Cooking Italian is a craftsman’s labour, the work of an Artisan of Flavour.
Torta Sbrisolona (also known as Torta Fregolotta) is a very dry almond cake very easy to bake and great for beginners. It is very inexpensive, as its recipe was developped in the middle age by peasant and people who could not afford richer and more expensive ingredients. Despite that, this cake became a favourite and one of the defining dishes of Mantua (Mantova) a lovely historical city built on the banks of River Mincio, in the North of Italy.
This cake’s two names can’t be properly translated as they are terms from the local dialect and don’t make too much sense grammatically. However, the idea of Sbrisolona is “something that crumbles” or “crumbly” while Fregolotta refers to the technique used to knead the dough, which is rubbed between the hands: the verb sfregare is the Italian for to rub.
Ready in: 45min
Ingredients for a medium cake (9 inch/23cm round baking pan)
. Butter (100g)
. Caster Sugar (125g)
. Flour (250g)
. Egg yolks (2)
. Almonds (100g)
. Baking Powder (7g)
. Salt (a pinch)
. Flavouring (choose amongst lemon zest, orange zest and vanilla… but also chocolate)
Leave the butter out of the fridge for 30-45 minutes, preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 3 and toast the almonds for 10 minutes being very careful not to burn them. Leave the almonds to cool down and chop them up into smaller pieces. You can leave some intact and use for garment. I usually do.
Increase the oven temperature to 170°C/325°F/Gas 4.
In a bowl knead butter and sugar together using the tips of your fingers then add the other ingredients: baking powder, flour, salt, egg yolk and finally the flavouring you have decided to opt for, if any.
Knead quickly as for this particular recipe your mixture must not be consistent and uniform. Rub the dough between your hands to get the irregular consistency required. It will look more like a bowl full of funny crumbs than a mixture for a cake: do not worry, it is the way it is supposed to be.
Place the mixture in the baking pan, dredge with almond pieces and cook for around 30 minutes, depending on the thickness of the cake. You will recognise the cake is ready when the surface of gains a golden shade. Once cooked, take out of the oven, sprinkle the surface with sugar and leave to cool down.
It is a very dry cake so it really is great served with tea. Sweet wine also is a good match.