Make Ahead


November  4, 2014
6 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves you and your friends
Author Notes

Last week at Eataly, I spied a curious item in their pastry case. It was Sbrisolona, a regional Mantovan cake my friend Laney told me about last year. She's the author of the blog Ortensia Blu,, and owner of the online Italian goods shop of the same name. I knew she was a huge fan of Sbrisolona, and having never had it, I figured I should get one, try it, and report back to Laney. It was good -- not great, and I knew I could make a better version at home. So I started with Laney's recipe from her blog. I adapted it to include semolina flour, as I'm not crazy about the crunch of cornmeal, and I added orange zest and anise seed, two of my favorite flavors in Italian desserts.

Traditionally made with flour and cornmeal, Sbrisolona was a peasant dish created out of very few ingredients. It kind of developed its own cult status in the region of Lombardia, specifically the town of Mantova, near Lake Garda. The word "sbrisolona" sort of translates to "crumble and break apart." It's meant to be eaten without slicing, so just get in there and break it apart with your hands. It's perfect with an espresso or glass of vin santo, and a bunch of friends at the table. Cin cin! —mrslarkin

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Mrslarkin’s Cinnamon Scone Bread recently won our contest for Best Breakfast Baked Good.
WHAT: A crunchy, crumbly, and nutty tart from Mantova (a.k.a. Mantua) in Northern Italy.
HOW: Toss together pulverized almonds, flour, semolina flour, sugar, orange zest, and anise seed. Mix in softened butter and egg yolks until you've formed a lumpy dough. Spread into a pan, scatter almonds and anise over top, and bake until golden brown. Invite friends over, then have at it with your hands.
WHY WE LOVE IT: The holiday season has us exhausted by super sweet, soft cakes. But this traditional Italian dessert, which has more in common with an extra-clumpy granola than with a chocolate cake, is the type of treat we’re excited about this time of year. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 1/2 cups (about 200 grams) almonds
  • 1 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup (168 grams) semolina flour
  • 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Grated zest of 1 large navel orange
  • 1 teaspoon anise seed, plus more for top of cake
  • 1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • Powdered sugar, for dusting (optional)
  1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 10-inch springform pan or a tart pan with a removable bottom. Line with parchment and grease the parchment. (I may try it without parchment next time, as this cake has quite a bit of butter, and parchment might be irrelevant. But it's always nice to play it safe, isn't it?)
  2. Reserve a handful of almonds, then finely crush -- but don't pulverize -- the remaining ones.
  3. In a large bowl, mix together the nuts, flours, sugar, salt, zest, and anise seed.
  4. Using your hands, mix in the butter and egg yolk until incorporated. The dough should be at the large clump stage -- not a uniformly smooth dough.
  5. Lay the crumbs in the pan evenly. It should be craggy, so don't sweat it. Scatter reserved almonds and extra anise seed on top of cake.
  6. Bake on the middle rack for 30 minutes. If the middle of the cake hasn't reached the golden-brown stage, place the pan one rack up in the oven for another 10 minutes. Let cool completely and remove to a large serving platter -- it might get messy.
  7. Alternatively, bake in three 6-inch cake pans for giving as gifts. I've also made this in five mini 4 x 4-inch paper baking pans/molds (the kind with the plastic snap-on lids). Reduce baking time and start checking cakes at 15 to 20 minutes. The cakes are done when they are golden brown on top.
  8. When cool, dust cake with powdered sugar, if desired. The cake keeps well, wrapped in wax paper. I keep my leftovers in an unzipped ziploc bag.
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  • Paulala Gregerson
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26 Reviews

aclincol November 9, 2022
We have made this repeatedly, absolutely love it!
Buffalokim March 23, 2020
I loved this recipe - and it was loved at the dinner party I brought it to. I wanted to go traditional, so I made two changes. I used the traditional hazelnuts instead of almonds. I chopped 1c hazelnuts somewhat finely (less than 2mm diameter) to put in the dough, and chopped the rest coarsely for the top. I also subbed 1/2 c semi-fine ground cornmeal for 1/2c semolina. This was delicious! Will make again!
Paulala G. September 11, 2019
Help me please-I can't stop making this recipe. :-) Tried it once with a few smashed pine nuts. Nope, the original is best.
gustus January 26, 2015
I'll be trying this! Thanks also for the referral to Ortensia Blu. I visted the site and blog and promptly saved five recipes!
Naida S. January 4, 2015
This sounds delicious but I'm a bit confused by the directions. In step #5 it says to lay down the crumbs? What crumbs? It sounds like we combined everything in step 4. Please clarify, I would love to try this. Thanks!
mrslarkin January 4, 2015
The "crumbs" are the very crumbly dough made in step 4, Naida. Hope you like it!
calendargirl January 4, 2015
Glorious, Liz! Congrats!
mrslarkin December 30, 2014
You guys, thank you so, so much. I wish my dad could've tasted this.
drbabs December 30, 2014
Congrats, Liz! I'm looking forward to making this. XO
hardlikearmour December 30, 2014
Congratulations! I'm glad I got to try some of this fantastic dessert/snack!
AntoniaJames December 29, 2014
Congrats, mrslarkin! I've had my eye on this one since you posted it. Definitely must try soon. ;o)
robinorig November 10, 2014
Sorry about the weird typos on my last comment... #phonefail, I tried to edit them but my phone did not cooperate. The dessert was called "duja gianduia cream with chocolate hazelnut sbrisolona and candied hazelnuts" at Ristobar in SF.... I'm still dreaming about it 2 years later!
robinorig November 10, 2014
It's funny, I have recently been researching this cookie-like cake. The originals were made with hazelnuts. I had a most ethereal dessert a while shall that had layers of different components including a hazelnut version of this plus a mousse and it $$$ divine. When I was out there this summer I wanted to have it again but they had changed the menu. They kept insisting that what I had had was tiramisu, which I knew it wasn't. I've been trying to get the chef to give me his recipe, it was that wonderful. I'll find a link to the original dessert and post it here if I can. Thanks for your version, I look forward to trying it with both almonds and with hazelnuts.
AntoniaJames November 10, 2014
I'm a firm believer that two kinds of nuts are usually better than one. I'll probably make this using almonds and pecans. Stay tuned. ;o)
sarabclever November 10, 2014
I love this unusual, highly regional recipes. Especially when they are desserts. I will give it a try, thanks!
mrslarkin November 10, 2014
I'm so glad! Hope you like it, Sara. FYI, I crumbled some leftovers on my ice cream last night. Yum.
AntoniaJames November 10, 2014
Oh, my, that sounds so good. ;o)
AntoniaJames November 7, 2014
Oh, yeah! You had me at "semolina." Definitely on the must-try list. ;o)
mrslarkin November 8, 2014
hope you like it, AJ.
AntoniaJames November 10, 2014
Mrs. Larkin, I know that at least one of my offspring is not that keen on anise seed. Any ideas of what one might use instead? Authenticity is not an issue here. I'd love to make this for one of our holiday parties next month. What do you think about taking this more in a lemon direction, adding a touch of almond extract, as well as lemon extract and lemon zest, perhaps even with the orange, but no spice? ;o)
mrslarkin November 10, 2014
Yes! Traditionally, this is made with lemon zest, and I think a touch of vanilla. But use any combination of flavors that you know they will love. Here is the link to my friend Laney's version:

I think any combination of shortbread flavors would work - it's definitely similar in style to shortbread.

P.S. I guest posted on Laney's blog just recently. You'll recognize the recipe; I think you tested it a few years ago!
ChefJune November 5, 2014
I knew I wanted to make this when I first spied the photo -- before I knew what it was. Now I'm absolutely certain. And I'm thinking that blood orange sorbet would be an incredible accompaniment.... I am SO testing this recipe!
mrslarkin November 5, 2014
Hope you like it, June. I just took one out of the oven. Smells so good.
drbabs November 5, 2014
Love this!
mrslarkin November 5, 2014
Thanks, Barbara!! I think you might enjoy it. P.S. LOVE your profile pic! Who is the other cutie with you?
mrslarkin November 4, 2014
I forgot to mention, if you like, dust the cooled cake with powdered sugar.