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No Flour, No Butter, Yes Flavor: Meet the Alto Adige Poppy Seed Cake

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Italy's northern borders touch a few different countries, so it's common to find a crossover of recipes that filter down through the mountains. For example, at restaurants in the region of Trentino-Alto Adige, you'll more often be waited on by a server with a German accent than an Italian one, and you'll likely be eating a plate of sausages and sauerkraut, too. Desserts in the region are even more frequently borrowed from their northern neighbors, like Linzer torte, a tart made of short, crumbly hazelnut pastry with a lattice top, filled with jam made from berries collected from the nearby forest, or Black Forest cake, or a dense and moist buckwheat cake filled with lingonberry jam.

About to turn into a cloud/cake.
About to turn into a cloud/cake. Photo by Emiko Davies

This torta di semi di papaveri, a rather delicate and airy cake, dense with poppy seeds, has Austrian origins, but you'll often be served this cake in the Alps of Alto Adige. It's an interesting cake as there's no flour or butter, but ground almond meal and poppy seeds instead. A grated apple gives it moisture, while plenty of eggs—separated, with the whites whipped fluffy—give it a cloud-like body.

I put mandarins on mine.
I put mandarins on mine. Photo by Emiko Davies

Once you've baked this beauty, you can dress it up or down as you please. The Italian version most often is simply flavored with lemon—to get the most out of your lemon, rub the lemon zest into the sugar before you beat in the egg yolks, a tip I learned from a friend and fellow cookbook writer Julia Busuttil, who makes the most delicious cakes. Finish with a dusting of powdered sugar (also the Italian way), or just serve it on its own, or perhaps decorate it with a shiny layer of chocolate ganache.

That's a lot of poppy seeds (and a lot of good).
That's a lot of poppy seeds (and a lot of good). Photo by Emiko Davies

Diana Henry makes a version where she uses walnuts in place of the almonds, splits the batter into two tins (which you could easily do with this batter) and serves them stacked on top of each other with Greek yogurt–laced whipped cream and homemade blackberry jam in between. Or you can add a splash of color to this black and white canvas with some mandarin slices cooked gently in marmalade and poured over the top.

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Flourless Butterless Poppy Seed Cake

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Serves 8-10
  • 1 lemon
  • 3/4 cup (170 grams) sugar
  • 5 eggs, separated
  • 1 tart cooking apple, peeled and grated
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) whole blanched almonds (or almond meal)
  • 7 ounces (200 grams) poppy seeds
  • 11/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • splash of rum (optional)
Go to Recipe

How would you top or fill this cake? Let us know in the comments!

Tags: Italy, Regional Italian Food, Alto Adige, desserts, cake, poppy seed, flourless, butterless, gluten free