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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: A gluten-free cake from the mountains of Alto Adige.
Like so many Italian regions, there is a distinct link between the geography of the place and the local cuisine. Bordering Austria and Switzerland to the north and the regions of Lombardy and the Veneto to the south, Italy's most northern region, Trentino-Alto Adige, has carried influences from its neighbors into its kitchens -- and is governed by the local ingredients of the montainous region.
Known as schwarzplententorte in German or torta di granosaraceno in Italian, this is a very traditional recipe that reflects all of these aspects. It's a simple, gluten-free cake, made wonderfully moist and dense with buckwheat, almond meal and grated apple, then filled with tart lingonberry jam and topped with a veil of powdered sugar. It's usually eaten for breakfast together with a big mug of caffe latte -- or as a morning or afternoon snack.
German and Italian are both official languages in this region, but the fact that this buckwheat cake has a German name indicates that the origins of this recipe are from the northern part of Alto Adige, around Bolzano. It's also the only place where apples have a DOP (Protected Designation of Origin) status in Italy, and, as you'd expect, many traditional desserts call for them (think fritters or strudel). In this cake, the apple seems to almost disappear and melt into the cake crumb, adding moisture and sweetness.
It's quite common to find buckwheat (a seed, not actually a wheat, despite its name) grown in mountainous areas where regular wheat can't grow -- and it's found in a number of typical Altoadesian dishes, including pasta.
The basic version of this recipe is without the apple (it can easily be eliminated from the recipe without changing the other proportions), while the oldest versions of this recipe call only for buckwheat flour, with almond meal (usually made by grinding whole almonds, skin on) being a modern addition that adds to the dense crumb of this cake. Obligatory is the filling of lingonberry jam (also known as mountain cranberries) -- you could substitute cranberry or redcurrant jelly if you can't find this jam, but if you do want to seek it out, try Ikea (lingonberry jam is also a national staple of Sweden!).
It's an extremely simple recipe that needs no added rising agents, as the six eggs do the trick -- the whites are beaten until stiff and fluffy and folded in just before baking. The result is a moist, sweet cake, which only seems to get better with age, with a hint of savoriness from the buckwheat and sharpness from the lingonberry jam.
1 cup (250 grams) butter at room temperature
1 cup (250 grams) sugar
6 eggs, separated
2 cups (250 grams) buckwheat flour
2 1/4 cups (250 grams) almond meal, skins on if possible
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 vanilla pod
200 gr of lingonberry jam (or redcurrant or cranberry jelly)
1 heaped teaspoon of powdered sugar
Photos by Emiko Davies