Tag Archives: ground almonds

Exmoor in and out pudding

Exmoor in and out pudding

A few years ago, before kids, Fran and I rode our bikes across Devon, her home county, in southwest England. It was lovely as we embarked from Tiverton Parkway in the east of the county, but as soon as we reached Exmoor, having climbed steeply from the village of Dulverton, the wind and rain set in.

Although this pudding is named after the moor, it’s hard to imagine it’s a place where many apples are grown. Sure there are some orchards within the confines of Exmoor National Park, but by and large the moor itself is, along with other West Country moors Dartmoor and Bodmin moor, is about as close to wilderness as you can experience in southern Britain. We certainly didn’t pass any orchards as we fought a fierce headwind.

Another county
I made this pudding with apples from my parents’ tree, in Winchester, Hampshire. It would have been hard to find Exmoor apples. Indeed, for crying out loud, it’s hard enough to find English apples in the supermarkets at the moment, despite it being apple season. I live in the southeast of England, in East Sussex. The adjacent county, Kent, is the historical heartland of apple cultivation – and yet our local supermarkets are filled with apples from France, Chile, South Africa and even New Zealand. This madness makes me want to scream. I suspect I’ve ranted about it here before.

Talking of madness: Brexit*. Will it mean fewer food imports as costs increase? Will it encourage domestic food production? Who knows. No one seems to know what’s going to happen, apart from an abiding smugness from aging little Englanders as we metaphorically unmoor ourselves and drift away into deepening obscurity.

Fall from grace
Anyway, back to the apples. My folks have a magnificent Bramley tree. While picking, I managed to fall off the ladder, knocking over not just my toddler, T-rex, but also my seventy-something dad. Sorry guys! Still, it’s great fruit. We should be celebrating home-grown Bramleys more than ever now following the news this summer that the original Bramley tree in Nottinghamshire is dying of a fungal infection, having been sown in 1809.

This is a lovely variation on the theme of apple pudding involving a cake-like mixture. The mixture has the distinction of by being made with rich, caramelly demerara sugar. It also contains some ground almonds, one of my favourite ingredients. Some Exmoor in and out puddings also contain suet. This recipe, based on one found in the National Trust’s Complete Traditional Recipe Book by Sarah Edington, doesn’t.

500g Bramleys, or other cooking apples
50g demerara sugar
5g cinnamon
60g apple juice, or water

110g unsalted butter, softened
110g demerara sugar
2 eggs
1/2 tsp almond essence
110g self-raising flour (or 105g plain flour and 5g baking powder)
50g ground almonds
Flaked almonds

1. Heat the oven to 180C.
2. Peel and slice the apples.
3. Combine the apple slices, cinnamon, demerara and apple juice or water then put into an overproof dish. Cover with a damp cloth so the apple doesn’t brown while you prepare the topping.

Exmoor in and out pudding

4. Cream together the butter and other portion of demerara sugar.

Exmoor in and out pudding mixture
. Lightly beat the eggs, with the almond essence, and slowly beat into the mixture. If it starts to curdle, add some of the ground almonds.
6. Add the ground almonds and sieve in the flour. Fold to combine.

Exmoor in and out pudding, cover apples with mixture

7. Put the topping on the apple mix.

Exmoor in and out pudding, ready to bake

8. Sprinkle with ground almonds.

Exmoor in and out pudding, baked

9. Bake until the top is nicely browned and the cake is firm to the touch, about 40 minutes.
10. Serve warm with cream, ice cream or even custard.

 

 

* As well as the actual process of the UK leaving the EU upsetting me, I detest the ugly neologism “Brexit”. But I can’t come up with a better, succinct alternative, so we’re stuck with it.

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Torta de Santiago for St James’s Day

Torta de Santiago, Tarta de Santiago

In Christianity, St James, son of Zebedee, was one of Jesus’ Twelve Apostles. Western Christianity celebrates his feast day on 25 July.

Although it’s spread across the globe now, in part thanks to tourists and pilgrims walking the Camino de Santiago, the chief dish for celebrating the Feast of St James is the torta de Santiago, from Galicia, northwest Spain.

Legend has it that St James’s remains are at the cathedral of Santiago de Campostela in Galicia. Iago is one of many Iberian variations on the name James, which is itself the English version of the Hebrew Jacob, Yaʿqob. In ancient Greek it became Iakobos, which was Latinised as Iacomus, which came Iacobu in Vulgar Latin, which in turn evolved into the Galician Iago – hence Santo Iago, Santiago.

Cake or tart?
Although torta (Galician, also the same in Italian), tarta (Spanish), tarte (French), torte (German) are related to the English word “tart”, in the sense of open-top fruit pies, they all derive from the Late Latin torta, possibly meaning a small bread. By Medieval Latin the word had come to mean a cake or a pie/tart. The full etymology isn’t certain, lost in the mists of time and the convolutions of Latin evolving into various different European languages. It’s salient in the case of torta de Santiago though, as it’s a product that breaks down those pie/tart/cake distinctions: it can be made with or without a pastry case.

The defining characteristic of the torta is a slightly citrusy mix of ground almond, egg and sugar. And, if you’re going for a bit of decorative iconography, a cross of St James on the top in icing sugar.

Jewish or Christian?
Claudia Roden posits the torta may have its origins in Jewish food, writing: “The Galician city of A Coruña is on the Jewish tourist route. There is a synagogue and an old Jewish quarter there. Jews from Andalusia, fleeing the Berber Almohads’ attempts to convert them, came to Galicia in the 12th and 13th centuries.”

Something related to the modern torta de Santiago may have emerged in Christian 16th century Galicia with the torta real (“royal tart”) or bizcocho de almendras (“almond cake”). A more recognisable modern incarnation is generally traced to an 1838 book by one Luis Bartolomé de Leybar, as a tarta de almendra.

The bottom line, as ever, is to take the notion of ancient traditions with a pinch of salt – so many things we like to imagine were practised fully-formed in the middle ages were instead more likely invented or at least consolidated in the 19th century.

Some versions include grape marc, aka grape pomace – ie the leftovers from pressing – which is interesting and makes sense if you have a vineyard. I don’t. The version in the Moro cookbook, meanwhile, adds membrillo (quince paste); I don’t have a quince tree either. Almonds and citrus is enough for me.

6 eggs, separated
250g caster sugar
1 lemon, zested
1 tsp orange blossom water
Almond extract, a few drops
250g ground almonds (either pre-ground or grind blanched almonds in a food processor)

Plus
Butter, for greasing
Icing sugar, for dusting cake

Torta de Santiago ingredientsZest of one lemon1. Preheat oven to 180C.
2. Grease a 25cm loose-bottom tin with butter and line with baking parchment.

Beat the egg yok and sugar until pale and creamyAdd the ground almonds

3. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar to a thick pale cream, ideally in a mixer or with handheld beaters.
4. Beat in the zest, orange blossom water and almond extract.
5. Beat in the ground almonds.
6. Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks. Note – if you’re using the same beater attachments them spotlessly, as any fat will stop the whites beating properly!
7. Add a blob of the egg whites to the almond batter and beat it in. It’s a thick mixture so this is to lighten it up slightly to make it easier to add the rest of the egg whites.

Add the egg whitesTorta de Santiago batter

8. Add the rest of the egg whites and fold in. Don’t beat! You want to retain the airiness.
9. Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.

Ready to bakeBaked
10. Bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the cake feels firm.
11. Let it cool in the tin then turn out.
12. Before serving, dust with icing sugar. You can cut out a cross of St James/Santiago to decorate the top. Have a look online for a shape to give you a template.

Torta de Santiago template, dusted with icing sugar

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Wholemeal honey cake

Wholemeal honey cake

I love cakes made with ground almonds. And I love cakes with sweet syrups poured over them after baking. So this cake is a result – it has both.

It’s from a recipe by Gill Meller, now group head chef of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage operation. As with my last syrupy cake, revani, it’s a recipe I got from the paper several years ago. It’s one I strongly associate with my parents’ place in northwest Devon, as the original newspaper cutting lives in a file there, along with some notes about what’s not quite right with it. Notably, the version as it appeared in the Guardian had too much butter in it, which seriously leaked out on baking. The version on the River Cottage site reduces the butter and increases the oven temperatures. For our family version, we reduce the butter even more.

The original also uses self-raising wholemeal flour – something that’s not especially common, so you can replace it with plain wholemeal flour and a bit more raising agent. But watch it with the baking powder. See notes below. More specifically I use a low protein (less than 10%) wholemeal flour, as opposed to a higher-protein bread-making wholemeal flour (12% plus). It would work with bread flour, but might be slightly heftier. As it is, it’s surprisingly soft for something so brown and branny.

Plain wholemeal flour

Not gluten free… but it could be
On the flour note, anyone who reads my blog will know I don’t generally have problems with modern common wheat (Triticum aestivum) and gluten. I prefer locally grown and/or stoneground where possible, and I find that as long as I don’t eat industrially made wheat products – specifically that paragon of bad modern food, white sliced – I’m fine.  For those of you who like, or have to, avoid modern wheat, I suspect this cake could work pretty well with either older wheat such as spelt (Triticum spelta), which has less starchy endorsperm and less gluten.

It may even work with alternatives to grass/cereal flours (wheat, rye, barley, oats etc), such as pseudocereal buckwheat (Fagopyrum esculentum). I’ve put the latter on my shopping list as it’s a foodstuff I enjoy for its own merits and want to try for this cake. Half-buckwheat, half-ground almonds sounds pretty good to me.

Wholemeal honey cake ingredients

250g unsalted butter, softened
250g caster sugar
4 eggs, lightly beaten
150g ground almonds
150g self-raising wholemeal flour*
2g baking powder [this is about a 1/3rd of tsp and has been a problematic aspect of this recipe, see below]
1 tsp powdered cinnamon
Pinch fine sea salt
40g flaked almonds
100g honey

1. Preheat the oven to 170C.
2. Grease a 23cm (9″) diameter springform cake tin and line the bottom with baking parchment.
3. Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
4. Beat in the egg, a little at a time.
5. Beat in the ground almonds.

Bran

6. Sieve together the flour, baking powder and cinnamon, add a pinch of salt, then fold this in too. Sieving lightens and combines, but also removes the bran. The bran is good, rich in dietary fibre, protein, B vitamins and various minerals (including iron) – so chuck it into the mix too!
7. Put the mixture in the tin, scatter the 40g flaked almonds over the top. Place on a baking sheet (it may still leak some butter) then bake for about 1 hour, until a knife or skewer comes out clean. As long as the top’s not charring, it’s better to overbake this cake than underbake it. It’ll be more stable and the almonds and honey will keep it moist.
8. Warm the honey in a saucepan. I weigh mine straight into a pan, to avoid any sticky complications. Plus, if you only have set honey, heating it will make it runny, and if you’re using runny honey, it’ll make it runnier, so it’ll seep through the sponge better. While the cake’s hot, drizzle over the honey.
9. Place the tin on a wire rack to cool. Serve warm with cream, ideally clotted, for a pudding or at room temperature at teatime.

Wholemeal honey cake

Excuses excuses
I’m not going to deny I got some sinkage in the middle on the cake photographed here. It doesn’t affect the taste of course, but in terms of aesthetics, and perfectionism, it’s annoying. That said, if you look at F-W’s version on that Guardian page, it’s sunk in the middle too, so I’m in good company.

Potential causes of cakes sinking in the middle are:
1. Too much raising agent. It can cause cakes to over-rise then collapse.
2. Not baked quite long enough. However, if the cakes is pulling away from the edges of the tin and a skewer comes out clean, it generally means it’s done.
3. Overbeating the mixture.
4. Wholemeal flour is trickier than white flour. With all that (lovely, nutritious) bran and whatnot, it doesn’t lend itself to retaining a nice delicate structure.

I’m going with option 4, with a bit of option 1 on the side, for today’s excuses. I’ve made this cake again since this entry, and reduced the baking powder again and had much better results.

 

* Or 145g wholemeal flour with, total, 5g 0r 1 tsp baking powder.

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Syrupy almond-semolina cake – revani or basbousa

Revani cake

Some time in the late-1990s, I cut this recipe out of a newspaper. The writer was definitely Andy Harris, the paper was possibly The Independent. I went through a phase of making it loads then, I don’t know, it just seemed to get forgotten. I’ve no idea why, as it’s great. Just my sort of thing – quite dense and textured thanks to its use of almonds and semolina and moist thanks to a flavoursome syrup poured over after baking.

The name Harris used was revani, and he wrote about it as a Greek cake. Actually it’s a common through much of the Eastern Mediterranean, Levant, Maghreb and Middle East and is also known by the alternative spelling ravani, and by other names such as basbousa, hareesa/harisa, namoura and kalbelouz. Some versions appear to feature coconut. I don’t fancy this as syrup is spiced up with cinnamon, cloves and orange and in tandem with the flavour of almonds, I think the coconut would be a bit much.

I’ve added a little orange blossom water to the original recipe. In part to boost that orangey-ness, but also as I find it’s the sort of ingredient that gets pushed to back of the cupboard and forgotten until it’s a decade over its best-before date. So I want to keep using it. Harris’s recipe featured brandy, but I don’t have any, I’m not sure what it would add, and I’m pretty certain that when this cake it made in Muslim nations it wouldn’t contain any booze.

Fitting in with my interest in feast day foods too, it may also eaten by Coptic Christians in Egypt and beyond for their Great Lent and Christmas celebrations. Though this info seems to be lurking on Wikipedia, unverified, and repeated elsewhere by lazy bloggers. Oh, oops. I’m struggling to confirm it, and don’t know any Copts.

Syrup
350g granulated sugar
700g water
1 cinnamon stick
6 whole cloves
Zest and juice of 1 orange
1 tbsp orange blossom water (optional)

Cake
200g granulated sugar
225 g unsalted butter
6 medium eggs (about 300g beaten egg)
110 g plain flour
175 g semolina
1 tbsp baking powder
110 g blanched almonds [or ground almonds, see below]
1/2 tsp vanilla essence
1/2 tsp almond essence
Extra blanched almonds to decorate

1. To make the syrup, dissolve the 350g sugar in the 700g water in saucepan over a low heat.
Revani cake syrup
2. Add the cinnamon stick, cloves and orange zest and juice and simmer for 15 minutes.
3. Take the syrup off the heat and allow to cool. Stir in the orange blossom water, if using.

Revani cake ingredients

4. In a large bowl, or with a food mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until creamy and light.
5. Beat the eggs with the vanilla and almond essences, then gradually add the egg to the creamed mixture, incorporating well.
6. If using blanched almonds, chop them finely – either by hand or in a food processor. Alternatively use ground almonds – you won’t have quite such an interesting texture but it’s easier. I used a mix this time round – 40g ground almonds and 70g blanched almonds, chopped.
7. Sieve together the flour, semolina and baking powder. Add the chopped almonds/ground almonds.
7. Add the flour mix to the creamed mix and blend well.
8. Preheat the oven to 180C.
9. Grease a rectangular tin, about 32x20cm.

Revani cake batter

10. Spoon the batter into the tin, smooth it, and put in the oven for about 30-40 minutes, until firm and browned.

Revani cake - score a diamond pattern

11. Remove from the oven and score a diamond pattern in the top with a sharp knife.

Revani - pour syrup over, straining out the spices

12. Pour the syrup onto the warm cake – through a sieve or strainer to catch the spices and zest.

Revani - decorate with blanched almonds
13. Decorate the diamonds with a blanched almonds.
14. Allow to cool and serve at room temperature for tea or as a dessert. The latter can be souped up by being served with honey-sweetened Greek yogurt or poached fruit.

Revani, basbousa

A note on photography
When I thought I’d broken Fran’s camera last week, actually I’d just broken the lens thread. Phew. So we got a new (well, second-hand) lens. It’s an 18-200mm F/3.5-6.3, so Fran could use it more for landscapes and stuff.

I’m not a photographer, and struggled enough to learn how to use the kit lens effectively, but now I’m struggling again. I can’t quite get in close enough, suspect I won’t be able to rely on the autofocus as much, and doubly suspect I probably could do with a faster 35mm or 50mm prime lens or something with a better macro. Gawd knows. It’s all changed so much since I got my photography O-level in 1986….

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Gooseberry and thyme cake

Slice of gooseberry thyme cake

We’ve not had a kitchen for just over a week now. We’re having building work done on our house, and although the original plan was to only remove the kitchen half-way through the three-month schedule, on the first day the builder turned to me and said it’d be better if they did it straight away. Immediately. Post-haste. Subito. Or at least the day after.

So I baked my final cake and final two loaves of bread, then set about removing the units. It was a hideous kitchen, and far from practical, but not having a kitchen at all is, to say the least, even less practical. Only so much baking I can do with a kettle and a microwave. Indeed, I never really use microwaves for anything other than softening butter for making cakes, so I don’t know what else you can do with them. Apparently you can “bake” in a microwave, but I can’t really imagine how. Not in a metal cake tin – unless I actively want to add exploded microwave to the chaos.

Just before the demolition started, I was moving some shrubs from the area where we were building. One of these was a much-neglected gooseberry bush, which, despite being basically in the shade, had managed to produce a fair crop, just shy of a kilo. So that final cake had to involve gooseberries.

Now, I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the “spiny grape”, as it’s called in Italian (uva spina). I used to eat them when I was a kid in the 1970s and early 1980s, but I have a feeling they’re slightly out of fashion these days. Despite how popular “retro” and “vintage” may be, I don’t hear people talking excitedly about gooseberry fools, an old-fashioned British summer recipe.

I can suffer a fool, gladly, but rather than just defaulting to using the gooseberries to make one, I wanted to try a cake. I found some good recipes from both Nigel Slater and Diana Henry, two cookery writers who are proponents of great British produce. Henry had one featuring thyme, which intrigued me. Even though I don’t have lemon thyme as her recipe suggests, my own herbs have been doing very well in this year’s shockingly pleasant south of England summer, so I used some good old Thymus vulgaris, common thyme. (Though I think my variety is the French, narrow-leaf, not the English.)

Herbs

Henry’s original recipe can be found here on the Torygraph site. I’ve tweaked it a bit.

The fruit:
350g gooseberries
60g caster sugar

For the cake:
125g butter
120g caster sugar
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 tsp thyme leaves, chopped (ideally lemon thyme)
1 lemon
100g plain flour, sifted with
1t baking powder
75g ground almonds

For the syrup:
50g granulated sugar
2 large lemons, juiced [I used 1 lemon, 1 orange], about 100g juice
2 small sprigs of thyme

Top & tail

1. Preheat the oven to 190C.
2. Grease and base-line a 20cm spring-form cake tin.
3. Top and tail the gooseberries then toss with 60g of caster sugar and leave them to macerate slightly.
4. Beat the butter and 120g caster sugar until pale and fluffy.

Creaming
5. Add the egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. If it curdles at all, add a little flour.
6. Finely grate the zest of the lemon. I also used some orange zest. Just cos. Finely chop the zests together with the thyme to free up all those lovely essential oils.

Zest and thyme chopped together
7. Add the zest and herbs to the batter and combine.
8. Sieve in the flour and baking powder, then fold to combine, along with the ground almonds.
9. Spoon, pour and scrape the mixture into the tin.
10. Spread the gooseberries over the top of the mixture.

Add fruit
11. Bake for 45 minutes and test with a skewer.

Baked
12. While the cake is still warm, make the syrup by dissolving the sugar in the lemon juice, with the thyme.
13. Pierce the cake with a skewer then pour over the syrup, removing the sprigs of thyme.
14. Leave to cool then serve. You can just with icing sugar, and serve with crème fraîche, cream or ice cream.

Henry also has another one here, with flaked almonds. I think that could be nicer as the crunch of the almonds would contrast with the eyebally squish of the cooked fruit. Next year perhaps. Or perhaps Slater’s recipe, which involves a kind of crumble. Or perhaps I’ll just revisit the fool.

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Pasticcini di mandorle, soft almond biscuits

Sicilian almond pastries, biscuits

Alongside the renowned corporate outfit Cosa Nostra, Inc, the half-finished bridges, the bandy-legged hero cop (“Montalbano sono”) and its incredible history from Greeks and Phoenicians, to a Norman conquest around the same time as the 1066 one us English kids learned about at school, to said Mafia scrapping the nascent Italian state during unification, Sicily also is home to some of the world’s finest pastries and sweets. Or at least, I’m assuming it is – I’ve never been, but base my experience instead on Sicilian pasticcerie I frequented in Rome. Notable among them were Dagnino, an overpriced place near Termini station located in a wonderful 1950s arcade, and Sicilia e Duci on Via Marmorata in Testaccio.

The latter was a fairly regular stop for me as it was on my route home from Piramide and Porto San Paolo station, or from hanging out in Testaccio with Rachel and co. I’ve no idea if their wares are especially renowned, but they did it for me. In particular the various permutations of almond… thing. I never learned what they were called specifically, but looking now it seems such things made with a paste or dough of ground almonds are simply called Paste di mandorla sicialiane (Sicilian almond pastries) or Pasticcini siciliani alle mandorle (little Sicilian almonds pastries). So basically marzipan, and quite possibly a legacy of Arabic Sicilian food culture.

I can’t quite bring myself to call them cookies, as I’m English, but nor can I quite call them biscuits, as they’re not biscotti (“twice cooked”). If anyone Sicilian can tell me a more specific name, I’d love to hear it, as Google has failed me.

Plate, overhead

I believe more authentic (whatever the heck that means) recipes would use some bitter almonds, that is almonds of the strain Prunus dulcis var. amara (as opposed to sweet almonds, var. dulcis) that have a particularly distinctive flavour – and certain notoriety for containing traces of Prussic acid, aka hydrogen cyanide. But they’re not readily available in smalltown England, so I just went for normal almonds. In fact, I cheated – I should probably have freshly ground blanched almonds, but just used ground almonds instead.

Boy are they good. I’m eating one as I type, and it’s bringing back memories of indulging in a bagful from Sicilia e Duci.

They’ve got a chewy, slightly crisp crust, and a sweet, moist centre. Morbido is the Italian word. Moreish is another word. It’s probably one of those words that some conceited food writers say should be avoided, but, bollocks, I rarely, if ever, use it, so think I can get away with it here.

Makes 24*

290g ground almonds, or whole blanched almonds (see below).
110g granulated sugar
1/2 t vanilla essence
1/2 t almond essence
20g runny honey
2 egg whites (that is, about 64g)
Icing sugar

1. Preheat oven to 180C (160C fan oven).
2. If you’re using whole blanched almonds, put them in a food processor with 25g of the sugar. Grind to a coarse powder. If you’re using ground almonds, go to step 3. Do not pass Go, do not collect £200…
3. Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, working the mixture with your hands to combine. You want a soft, moist, slightly sandy paste
4. Form the dough into a ball.
5. Sieve icing sugar (aka confectioners’ sugar) onto your work surface.

Balls of almond paste
6. Weigh the ball of paste. It should be about 485g. Form the ball into a sausage, then cut off small portions, each weighing 20g (more or less).
7. Roll the pieces of paste into sausage shapes, about 10cm long and 1cm thick, coating them well with the sugar.

Shaping
8. Form these into shapes like the letter N, pinching the ends slightly.

Prebake
9. Place the shapes onto baking sheets lined with baking parchment, leaving a little space between them. They don’t expand much in the oven.

Baked
10. Bake for about 10 minutes until browning.
11. Sieve a bit more sugar over them.

Cooling

12. Scoff the lot.

Sugar shapes

* Recipe based on Biscotti alle mandorle amare found in ‘Biscotti: Recipes from the Kitchen of the American Academy in Rome’ by Mirella Misenti (an actual Sicilian) and Mona Talbot.

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Torta Caprese

I see a lot of sachertorte in Roman pasticceria, but the other day I spotted a torta Caprese in the window of a place that seems to just be called Pasticceria Trastevere. It’s a pasticceria. In Trastevere. Not very imaginative. (Specifically, it’s on Via Natale del Grande 50, opposite the wonderful Cinema America building. Currently Occupato).

It’s not a cake I’ve encountered before, oddly considering I love chocolate cakes. And love cakes made with ground nuts. (And considering even a certain middle-class UK supermarket even does a brand version, I discover now.) My friend Rachel described it – and frankly it sounded much like a sachertorte, but without the apricot jam and chocolate glaze. That is a rich, flourless chocolate cake made with ground almonds.

Now that was something I had to try. And make. Without ever having eaten it before.

Pasticceria Trastevere

Some considerations

I scoured the internet for recipes, mostly in Italian. There seemed to be a some variation, notably in the question of what sort of almonds to use. Some used pre-ground almonds (or farina di mandorle – almond flour), some used blanched almonds that you then ground, others used skin-on almonds that you blanched and peeled yourself (a labour intensive job) before grinding, and others used skin-on almonds, ground as is.

Almonds

I liked the idea of the latter, not just as it’s less labour intensive, but because the skins add depth of flavour. (Much like I prefer my peanut butter wholenut, not skinned. Even though peanuts aren’t nuts, of course.)

Almonds, ground

The other key factor with a cake like this is the egg whites. The most important thing is to get the egg whites whisked to soft peaks, then be very gentle when you add the egg white to the nut/choc/fat/sugar/tuorli (egg yolks. Such a nice word. Sounds a bit like “twirly”). Seriously: be gentle when you fold in the egg whites, as this is only your way of lightening the cake, as there are no raising agents and it’s full of fairly dense ground nuts. Sure it’s going to be a fairly heavy cake, that’s the nature of nut-based, flourless cakes, but you don’t want it totally dense and biscuit-like.

Adding the egg whites

I have seen a few recipes with some baking powder, but it shouldn’t really be necessary for a cake with whisked egg whites. Plus, if you’re hoping to make a gluten-free cake, adding baking powder can be problematic. Why? Because baking powder often contains some starch, which absorbs moisture during storage. This can be from potatoes, or corn/maize, but it can also be from wheat. The stuff I’ve got in my cupboard, is clearly labelled: “Ingredients: Disodium Dihydrogen Diphosphate, Sodium Hydrogen Carbonate, Wheatflour (contains Gluten)”.

The other variable is how the other ingredients are combined. Obviously. This is interesting as frankly, I’m not sure it would make much difference if you did any of the following – as long as things are well mixed and you were gentle with the whites.

So, the recipes I read involved these various approaches

1 melting together the butter, chocolate and sugar, then adding the ground nuts, then beating in the egg yolks, and folding in the egg whites.
2 melting just the chocolate. Creaming together the sugar and butter, then adding the egg yolks, then the nuts, and melted chocolate, then the whisked egg whites. (This is how it’s described on English Wikipedia, but not in the majority of the Italian recipes I’ve looked at.)
3 melting together the chocolate and butter, beating together the sugar and yolks, then adding the ground nuts, then the liquid chocolate and butter, then folding in the whites.
4 Reversing the addition of liquid choc/butter and ground nuts. Theconcern here is that if the melted liquid is still hot, it could cook and scramble the egg yolk, unless you’ve cooled it somewhat first. So I’ve plumped for 3.

Some observations

The torta Caprese in Pasticceria Trastevere had slightly sloping edges – ie, it’s not baked in straight-sided cake tins. I was planning to use a 20cm straight-sided cake tin for this, to make a deeper cake, but my wife had left it at work. Which turned out to be helpful in the end, as I looked around for other tins and found one (not mine I believe, but belonging to our landlady) that seemed more appropriate, despite being somewhat shallow. I suppose it’s more like what we’d call a flan or pie tin in the UK, though it’s not got fluted sides.

Components 2

Also, the version I saw in Pasticceria Trastevere had flaked almonds on the top. Though this top was clearly the bottom, which was then inverted for serving. This seemed like a lovely idea, though I didn’t really use enough almonds, so I also decorated the finished cake with some icing sugar, which seems to be the norm.

Use good dark chocolate, at leat 65% cocoa solids. I used Venchi Cuor di Cacao 75%. Serious stuff.

Serious chocolate, chopped

One final note. Some of the recipes also call for some Strega (“witch”), a digestivo liquer traditionally made with herbs, but these days is probably mostly just made with E-numbers (as most of the “traditional” liquers seem to be). Not many of the recipes I’ve looked at, and indeed none of the Italian ones, include it. So I’m not bothering.

The recipe

4 eggs, separated
250g almonds, shelled but skin on
200g butter
200g dark chocolate
170g caster sugar
A good handful of flaked almonds

Preheat the oven 180C.

1 Grease and line the base of a 22cm round tin.
2 Generously sprinkle flaked almonds in the base of the tin.
3 Grind the whole almonds to a coarse powder in a food processor. (If you’ve not got a food processor you could, for example, use half ground almonds and half whole almonds that you’ve chopped… fairly comprehensively.)
4 Melt together the chocolate and the butter in a bowl suspended over a pan of gently simmering water.
5 Beat together the sugar and egg yolks. It’s quite a thick mix, but beat until creamy.
6 Beat the ground almonds into the sugar and egg yolks.
7 Add the melted chocolate and butter to the eggy-almond mix and beat.
8 Whisk the egg whites to soft peaks. That is, when you lift up the whisk, and a peak is formed, it sags over slowly.
9 If the main mixture feels particularly stiff, you can beat in one tablespoon of the beaten egg whites. Gently fold in the egg whites.
10 Gently pour into the prepared tin.
11 Bake for around 45 minutes, until firm to the touch. This time will vary according to the character of your oven. With a fan oven, you might want to lower the temp to 160C.
12 Leave to cool in the tin on a wire rack.
13 Turn out and serve inverted. Decorate with sieved icing sugar if you like.

Enjoy.

Addendum, 27 Feb 2013.
I want to try this again, but with an extra egg. Not sure I’ll have time for a while though, as I’ve started volunteering on the Rome Sustainable Food Project, and it’s pretty full-on, hours-wise. After separating four eggs for this recipe the other day, yesterday I seperated 120 for 6kg of pasta… My home baking will be a bit of a back burner for a few months, so the blog might be a bit quiet.

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