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.
Shop the Story
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.
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.