Per my own rules, in order to post a recipe in this category of my blog, I need not have eaten the food while I was in the country of origin, and that certainly was the case here. We didn’t go to Mantua, from whence this recipe came. Heck, I don’t even know where Mantua is, nor do I recall seeing this torta on a single menu during out time in Italy.
What matters is that I have another delicious baked good that comes from a country I’ve visited.
Job Gaffe: It happened on a day-trip to Siena and I was lucky it didn’t cause a breakdown in US-Italy relations. Dressed for the sweltering day and unaware that we would be entering a religious building, I wandered bare-shouldered and clueless into the city’s famous cathedral. People in official-looking uniforms approached, eyebrows were raised, and a disposable crepe-paper shawl was proffered to cover the offending joints, as scores of appropriately-clad tourists looked on in disgust. (In my defense, it was hot, it was June in Italy, and if there was a sign that said “Spalle nude sono un’offensa alla buona società e sono riservati per le prostitute e simili,” I never saw it. Nor could I probably have understood it.) I spent the rest of the time in the cathedral trying to focus on the Gothic art of the 13th and 14th centuries, all the while being distracted by dozens of people who were baring their naked shoulders, unhindered by crepe paper shawls.
Recipe adapted from: Martha Stewart’s
Prison Kitchen Baking Handbook
Level of Difficulty: low
Time Consumption: low
Kitchen Destruction: low
Dress code during baking and/or eating: Kitchen casual. Bare shoulders perfectly acceptable.
Wow Factor: The high end of low, or the low end of moderate. It’s very basic – no layers, garnishes, drizzles, flourishes, or other alimentary bells and whistles, but chances are people have not seen this before, which gives it an air of mystery. Also, you might want to mention offhandedly while they are enjoying it that it was made using only six ingredients. Surely that’s worth a little wowwing.
- 1¾ sticks (about 14 tablespoons) unsalted butter, room temp, plus more for pan
- 1¾ C all-purpose flour
- 1½ C (about 5 oz) blanched almonds, finely ground
- ¾ C sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1½ tsp pure vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter a 10-inch springform pan; set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, ground almonds, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender until it is completely incorporated and there are no dry crumbs. Squeeze the mixture with your fingers to form pea-size to one-inch clumps.
Gently press 3/4 of the mixture into the prepared pan, and sprinkle evenly with remaining crumbs. Bake until it begins to turn golden, about 25 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300° F and continue to bake until golden brown and fairly dry, about 10 minutes more.
Transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Remove sides of pan to unmold. Torta can be kept, wrapped well in aluminum foil, at room temperature for up to three days.
I suppose you could cut it like a pizza, though I’ve never tried that. I follow Martha’s suggestion of putting it in the center of the table and letting people break off pieces as a sort of guest participation activity.
Here we have blog readers and Italy travel partners Selfie Hater and By Foot and Hoof showing how it’s done.
Confessions of an Imperfect Baker:
- Martha tells us to use a 10-inch springform pan. I just used my 11-inch removable-bottom tart pan. Close enough.
- When the mixture wasn’t clumping to my satisfaction, I added first 2¼ TBS more butter, and then another 2¼ TBS. Finally, I was happy with the result. I may have gone off-piste, but what’s an extra 5 TBS of butter between friends? (550 calories, that’s what!)
Baker’s Secret: I discovered while eating the above Torta Sbrisolona that, like a wheel of cheese, the best part is near the center. Whether you choose to share this with your guests is entirely up to you.
Tutti a tavola a mangare!
Another post about out time in Italy: