Other people’s recipes: Rosetta Costantino’a Torta Caprese

If it seems to you like I’ve spent a lot of time over the past year baking from just a handful of cookbooks, you’d be right. Leaving the same books in a pile on one’s dinner table can have that effect. Today’s recipe is from a totally new source: Rosetta Costantino’s Southern Italian Desserts (2013). The cover illustration is a delicious looking Crostata al Gelo di Mellone, which I’d love to make, but strangely enough, there’s no watermelon in the supermarket in February, so instead I made a Torta Caprese — which is both a flourless chocolate cake, like I made last weekend, and an almond cake, like I made three weekends ago. The cake takes its name from the island of Capri, which is associated with the Campania region of Italy; Costantino’s book is organized by region. She tells an entertaining story of this dish’s origin, which may or may not be true; it is attributed to the pastry chef Carmine Di Fiore.

Mise en place
I’ll start as usual with the mise en place. Like many of Costantino’s recipes, the parts list is a simple one — almonds, chocolate, eggs, sugar, and butter. (I didn’t use the optional coffee liqueur.) There’s also a pinch of salt. The recipe calls for half a pound (225 g) of 55-60% dark chocolate; I used a combination of Callebaut 54% and Valrhona 70% to make up the required quantity (mostly because I had eaten too much of the Callebaut already).

Buttered 10-inch springform pan
The recipe calls for a buttered springform pan. I did not use baking spray as that would compromise the gluten-free nature of this cake — although I don’t know of any potential eaters who suffer from celiac sprue. Not having made this recipe before, I was not sure how high it would come up the sides, so I buttered all three inches of the springform pan’s ring; as you’ll see, it did not rise nearly that high. (I suspect it could easily have been made in a regular 10-inch cake pan like the one I bought for last week’s cake, with a parchment disc on the bottom for easy release.)

Chocolate melting in double boiler
The chocolate is melted in a double boiler and allowed to cool before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. As seen here it’s about halfway melted.

Ground almonds
The almonds are supposed to be ground “until they have the texture of coarse cornmeal”; I’m not sure I managed that, but my food processor really wasn’t making these bits any smaller. (I’m not sure what kitchen tool I would have to use to really get them ground up into almond flour or almond butter, but my Cuisinart does not appear to be it.)

Creamed butter and sugar
Next, the butter and half of the sugar are creamed together. If you’ve been reading my recipe posts for a while, you might scratch your head for a moment at this picture. “Doesn’t that dude have a KitchenAid stand mixer? Why’s he using a hand mixer for this?” All will be answered in good time. For now, I will only point out that I probably should have let the butter soften a bit more than I did; this process would have gone quite a bit more easily had I done so.

Close-up of creamed butter and sugar
Butter and sugar after incorporating egg yolks
One by one, five egg yolks are beaten into the creamed butter-sugar mixture, changing the color substantially, but not making much of a difference to the texture, as shown in the before-and-after pair of photos above.

Butter, sugar, egg, and chocolate
Now the cooled, but still liquid, chocolate is beaten into the butter-sugar-egg mixture.

Butter, sugar, egg, chocolate, and ground almonds
And finally, the ground almonds are beaten in. Now it’s time to put aside the hand mixer and the bowl of what looks at this stage like a chocolate-cookie batter, and move over to the stand mixer, to make a meringue from the remaining egg whites and sugar. (Why not use the stand mixer for both? Because the fat in the main part of the batter will deflate an egg-white foam, and it would take too long to properly clean the bowl before making the meringue. Yes, I could have brought my other stand mixer up from the basement, but I’m looking to sell that one and have no room on the countertop for it anyway.)

Stiff peaks!
The egg whites are supposed to be beaten “until firm peaks form that are not at all dry”. I don’t really know what that means, but I figured this was probably good enough.

Had to move butter mixture to a bigger bowl
There was simply not enough room in my original mixing bowl to combine the meringue with the batter, so I had to turn it out into a bigger bowl. (I suppose I could have reversed the roles and done the meringue with the hand mixer.) You’ll note how stiff the batter looks — that’s what makes me think I should have let the butter soften even more.

After mixing in first third of meringue
The usual process of combining an egg foam with a heavier batter (soufflé base, custard, etc.) is followed in this recipe: first mix in a third of the meringue to “lighten up” the main batter, then fold in the rest taking care to deflate the foam as little as possible.

After folding in the rest of the meringue
After folding in all the meringue, the cake batter looks like this. It’s still pretty firm, even after adding all that egg foam, but it’s at least spreadable.

Batter deposited in pan and smoothed with a spatula
I dumped the batter into the prepared springform pan and used an offset spatula to spread it around as evenly as I could.

Finished cake hot from the oven
After about 50 minutes in a 325°F (160°C) oven, it comes out looking not all that much different from how it looked going in. It needs to sit for a few hours before being extracted from the springform pan and portioned.

Slice of cake with powdered sugar
Costantino suggests serving either with powdered sugar, as here, or with a dollop of whipped cream. Since I happen to have a cup of whipped cream left over from yesterday’s quiche, I’ll be bringing that into work to garnish the cake. I found the cake to be amazingly buttery — as befits a cake with half a pound of butter in it — but to be somewhat lacking in the chocolate department; if I were to make this recipe again, I’d be aiming for the high end of the cacao range suggested in the recipe. It’s possible that a small addition of espresso powder would have brought out enough bitterness as well, although there’s not a lot of water in this cake outside of the meringue in which it could be dissolved. I could easily imagine splitting the cake in half and filling it with whipped cream (or frangipane) — then more whipped cream on the outside and additional ground (or sliced) almonds to make for a very restauranty (and super-high-cal) presentation.

Cake portioned for service
Here it is all portioned up for service. I cut the first quarter into thirds to make the twelve-per-cake serving size shown below, but since people at work seem to prefer smaller serving sizes, I cut the other three quarters into fourths to make sixteen-per-cake servings (multiply the numbers below by 3/4).


There’s no escaping the fact that this cake has a half-pound of butter and five eggs. It’s not going to be the sort of thing you can gobble (at least not and remain friends with your doctor). Twelve per cake is really the largest reasonable serving size.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/12 cake
Servings per recipe: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 467 Calories from fat 315
% Daily Value
Total Fat 35g 53%
 Saturated Fat 15g 77%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 117mg 39%
Sodium 35mg 1%
Potassium 0mg 0%
Total Carbohydrate 31g 10%
 Dietary fiber 4g 14%
 Sugars 25g
Proteins 8g 17%
Vitamin A 13%
Vitamin C 0%
Calcium 5%
Iron 19%
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