Italian

The Crazy Good Flourless Chocolate Cake with an Even Crazier Backstory

by:
October 25, 2016

You know a cake is going to be good when it's got chocolate, gangsters, and the image of the beautiful island of Capri all in its backstory.

It was the 1920s. Three Italian-American gangsters visit Capri. As the story goes, they were there to buy a shipment of spats for Al Capone—those elegant, white, button-up protective coverings for your shoes and ankles. This was a man known for dressing in a pinstripe suit and fedora, after all. Anyways, a chef, Carmine di Fiore, makes them a chocolate and almond cake. He doesn't realize until later he forgot to put the flour in it, but the result is a delectable chocolate cake, crisp on the outside and incredibly moist on the inside. The mobsters love it and ask for the recipe—and the chef breathes a sigh of relief.

It sounds more like the start to a comedy act than a memorable cake, but it's the story that the capresi like to tell about their namesake cake, Torta Caprese. The part that's the most believable is that the cake was very likely the result of an accident in the kitchen (like other good things, such as chocolate chip cookies and champagne).

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Torta Caprese is a simple cake of even proportions and a handful of essential ingredients: blanched almonds pulverized into flour, unsalted butter, melted dark chocolate, and sugar. Eggs are needed, too—separated and with the yolks stirred through the batter and the whites whipped to fluffy peaks. Other than whipping the eggs whites, all you need is a wooden spoon to mix everything together.

Photo by Emiko Davies

I've found, over the years of making this cake, it's effortless and forgiving. There is, as I mentioned, just one main rule (and even that, as you'll hear about in a moment, can easily be broken): The almond meal, butter, chocolate, and sugar should be equal in weight. This is the time to get out the digital scale. It makes not only preparing this, but also remembering it later, so easy.

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Top Comment:
“I first made a flourless chocolate cake in high school in the late 60s. I have a very old copy of one of David's baking books but that was not where I found the first recipe I used. The recipe I recall had no butter.”
— jpriddy
Comment

It is remarkably similar to Elizabeth David's chocolate and almond cake from French Provincial Cooking, which The Times calls “the best chocolate and almond cake in the world.” (It's also a personal favorite of mine.) David's cake only calls for slightly more chocolate in proportion to the rest of the ingredients, plus a dash of black coffee and rum.

And she's not the only one with similar-yet-slightly-different cakes. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall adapted David's cake during his time at the River Café in the late eighties, upping the chocolate slowly to almost double David's original recipe so that it was “more puddingy," as he says in the forward to At Elizabeth David's Table. On this very site, Molly Wizenberg's wonderful almost flourless chocolate cake appears to be a cousin, too.

Photo by Emiko Davies

But as far as chocolate cakes go, Torta Caprese is the ultimate for me. It's dark and not too sweet, which would detract from the richness of the cake. It has the simplicity of Italian country cakes, but an elegance and decadency that is unique. You only need a small slice, with just a dusting of powdered sugar, and at the very most, some lightly whipped unsweetened cream.

Emiko, a.k.a. Emiko Davies, is a food writer and cookbook author living in Tuscany, where she writes about (and eats!) regional Italian foods. You can read more of her writing on her blog.

Have you made a cake like Torta Caprese before? Let us know in the comments below!

16 Comments

Adriona C. October 28, 2016
Yes that's my plan to use cocoa powder. I'll let y'all know how it turns out.
 
Patricia B. October 28, 2016
I assume this cake calls for cocoa powder. Dutch process or regular? Or does it matter
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 28, 2016
No cocoa powder. Just dark chocolate in this one.
 
Adriona C. October 27, 2016
My daughter is allergic to a host of foods,like nuts except for cashews. We love chocolate and coconut, so I'm going try making this cake useing coconut flour in place of the almond meal. I'll let you all know how it turned out.
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 28, 2016
That sounds wonderful, I'd love to know the results!
 
jpriddy October 27, 2016
I first made a flourless chocolate cake in high school in the late 60s. I have a very old copy of one of David's baking books but that was not where I found the first recipe I used. The recipe I recall had no butter.
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 28, 2016
Elizabeth David wrote a similar recipe in French Provincial Cooking. Julia Child also has a similar one (Queen of Sheba cake) but it does have flour in it. No butter, I have only seen Diana Henry's chocolate and olive oil cake, where olive oil does what the butter should do. So many wonderful versions to try!
 
Lea October 27, 2016
Does anybody know of a recipe with no eggs? Or a suitable substitution for this type of recipe? Recently found I am allergic to eggs but I LOVE flourless chocolate anything.....
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 28, 2016
Yes! I've written about it on my blog, it's a recipe from Roman cookbook writer Ada Boni's Talismano della Felicita (it never made it into the English version, which is a very abridged version of the Italian one). It's original is called "torta bilbolbul", it's an eggless, butterless chocolate cake, a fantastic cake for many reasons: http://www.emikodavies.com/blog/ada-bonis-eggless-butterless-chocolate-cake/
 
Lea October 29, 2016
Thank you from the bottom of my chocolate loving heart!!!!!
 
sydney October 27, 2016
I'm interested to try this! I picked up another version from NYT and make endless variations on it. I dropped the oven heat, lengthened baking time, and line the bottom with thinly sliced apples (for sweet interior) or thinly sliced mushrooms (for savoury) to avoid the easily burnt bottom. I love versatile recipes. Check it out:<br />http://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1014976-fig-and-almond-cake?action=click&contentCollection=Food&module=RelatedCoverage&region=Marginalia&pgtype=article
 
Elaine October 26, 2016
More than 30 years ago now, there was a recipe (really, just the ingredients and measures, no instructions) in a Babar Learns French book. Seriously. I managed to make it and ooh la la! Only difference that I can recall (30 years, remember) is using rice flour instead of almond flour.
 
Terri October 26, 2016
Like Ms Guggenheim I have been making a cake like this for many years for Passover. The recipe came from the NY Tmes magazine section. It does not call for butter and you have to separate and beat the egg whites
 
Kristina N. October 25, 2016
Looks a lot like Joanne Harris's Gateau Lawrence. The ingredients are exactly the same but the proportions are different. I am definitely intrigued and will be trying this recipe!
 
Esther G. October 25, 2016
our family's passover chocolate cake is exactly the same except more eggs. flourless for a good reason.
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 28, 2016
It must be wonderful -- rather fudgy with more eggs and that beautiful crisp top, I'm thinking?