Other people’s recipes: Rosetta Costantino’s Cherry-Almond Cake

Another Monday, another cake — although I’m actually doing two cakes this week, both relatively easy. The first cake, from Rosetta Costantino’s Southern Italian Desserts (Ten Speed Press, 2013; p. 128), is called Torta di Ciliege. It follows the usual procedure for flourless souffle-style nut cakes — I’ve done several this year — but in an unusual twist, adds fresh whole (pitted) cherries to the batter. Costantino’s headnote says it works equally well with “berries, figs, or peaches … whatever soft fruits are in season”. But I always like to start out as close as I can to the original recipe, so that’s what I did. (I had to make one substitution, which I’ll describe below.)

Blanched almonds
Normally, I would simply buy blanched almonds, but this time I decided to try the home blanching procedure Costantino gives (Mandorle Pelate, p. 189). It’s not at all difficult, indeed the same as any blanching procedure, but tedious: the point is to remove the skin of the almonds, and blanching does soften the skin sufficiently to do so, but you’re still left standing there over a bowl of slippery wet nuts squeezing them out of their outer coating one by one. Then once you’ve extracted all of the nuts, they have to air-dry on a baking sheet before you can do anything useful with them. Perhaps if you have children of the right age to find this entertaining, but I would just as soon pay someone (or something) else to do it.

Mise en place
That was Saturday, so now on to Sunday and the actual baking, starting with the mise en place. The recipe, as I said, is a pretty simple almond cake of the sort I’ve already done several of; it starts with four separated eggs, the blanched almonds, both powdered and granulated sugar, potato starch (a new ingredient for me), and lemon zest. The fat is provided by olive oil rather than butter, so this recipe is not only gluten-free it’s also dairy-free. There’s some baking powder to provide leavening backup to the egg whites, and for flavoring — in addition to the pitted cherries — there are both vanilla and almonds extracts along with a beverage alcohol. The recipe calls for maraschino, but the only package store in town that carried it had just a huge $35 bottle, which is a lot to pay for something I’ll only ever use two tablespoons of, so I asked them to recommend a substitute, and they suggested Kirschwasser, which conveniently I already had. They cautioned that it would not be quite the same, since Kirsch, a brandy, would have less sugar and more alcohol than maraschino.

Ground almonds and sugar
The first step in the recipe is to grind the almonds in a food processor, together with the confectioner’s sugar. The mixture is then pulsed together with the potato starch and baking powder.

Meringue peak
The next step, familiar if you’ve read any of my past posts about other cakes made by the soufflé method, is to make a meringue from the egg whites, a pinch of salt, and half of the sugar. The recipe in this case says to beat “until nearly firm peaks form, slightly curling over when you lift the beater”, and I thought this would make a great illustration.

Egg yolks at the ribbon stage
The next step is to beat the egg yolks and remaining sugar together to the ribbon stage. The recipe would have you do this in a stand mixer, but yet again, my stand mixer is simply too big to work with this small a quantity, so I used a hand mixer and a small bowl. (If there had been more sugar, it would probably have worked, but the beater in my stand mixer simply didn’t make enough contact with the yolks.) After mixing in the olive oil, lemon zest, and flavorings, the volume was large enough to transfer to the stand mixer for the next step (and getting a bit too big for the small bowl I had been using), mixing in the dry ingredients.

Two phases of batter
Now comes the heart of the soufflé method: folding the meringue into the egg-yolk base. This is generally done by thirds: the first third can be done a bit roughly, as it serves primarily to lighten the heavy batter enough to accept the rest of the meringue without deflating too much. The second and third thirds require more care.

(Nearly) fully mixed batter
The batter is carefully poured into a prepared 9-inch (24 cm) springform pan, and the pitted cherries are dropped on top — they quickly sink to the bottom. The cake is baked at 350°F (175°C) for about 45 minutes.

Undercooked batter in the center of the cake
I took the cake out a bit too soon — it could have used another five minutes or so, despite the outer edges being fully cooked — and as a result the batter in the center never had a chance to set properly. I warned my tasters about this, but nobody seemed much to mind; at least one person loved the “goo”.

Cake after removing springform ring
After removing the springform ring, you can see how the cherries all ended up at the bottom of the cake.

Overall, I had one taster who positively gushed about this cake. Other people who offered their opinion had nothing bad to say about it, but were perhaps not as enthusiastic. I was rather unhappy at how undercooked the center turned out; I was concerned about overbrowning the outside, or else I would have left it in long enough to solidify. (My oven’s temperature control is not brilliant, so perhaps it was off by a bit — I’m not sure I trust my flimsy oven thermometer much more than the thermostat!)


The recipe gives a yield of 10–12 servings, and I was happy enough with the way the numbers came out at 12 that I did not feel the need to try to make 16 slices as I would with a layer cake. The figures below do not include a dusting of confectioner’s sugar added at presentation.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/12 cake
Servings per recipe: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 281 Calories from fat 153
% Daily Value
Total Fat 17g 26%
 Saturated Fat 2g 12%
 Monounsaturated Fat 11g
 Polyunsaturated Fat 3g
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 62mg 21%
Sodium 85mg 4%
Potassium 176mg 5%
Total Carbohydrate 29g 10%
 Dietary fiber 2g 10%
 Sugars 21g
Proteins 5g 10%
Vitamin A 2%
Vitamin C 4%
Calcium 10%
Iron 5%
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