Italian

The Cake Recipe You'll Never Forget

by:
December 15, 2015

Here's a cake recipe that is impossible to forget. One of Italy's best loved cakes is an extremely simple, moist, and fluffy pound cake, or as they like to incorrectly call it, “plum cake.” It's as simple as can be: no icing or strong flavorings; perhaps just a shower of confectioners' sugar over the top if anything; a cake that is often eaten for breakfast (yes!), dipped into warm caffè lattes, or eaten as a mid-afternoon snack.

The best thing about the pound cake is its name, which makes it all the more easy to remember the traditional recipe: a pound of each ingredient (flour, sugar, butter, and eggs). In Italian, the cake is also known as quattro quarti, or "four quarters," as each ingredient is equal in weight.

In Pellegrino Artusi's Italian bible of cooking, he explains how to measure the ingredients for quattro quarti: Take 5 eggs, and weigh them in their shells (if they are large, this might equal around 300 grams). That weight is the weight you will need for each of the other ingredients.

A similar Tuscan cake, known as the dolce del tre, or "the cake of 3," calls for 3 eggs, 300 grams of sugar, 300 grams of flour and 300 grams of fresh ricotta. It makes a cake that is springy, moist and delicately flavored—the perfect blank canvas, too, for those who want to play around with adding more to it.

This makes for easy cake baking without really needing a recipe. Then if you like, you can personalize your cake by adding something extra; traditional Italian favorites might be lemon or orange zest, vanilla extract, a splash of rum or sambuca, or chopped nuts, chocolate, or dried fruit. A layer of sliced apples or pears over the top would be delicious too. The options are pretty much endless.

Looking at the volume conversions in the recipe below should be enough to convert you to weighing your baking ingredients. And then there's the mere fact that you don't need as many utensils as when you use cups and you don't have to wonder if you measured your flour correctly. Plus, just think about the ease of weighing your ingredients directly into the bowl. 

More: Why using a scale will change your (baking) life.

How to do it? Place the bowl right onto the digital scales. Press "tare" to set it to zero, then make sure the units are set to grams. Tip in the ricotta and measure to 300 grams. Press "tare" again to reset to zero. Tip in the sugar to 300 grams, then crack your eggs into the bowl and whip everything together till smooth. Turn the scales back on and "tare" to zero grams. Tip in the flour, right out of the bag even. Now add your baking powder and any flavors you want and fold them through. You're done!

The Cake of Three (Dolce del Tre)

Serves 6 to 8

300
 grams (10 1/2 ounces) fresh ricotta

300
 grams (1 1/2 cups) sugar

3
 eggs

300
 grams (2 1/3 cups, plus 1 tablespoon) all-purpose flour

1
 teaspoon baking powder

Zest of 1 lemon (or other options, see note)

Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)


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

Photos by Emiko Davies

7 Comments

Footnotes October 31, 2016
Oh, I'm so excited to try this! For the quattro quarti recipe, is it really just those four ingredients? No baking powder? Thank you!
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 31, 2016
Yes, no baking powder or any rising agents. The secret is in whipping the eggs for a really, really long time. According to a cookbook I have from the 1800s they were whipped by hand for half an hour, so I do it with beaters or a mixer for about 10 minutes!
 
Jim M. October 13, 2016
It is impossible to forget a recipe that you cannot see. Where is the recipe for the quattro quarti?
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 14, 2016
The recipe is written above within the article, in bold: "Take 5 eggs, and weigh them in their shells (if they are large, this might equal around 300 grams). That weight is the weight you will need for each of the other ingredients." But the recipe for the "Cake of 3" is linked at the bottom of the article.
 
Alyssa J. December 24, 2015
I've made the french variant, the french quatre-quarts cake. You've got to love a cake that takes little guess work, and is essentially foolproof.
 
ChefJune October 13, 2016
I was about to say the French do the same thing - it's called Quatre-Quarts. :-D
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 14, 2016
Yes, it's the same thing! "Quattro quarti" in Italian ;)