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Autumn is a time for comfort food. And there are few foods more comforting than the Torta Caprese, a deliciously moist chocolate and almond sponge cake that has long been associated with the island of Capri – even though none of its ingredients are particularly capresi.
One almost certainly apocryphal story has it that this cake, which is gluten-free, was the accidental creation of a Capri pastry chef in the 1950s who was forced to improvise when he ran out of flour, or who mistook cocoa powder for flour – there are several different versions of the tale.
Whatever its origins, the Torta soon entered the repertoire of hotels and restaurants on Capri and the Amalfi Coast, becoming as much a part of the local culinary landscape as seafood spaghetti or limoncello. It caught on because it’s unbelievably more-ish, but also because it’s a guilty pleasure you don’t need to feel too guilty about: calorific but by no means heavy, flour-free and full of nutty flavour.
It’s also surprisingly easy to make. Chef Matteo Temperini’s recipe below offers the classic, no-frills version. One key point, Matteo says, is to chop or grind the almonds so that they’re still crunchy – more or less the consistency of very coarse sand or very fine gravel. And it's best to use almonds with skin on, not the blanched variety, as the former have more flavour.
Serves eight or more
Begin by warming the butter to room temperature and creaming it. Then chop the chocolate up roughly, melt it in a bain-marie, and leave it to cool down a little. Turn on the oven, and set it to 180°C.
Separate the egg yolks and whites, put the yolks in a mixing bowl with half the sugar, and begin to whip, either by hand or with the whisker attachment of a food blender. When the mixture is creamy add the butter and then the melted chocolate. Mix well.
Fold in the coarsely-ground almonds. Whip the egg whites until they form snowy white peaks, and fold this in to the mixture with the remaining sugar, the scraped-out seeds from the vanilla pod and the splash of Amaretto di Saronno.
Pour the mixture into a 24cm greased cake ring, or else a round cake pan lined with buttered baking paper. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes; the cake should have a golden-brown crust on top but still be moist inside. Leave to cool down completely before removing from the cake pan and dusting the top with icing sugar.