I'm picking right up from where we left off this time last year, when I shared a couple recipes any of us could make at home that were simpler versions of that most marvellous of Sicilian Easter desserts, the "Cassata Siciliana".
The first recipe I'd like to share this time is for another Sicilian specialty, the "Torte di Mandorle" , which is a wonderfully simple but utterly sublime-tasting cake. When I was growing up this was the cake reserved for special occasions: weddings, baptisms, and other celebratory life events, including major holidays. This is a different cake that most other Italian torte that share the same name in that the filling does not contain any butter or flour, just the three ingredients: almonds, sugar and eggs.
I wanted to trace its history and origins and my research led me to conclude that quite probably this is the same cake as the Tarta de Santiago, which was brought over to Sicily by the Jews when they were expelled from Spain. Cookbook author Claudia Roden, in “The Food of Spain,” writes about the cake’s probable history and she believes the Tarta de Santiago was originally a flourless Passover cake from Andalusia, in the south of Spain. According to Spanish-food.org, the first documented reference to the Tarta de Santiago, dates back to 1577. In that reference, the recipe was similar but the name was different - it was called "tarta real", which means royal cake, of course. Now I have a much-beloved and often-referred to cook book, because it reminds me so much of my mother's cooking, called "The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews" by Edda Servi. In it she has a recipe for a Torta del Re, which she serves at Passover and other occasions, and which recipe is identical to the Tarta de Santiago.
Evidently, only history knows how many times this cake has circled the Mediterranean, but the fact that it has survived is a testament to many things, including the fact that it's deceptively simple to make, yet quite delicious. My mother made it (but always with a crust), I make it (the same way), and my guess is it'll continue to be made, with and without the crust, well into the future. For my Jewish friends, and those of your who are gluten-free, the recipe I'm including here does not have a crust.
Torta di Mandorle (crust-less)
300g almonds (270g sweet almonds, 30g bitter, I use bitter apricot kernels since bitter almonds are not sold here)
1-1 1/3 cup, 200-265g caster sugar, to taste
25 ml almond essence, if not using bitter almonds
peel of 1/2 lemon, grated (opt)
a tablespoon or 2 of water or milk
a dusting of powdered sugar at the end
9-10" springform cake pan. What you want is to be able to pour your mixture into the pan to a depth of maybe 1.5", anything over 1" is fine.
- Finely grind the almonds in a food processor with the sugar.
- Beat in the eggs, the zests, almond extract, if using, and the tablespoon or 2 of water or milk and blend well.
- Line the bottom of springform pan with parchment paper, grease it with butter and dust it with flour. Pour in the cake batter, and bake into a preheated 350°F for 30-40 minutes, or until it feels firm to the touch. Let cool before turning out.
- Just before serving, dust the top of the cake with confectioners' sugar using a fine sieve. Or, in the more Italian tradition decorate with whole almonds and candied cherries or at will.
The picture below is the recipe above but with a crust, as my mother made it. Feel free to use your favorite sweet shortcrust pastry or pasta frolla recipe.
Lastly, I have one more recipe to finish off this blog, this one for a Ricotta Cake, since one can never have too many good ricotta cake recipes, especially at this time of year.
TORTA DI RICOTTA, MIELE E MANDORLE
10.5 oz, 300 g ricotta
3.5 oz, 100 g honey
3 oz, 85g melted butter (cooled)
2.5 cups, 10.5 oz, 300 g Organic Einkorn Pancake & Baking Mix
3.5 oz, 100 g almond flour (grind your own, or store-bought)
1 organic lemon
1 tsp vanilla paste or pure vanilla extract
- Drain ricotta for a couple of hours.
- Pass through a screen.
- In a medium bowl beat egg whites until stiff, set aside.
- Beat egg yolks and honey for about 1 1/2 minutes.
- Add melted (cooled) butter, beat 30 seconds.
- Add the strained ricotta, lemon zest and vanilla, beat 30 seconds.
- Then add the almond flour and the baking mix, beat 30 seconds or fold in.
- Add egg whites and gently fold in with a wooden spoon.
- Spoon into prepared cake pan and scatter some sliced almonds over top, if desired.
- Bake in pre-heated 350deg oven for 35-40 minutes.
- Let cool, remove from pan and dust with powdered sugar.