Capri is a little isle with a big heritage. Temples, grottos, kings and queens - you may be reminded of the famous salad but there's also a famous cake.
Just off the coast of Sorrento, the island's rugged outline appears over hazy seas, seen from the Amalfi Coast as a distant paradise beckoning you closer. Home to the most alluring of temptresses, the Sirens, Capri has drawn glitz, glamour and fame since the ancient Greeks constructed an acropolis here in the 8th Century BCE. Emperor Tiberius adored the place so much he built the grand Villa Jovis (Villa of Jupiter) as a holiday home, and who can blame him? If the crystalline waters and jagged cliffs don't tempt you enough, then the balmy Mediterranean lifestyle; lounging on terracotta terraces of lemon trees, dining on some of Italy's most gorgeous foods and sipping the crispest white wines most certainly will...
In Naples, you'll spot the beloved Torta Caprese on many dolci menus. The cake of Capri.
Don't be swayed by its simple attire, this cake is beautifully decadent, just like Capri, it's also flourless.
No prized Italian product is without its romantically-enthralling legend. Much like the love-struck cheesemaker who left his curds out overnight and created Gorgonzola, Capri's legendary cake owes its fortuitous creation to error.
In 1920, the well-known, local pastry chef, Carmine di Fiore somehow slipped up and left the flour out of his chocolate and almond cake. Perhaps he was distracted by the island's sparkling waters through his bakery window, perhaps after a long pausa pranzo, he sat dozing in the sunshine and woke up flustered, some Capri residents say he was under such pressure to bake for the legendary gangster Al Capone he messed up - it happens... Nevertheless, what resulted was a dense, chocolatey cake with a crunchy crust, much like a grainy brownie. This dessert is such a delight for the senses, that traditionally only a simple dusting of icing sugar is sprinkled on top because truly, it can stand on its own as a gorgeous slice of Capri confectionery.
Torta Caprese Ingredients
Almonds are a popular regional ingredient around Naples, Sicily and the Amalfi Coast. Here, they are often ground into flour and used in cakes, naturally as a gluten-free alternative but mainly as a prized local speciality. Pesto Pantesco is made from almonds....
If you can find skinless almonds, it's easy to make flour in a food processor. Otherwise, ground almonds, almond flour or almond meal (in the US) can be used.
Dark Chocolate must be good quality and at least 70% as the most important flavour of Torta Caprese.
Italian butter is never salted so add a pinch of salt to balance the flavours if you're making it in Italy.
Eggs should always be at room temperature for the fluffiest results and the only remaining ingredient is sugar. Traditionally, Italians use plain white sugar in baking, however to create a spongier texture, castor sugar is the better option here.
Because this cake has no gluten (from wheat flour) to hold the air bubbles and create a sponge, it's fundamental that your egg whites are beaten until stiff and folded in very delicately.
A trick is to first beat the egg whites and then add half the sugar whilst beating at a slower speed until it is incorporated. This gives the egg whites a little more structure and helps prevent them from collapsing.
Potato starch is often used in Italian baking and can easily be found in shops and supermarkets. Some Torta Caprese recipes call for fecola di patate but the original recipe is incredible simple and only consists of five ingredients.
Oranges and lemons grow so happily in this balmy Mediterranean climate that everyone loves them in their cooking. Torta Caprese has been known to include a squeeze of fresh orange or a grate of the rind as a traditional option.
Another option is a splash of Gran Marnier or Rum in the batter!
And finally, Torta Caprese is traditionally served upside-down in Capri! Let the cake cool completely before turning it out to avoid any breakage and then, depending on the shape of your cake pan, why not do it the Capri-way? With a dusting of icing sugar and basta...
Torta Caprese Recipe
250g peeled almonds or almond flour
250g dark chocolate
5 medium eggs
180g castor sugar
200g salted butter
Icing sugar for decoration
Grease a 24cm diameter baking tin with butter and heat the oven to 180°C.
To make the flour: grind the almonds in a food processor in short bursts to avoid the oils from separating. You can add 100g of castor sugar to the almonds in the mixer at this stage if you're making the flour.
Melt the dark chocolate and butter together.
Beat the egg whites until stiff.
Beat the egg yolks and castor sugar until light in colour.
Add the melted chocolate mixture and then the almond flour.
Fold in the egg whites delicately and immediately pour the batter into a 24cm tin and bake for 40 minutes in a 180°C oven. Do not overbake as the cake settles while cooling. Test regularly with a tooth pick after 30 minutes in the oven.
Cool for at least three hours in the cake tin and turn out onto a plate. Dust with icing sugar.
The flavours are best the next day, if you can wait that long!
Torta Caprese lasts 4 days covered and is best at room temperature with un buon caffe.
Happy cake baking - do share your baking photos in the comments below - we've posted our Torta Caprese Valentine's Day Special...
A presto amici!