Bittersweet Chocolate Almond Cake: “Torta Caprese”

We’re not big cake people at Our Long Table. One of us has actually played sick on his birthday to avoid being “caked” by colleagues. Typically, a schmancy dessert for us involves some combination of seasonal fruit and pastry, and/or a sorbet or ice cream.

But we’re not entirely immune to the charms of good chocolate. And when I saw an almond-based Italian chocolate cake on a recent episode of America’s Test Kitchen, I felt I had to try it. The fact that it’s incidentally gluten-free sealed the deal: it’s always a good feeling to add a GF dish to our dinner party (remember those?) repertoire for our celiac-afflicted friends.

Knowing that it was a traditional recipe, I went to Eat Your Books, where the recipes from all of my cookbooks are indexed by name, author and ingredient (if you have a big cookbook library, you really should subscribe. It’s low-key life-changing.)

Browsing through the results, I brought up one by Lidia Bastianich, and that led me to my copy of her latest book, Felidia (that’s how I stumbled upon the Rhubarb Negroni I made earlier today). Intriguingly, Lidia’s Torta Caprese recipe suggested using an Italian amaro liqueur as a preferred alternative to rum. We have a few of those on hand for cocktails, so that settled it.

So, I got to work. First, I lined a 9″ springform pan with a parchment bottom, then buttered and breadcrumbed the parchment and the sides of the pan. The crumbs are there to ensure a clean release of the cake from the pan, so you can use fine, gluten-free crumbs if you need to. There are no other glutinous ingredients in the cake.

We’re fortunate to have a cooktop with a “melt” setting, so turning 8 oz of bittersweet chocolate and a stick of butter to velvet didn’t require a double-boiler.

Then came the almonds. Irritatingly, Lidia’s recipe called for 1.25 cups of sliced almonds. Having only slivered almonds, I had to look for a conversion table. It would’ve been more convenient to have them measured by weight, since the form factor of the almonds didn’t ultimately matter: they ended up ground in the end. I toasted the almonds at 325’F for 10 minutes, cooled them, and gave them a spin in the food processor until they were the consistency of coarse cornmeal.

Having separated 4 eggs, I hauled out Julia 2 (our Kitchenaid stand mixer, Julia the First having expired last year) and creamed the yolks with 3/4 cup of sugar. I then mixed in the zest of an orange, 1/4 tsp kosher salt, 1 tsp vanilla extract (which is called for in the cookbook but not the online version of the recipe), and 2 Tbsp of Amaro Montenegro. I chose the Montenegro because it has a nice burnt-orange flavour, and everyone loves bittersweet chocolate and oranges. Averna Amaro would have done nicely as well.

Chocolate and butter having melted, I mixed them in with the yolks. The phone rang the second I started the mixer, and this shot captures the happy visual accident that resulted. Yay for serendipity!

Having heated the oven to 350’F, I offloaded the chocolate base mixture to another bowl and – drag! – scrupulously scrubbed the mixer bowl in preparation for whipping egg whites to stiff peaks. Any fat in the mixing bowl would’ve caused the egg whites to slump in defeat.

I then folded the eggs into the chocolate mixture, starting as always with 1/3 of the whipped eggs beaten in vigorously to lighten the chocolate, then the second and third thirds folded in gently.

That went into the oven for 40 minutes. It came out as predicted: looking crackly on top, and semi-solid and gooey inside (the toothpick test revealed this.) It smelled amazing. Five minutes later, I ran a knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake.

At last, I dusted the cake with powdered sugar and cut into it. The outer 1/4″ of the crust had formed a crunchy-soft shell, cloaking a fudge-y interior. Success.

I plated the slice, crowning it with a ribbon of candied orange peel that I had left in the fridge from making an orange-flavoured simple syrup a few weeks ago.

Guys, this is a wonderful, wonderful cake. The bittersweet chocolate and amaro kept it from veering too far into sweet territory. The crunchy shell was a revelation. The interior was more solid than chocolate lava cake, but it wasn’t at all gritty in the way of many almond cakes. It was silky but substantial.

We’ve never had a go-to chocolate cake, but I think we’ve found one here. We hope you’ll try it!

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