By legend, when an Austrian princess was staying at the Italian resort isle of Capri back in the 1800s, she started longing for the dense chocolate cake of her native Vienna, Sachertorte. Not knowing how to make the Viennese delicacy, the resort’s Italian chefs prepared a more familiar local almond cake, added cocoa and hoped the combination would work.
An even more appealing version of the story has the chefs ready to triumphantly produce Sachertorte for an ecstatic princess, only to discover at the last minute they had no flour in the pantry. Salvaging the situation, one of the chefs thought to substitute almond flour and still managed to surprise the happy princess. Another delighted guest, no?
Either way, Torta Caprese (Italian for, “Capri Cake”) was born. Cook’s Illustrated presented the recipe in its November/December 2018 issue and thus, it found its way here. Not only does the almond flour make this gluten-free, but it produces a dense, impossibly moist crumb that makes Torta Caprese most similar to a brownie. Effectively, Victorian resort chefs catering to the royal palette produced, well, a tray of brownies. Luscious, elegant brownies, but brownies all the same.
Of course, true to its nature, the kitchen added a couple Italian flourishes. For one thing, confectioner’s sugar is dusted over the top, contributing an extra sweetness and creating a striking visual contrast with the dark cake beneath. Also, a dollop of liqueur-infused whipped cream is served alongside the Torta, adding a rich creaminess. The two possibilities are to use amaretto or orange liqueur. As it’s been a while since the latter was chosen, orange liqueur it was. A good decision.
These may be regular brownies done up in a “royal” fashion, but the charming backstories show that even cooks in an imperial kitchen occasionally hit roadblocks or run out of ingredients. Still, they persisted and improvised, earning their designations as chefs de cuisine.
(Italian Chocolate-Almond Cake)
- 12 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 12 pieces
- 6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 4 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
- 1 cup sugar, divided
- 2 cups almond flour
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup confectioner’s sugar, optional
Put oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 325°. Lightly spritz a round cake pan with cooking spray.
Put butter and bittersweet chocolate in a medium bowl and, stopping to stir frequently, microwave at 50% power until melted, about 90 seconds total. Stir in vanilla extract and set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites on medium-low speed until foamy, about one minute. Increase speed to medium-high and gradually add 1/2 cup of the sugar. After about four minutes, when the eggs form stiff peaks, transfer them to a separate bowl. Wash the mixer bowl and whisk attachment.
Add the egg yolks and remaining sugar to the now-empty mixer bowl. Whip on medium-high speed until thick and pale yellow, about three minutes. Add the chocolate mixture you microwaved and mix at medium speed until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Add the almond flour, cocoa and salt and mix until incorporated, about 30 seconds.
Remove the mixer bowl from the stand and use a rubber spatula to mix in any chocolate residue that remains stuck to the bottom or the sides. Add one-third of the whipped whites to the mixer bowl and attach it back to the stand. Mix at medium speed for about 30 seconds, until no streaks of white remain.
Transfer mixer bowl contents to the bowl holding the remaining egg withes and gently fold together with the rubber spatula until combined. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, smoothing out the top if necessary with the spatula.
Bake for about 50 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for twenty minutes, then carefully remove the cake from the pan and let cool by itself on the rack for anther two hours. Dust with confectioner sugar if desired, and serve alongside flavored whipped cream, recipe below.
Orange Whipped Cream
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 2 tablespoons Cointreau (*1)
- 1 tablespoon confectioner’s sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon grated orange zest
Place a stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer for 15 minutes. Attach to the mixer stand and add the cream, confectioner’s sugar and liqueur. Whisk at low speed until everything’s incorporated, then gradually increase the mixer speed to high.
Add orange zest while the mixer is at high speed. Continue thusly for about four minutes, until mixture is light and fluffy. Using a pastry bag, distribute whipped cream among serving plates, or use a soup spoon to create a dollop.
1 – I didn’t have any Cointreau, but 1/4 a bottle of Grand Marnier is still on the pantry shelf, and that filled in nicely. They’re both orange-forward French liqueurs, after all.