Friday, September 30, 2011

Dessert: Torta Sbrisolona

This is a mature dessert and we preferred it as a bread. However, it was in the cakes section of A Cook's Guide to Grains by Jenni Muir. By mature, I mean the that kids were not fond of it. It had a certain level of crunchy due to the coarse cornmeal that the kids could not tolerate. They both are losing teeth, as kids are wont to do.
Torta Sbrisolona


2 cups plain wheat flour
2/3 cup coarse yellow cornmeal (coarse produced crunchy bits, a medium grind may be better)
2/3 cup fine yellow cornmeal
1 cup almonds, chopped
1 cup caster sugar or baker's sugar
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
1 cup butter, cubed, plus extra for greasing
3 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla extract
sifted icing or powdered sugar for dusting


  1. Heat the oven to 350ºF and grease a 10 in round or square cake pan. In a large mixing bowl, combine the plain wheat flour, the two cornmeals, plus the almonds, sugar and lemon zest.
  2. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs.
  3. In a small bowl, beat the eggs and vanilla extract together. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the eggs. Give it a brief stir, then quickly finish working the dry ingredients into the wet using your hands to give a solid, pastry-like dough. Do not knead the dough; work it until it only just comes together.
  4. Press the dough into the prepared pan. Smooth the surface over a little but leave it dimpled as this will enhance the crumbly texture. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the top is just starting to brown. Leave the cake to cool in the pan. Dust with sifted icing sugar and break into chunks to serve.

Other details:

  • Serves 4-6 (way more of us were able to contentedly eat this)
  • This cake is traditionally smashed in the center to be devoured in crumbling chunks with sticky wines or grappa.
  • Hazelnuts are sometimes used in place of, or in conjunction with, the almonds.
  • For extra shortness (to make more like a shortbread, which this highly resembles), replace half the butter with the same quantity of lard.
  • You can use only finely ground cornmeal. The texture of your cornmeal with influence the cake. My kids did not like the crunchiness of the cake with a coarse cornmeal.
  • Be careful that the cake is not too thick. It should be about 1 – 1 1/2 inches deep in the pan. If it is thicker, the cake will become scone-like. You can shape the excess into balls and bake as cookies. The cookies only need about 20 minutes to bake.
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