Calabrian Walnut Cake (Torta di Noci)

October 29, 2014


Author Notes: As walnut cakes go, this must be the simplest and 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 nonna would make. Incredibly moist and quite rustic, it reminds me of the Spanish Tarta de Santiago Almond Cake.

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 icing. It remains moist for several days -- if it isn't eaten all by then.

**** An update to this recipe 11/9/14 ****
After reading a couple of comments that people have had difficulty with this cake (removing it from the pan, crumbling, being underdone inside), I wanted to retest this recipe again and offer some more advice -- including testing the suggestion by the original author of this recipe, Ada Boni, who advises to fill this cake with a lemon buttercream. So - first, some better description on the texture of this cake. It is a very moist cake, it may even appear underdone to some - but do not fear. Let it rest a day. This cake is possibly even better a day or two old.

Secondly, I would advise using baking paper to line your cake tin. Use springform if you prefer. Bake as described (I actually find personally that this cake cooks better at a slightly lower temperature, around 350F as walnuts - like a lot of nuts - have a tendency to burn easily). Remove from the oven when the top of the well-browned cake is firm to the touch. Let the cake cool in the tin before removing from the tin. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until chilled. This seems to give it a bit of time to settle and will be easier to handle. It will still crumble a little when slicing but if you are careful, you won't have any problem getting pretty, nice slices.

Now on to the buttercream. This is a WONDERFUL idea! It's even better than the cake on its own, lifts it to something extra special. I followed a couple of recipes I found online for lemon buttercream using 2 egg whites, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 stick of butter and the zest of 1 lemon. Whip the whites with the sugar over a double broiler for a few minutes minutes or until the mixture is warm and you can no longer feel the sugar granules if you rub it between your fingers. Remove from heat, beat 8 more minutes or until mixture has returned to room temperature. Slowly add the butter bit by bit, beating all the way until you have a glossy, smooth buttercream. Add zest and chill the mixture. Carefully cut the cake in half so you have two thin discs (this is a little tricky with a crumbly cake but if the cake is well-chilled it is easier). Fill with about half of the buttercream mixture. Place the top disc on top and cover the rest of the cake with the rest of the icing (I covered the top and just did a "crumb coat" around the sides). I topped it with some diced candied fruit for decoration but it's lovely just as it is. This lemon buttercream is a great pairing for this cake and it also is wonderfully forgiving as it hides any flaws, including crumbling, splitting or even an inside that might seem too soft/moist - it's hard to describe but the buttercream just holds it all together in the most amazing way! It also keeps very well for a few days and holds together very, very nicely. So for anyone else having a little trouble handling this flourless cake, I would highly recommend trying the lemon buttercream filling!
Emiko

Serves: 6 to 8 people

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound (340 grams or about 3 cups) shelled walnuts
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup (225 grams) caster sugar (superfine sugar)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting
In This Recipe

Directions

  1. Pulverize the walnuts in a food processor until you have a coarse meal, the texture of sand.
  2. Prepare a round 9-inch cake pan by greasing and lining it with parchment paper.
  3. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the lemon zest and walnut meal and stir to combine. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites bit by bit into the walnut mixture until well combined.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake at 375º F (190º C) for about 50 minutes, or until the top is firm and browned nicely. Let cool completely in the pan before removing. This cake is even better the day after it is made or after it has had some time to settle -- wrap in plastic wrap tightly and let chill in fridge until 1 hour before serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar or do as Ada Boni suggests and fill or cover the cake with a lemon buttercream.

More Great Recipes:
Cake|Walnut|5 Ingredients or Fewer|Gluten-Free|Dessert

Reviews (70) Questions (1)

70 Reviews

Sophia F. February 17, 2018
I didnt have enough walnuts so i used a variety of nuts to compensate and added a dash of cardamom. It was delicious. Its not too sweet as it is but you could reduce it to about 3/4 cup sugar i feel.
 
la G. December 24, 2017
Great cake...making one today! Our third xmas in a row. Simple and delicious. <br /> Satisfies our need for a gluten and dairy free cake. I make a glaze out of a juiced pomegranate and icing sugar which adds a lovely pink hue.
 
phyllisc June 19, 2017
Lovely recipe. I followed directions and weighed all ingredients. The cake came easily out of the pan after cooling completely and cut well after refrigerating overnight. Amazing to get such complex flavor from so few ingredients. Wondering if size of eggs might be making a difference to some bakers. I like cakes slightly less sweet - would reducing the sugar a little make a difference? I think grated orange rind would be great in this cake. Thanks for such a simple, lovely, somewhat addicting cake which soars with a cup of espresso.
 
macfadden November 12, 2016
I followed the recipe exactly and it made a fine cake, though I Wasn't blown away. I wasn't sure if the walnuts were meant to be toasted or not first, but I used raw ones and it turned out fine. The texture is rather nubby, as the pictures suggest, and it is not overly sweet.
 
Ghazzzit October 2, 2016
I completely forgot the zest, but this cake was incredible nonetheless!<br /><br />I toasted the walnuts (had about .65lbs) before processing them into a meal, then made up the remaining .1 lbs in weight with store-bought almond meal (meal not flour). Otherwise followed the directions with all ingredients at a happy room temperature (eggs on the counter for a full day before separating). As Kris did, I used an 8 inch square pan lined with parchment and grapeseed oil. Allowed it to cool about 2 hours before removing the cake. This was incredibly moist and delicious but didn't have any of the problematic "under-doneness" or crumbling earlier described - likely due to the less oily almond meal making up the difference in weight.<br /><br />Thanks for the fantastic recipe!
 
Kris March 16, 2016
I finally got around to making this cake and loved it. I made it in a 8 inch square pan . I also used the zest of a small tangerine (instead of lemon zest) and the juice as the batter was thick. The cake is quite crumbly but I didn't have trouble slicing it the next day even though I couldn't resist tryibg a few edge pieces from the crisp cake.
 
cookinalong February 26, 2016
Although I've made this cake several times and it is very nice, I don't think it belongs in the "one bowl cake" category. It isn't the fussiest cake by a long shot, but not the mix it, dump it, put it in the oven kind either.
 
Stefano A. October 19, 2015
I tried this cake, which is very good. Highly reccomended:<br />These are my changes:<br />1. I baked it into a buttered and lined 20 cm cake tin: this makes a taller cake (than emiko's) that it is not too difficult to halve later on.<br />2. I have added 1 tbsp of warm water to the yolks+sugar mix: they whip up better this way, I find.<br />3. I have added two tbsp walnut oil to reinforce the walnut flavour but I do not think this makes a big difference considering the amount of walnuts being used.<br />4. the walnuts were toasted and ground and I have added the zest of one lemon to them.<br />5. the cake was cooked for 1 hour at 180 C. It was cooled until the following day (16 hrs).<br />6. I used a very sharp knife to halve it: I notices that a serrated knife did not do a good job. the cake was very moist and it did look almost uncooked in the centre, even if it was thoroughly cooked. I think this is how this cake behaves and it is ok.<br />7. I did not use that butter cream. I used a citrus cream made with 125 ml mascarpone + 125 ml creme fraichet + 2 tsp lemon juice + zest 1 lemon + 1 tbsp icing sugar. this quantity was enough (incidentally this mix comes from one of the ottolenghi's books)<br />8. I will try this cake again using a coffe filling (mascarpone + fromage frais + instant espresso + a little cocoa powder + sugar)<br /><br />excellent<br /><br />I have a question of Emiko: hi there. can u plese give the exact name of the Italian Ada Boni's book u got the recipe from? My La Cucina Regionale by Ada Boni does not have such a cake and I was wondering if what u have is a pull out-insert or a proper book. thanks, much appreciated. ciao stefano
 
Author Comment
Emiko October 19, 2015
Ciao Stefano! Thanks for your detailed notes! The cookbook I used is a huge, hardcover English translated version of La Cucina Regionale from the 80s and the recipe is called torta di noci. This is the one to be exact: http://www.amazon.com/Italian-Regional-Cooking-Ada-Boni/dp/0517023857
 
tammany September 29, 2015
Has anyone tried freezing this cake? I'd like to serve it at a dinner party and it would be extremely convenient if I could make it this weekend, freeze it and serve it the following weekend. Thanks!!
 
Martha September 19, 2015
Almond flour should work; it may end up a teensy bit drier, since almonds have less fat than walnuts. ("Almond flour" is just another name for "ground almonds". It's just convention that we don't use the term "walnut flour", instead calling it "walnut meal" or "ground walnuts".)<br />For those who want to try the buttercream filling, but are dreading having to cut the cake into layers, try baking it in a rectangular cake pan (well-buttered, naturally), then cutting it in half lengthwise to get your two layers.
 
linda September 13, 2015
when grinding the walnuts, there is a granular texture from using real nuts. I'm not sure you would get a similar result using almond flour
 
Payton L. September 13, 2015
Could you replace the walnuts with almond flour?
 
Author Comment
Emiko September 19, 2015
Store bought almond flour won't result in the same kind of cake but you could definitely buy whole, blanched almonds and whiz them up in a food processor for a very similar result! Doing this means the cake has a bit of texture to it with the irregular pieces of nuts (as Linda points out above) and a unique moisture to it (almond flour is much finer and it is dry). With almonds, this cake will actually be quite similar to the traditional spanish cake - Tarta de Santiago - which you might prefer! There's an excellent recipe by Emma Gardner here for it: https://food52.com/blog/7442-tarta-de-santiago-galician-almond-cake
 
Brad F. September 8, 2015
Huh - I've only ever done this before with hazelnuts, and sometimes almonds (a mix of sweet, and bitter almonds when I can get them). It's absolutely my favourite cake! A German grandmother used to make it for me when I was a little kid.<br /><br />I'm totally trying it with walnuts next! I usually serve it with whipped cream laced with cointreau, or other liqueur... With walnuts, I might go with bourbon.
 
Erika B. August 10, 2015
Any suggestions on how I can replace the eggs with egg substitute?
 
Xenia B. July 17, 2015
So beautifully European, simple, humble and divine, all at the same time! Looks so much like the cakes I was raised on. I'm saving this recipe for the fall, serving it with a chunky spicy pear compote and loads of whipped cream; or maybe just glazing it with dark chocolate and a healthy (or unhealthy) slather of whipped cream.
 
olive May 1, 2015
This was an outstanding hit ! Baked today and it's all gone. Everyone asked for the recipe. It really came out perfectly and I bake in a convection oven, so my adjustment was only that I baked at 350 and shortened the time by about 5 minutes. Thank you vey much for this simple, delicious recipe. I will use again and again.
 
Sue March 20, 2015
I'm very excited to try this recipe - baking it tonight for a dinner party tomorrow. I have a quick question. I have a BUNCH of walnuts on hand. They've been in a glass jar in my pantry for four or more months. But they taste fresh enough. Should I buy more to make it work? Would toasting the walnuts first be a good idea, especially if using the ones I have on hand? Thanks for any help, and for a great recipe.
 
Author Comment
Emiko March 25, 2015
Sorry I wasn't able to respond to this earlier! It's such a simple cake with very few ingredients so it's really important to have the best tasting ingredients to start with -- so it's great that you tasted them first and if they taste good (ie sweet and nutty, not bitter or rancid), go ahead and use them. Fresher walnuts will make a better texture cake too.
 
burning-ice March 19, 2015
I really liked the sound of this recipe, which I found very easy to follow. It's just that I was somewhat underwhelmed by the taste. <br />It sounded a lot better than it tasted, and with all the crumbling going on I don't think I will make that one again.
 
Author Comment
Emiko March 25, 2015
As it is such a simple recipe (literally 3 main ingredients!) you really need to make sure you are using the BEST walnuts you can find for the best taste. If you're not using great tasting walnuts to begin with, you may not get the best results in the cake.
 
arlette February 12, 2015
Absolutely love this cake. So simple and yet to rich! Thank You for sharing the recipe.
 
KCKanaga February 6, 2015
This cake is easy and amazing. Have made it 5 or 6 times and get asked for the recipe every time ( i use granulated sugar which I have on hand). I serve with vanilla yogurt.