground almonds instead of flour gives this cake a certain richness and another layer of flavor, plus it means that this cake is a great dessert for those who cannot eat gluten. Deliciousness aside, torta caprese is a bit less time consuming than your average layer cake. There’s no need to worry about whipping up a frosting or baking individual layers. It is extremely simple and elegant in its presentation, and perfect for a dinner party, birthday or special occasion. I like to serve this cake with a dusting of powdered sugar, but I bet whipped cream and raspberries on the side would be good too. Enjoy!
A slice of torta caprese. By Alpha
Recipe: Torta Caprese
- 1 3/4 sticks (196 grams) unsalted butter
- 1 ¼ cups (196 grams) blanched whole almonds
- 6 ounces (168 grams) fine-quality bittersweet chocolate
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup (225 grams) granulated sugar
- Powdered sugar to garnish
Preheat the oven to 170 degrees Celsius or 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Butter and flour a 10-inch spring form pan. In a small pan, melt the butter and let cool completely. In a food processor, finely grind together the almonds and chocolate. Separate the eggs, putting the yolks in a large bowl and the whites in another large bowl.
In a bowl with an electric mixer beat the egg yolks with the sugar until very thick and pale; then add the almond chocolate mixture and the butter and beat together. In another bowl, with cleaned beaters, beat the egg whites with a pinch salt until they form stiff peaks. Whisk one fourth of the egg whites into the almond chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining whites gently but thoroughly and spread the batter evenly in the pan.
Bake the torta caprese for 50 minutes, or until it begins to pull away from side of pan and a toothpick inserted in to the middle of the cake comes out with moist crumbs attached. Cool the cake completely before releasing the sides of the spring form pan. Dust the cake with powdered sugar and serve. Serves 8–10. (Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine).