Calabrian Walnut Cake (Torta di Noci)

November  4, 2014

Every Tuesday, Italian expat Emiko Davies is taking us on a grand tour of Italy, showing us how to make classic, fiercely regional dishes at home.

Today: An essential (and gluten-free!) walnut cake for your baking repertoire.

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As walnut cakes go, this must be the most essential of them all. The cake itself is made of just three ingredients: walnuts, eggs, and sugar. A little lemon zest adds a delicate, fresh aroma, and powdered sugar makes it pretty. 

It's a traditional cake from Calabria in southern Italy -- the sort of cake that was born out of age-old peasant traditions; the sort of cake that your nonna might whip up and have sitting on her kitchen bench, ready to be offered to guests with a short, dark stove-top espresso for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Yes, cake for breakfast.

This walnut cake seems rather humble when compared to other Calabrian sweets, which have a tendency to be deep fried, filled with custard or jam, and covered in honey, dark chocolate, or sprinkles.

This cake, however, is elegant in its simplicity and so incredibly moist -- it reminds me of the Spanish Tarta de Santiago Almond Cake. The walnuts are pulverized in the food processor, so it's chunkier and a little more rustic than a cake made with almond meal. In my opinion, it needs nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar.

More: The Italians wrote the book on comfort food -- here are Emiko's five favorites.

This recipe is taken from a 1960s volume of Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, who suggests splitting the cake and sandwiching it with a light lemon butter frosting. It also keeps very well, remaining moist for several days -- if it isn't eaten all by then.

Calabrian Walnut Cake (Torta di Noci)

3/4 pound (340 grams) shelled walnuts
4 eggs, separated
1 cup (225 grams) caster sugar
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Emiko Davies


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  • Stacey Snacks
    Stacey Snacks
  • Emiko
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.


Stacey S. November 6, 2014
What happened to all the other comments on this thread? There were some from Emiko, and some from other bakers who had trouble with this cake too. Why were they all deleted except for my original 2? Very odd.
Author Comment
Emiko November 6, 2014
Hi Stacey, I think you're looking at the wrong thread! :) If you click directly on the link to the recipe, you'll find all those comments over there (link also here:
Stacey S. November 5, 2014
on the bright side: the cake tastes wonderful! I will save the broken pieces for a crumble on ice cream. :)
Author Comment
Emiko November 6, 2014
That's a great idea! These are a little like macaroons that way :)
Stacey S. November 5, 2014
Not sure what went wrong here, but the top is cracked like a meringue, and it stuck to the pan (after greasing and almond meal on the bottom of pan).......cake totally fell apart. I'm sure it tastes good, but can't serve. Wasted almost 3 cups of walnuts. :(