Trentino Alto Adige is a strange corner of Italy: more Heidi’s playground than your typical sea & sun postcard from Italy. On the north-east border with Austria, its gorgeous Alpine scenery, flower-festooned wooden houses and German street signs give its past away: Trentino was part of the the Austrian-Empire, from the early 19th century to just after the first world war. This is reflected in its food: gulasch suppe, sauerkraut, apple strudel are common dishes.
Torta di grano saraceno is one of the most famous cakes from the area, a buckwheat and nut sponge cake, generally filled with a sharp berry jam (blueberry, black currant or raspberry jam). Buckwheat is very rarely used in Italian cookery: it has a nutty but slightly bitter taste that is not so easy to accommodate. Somehow it works very well in this cake, made also with ground nuts (generally almonds, but I prefer hazelnuts and/or walnuts) and lifted by the lick of jam in the middle. This cake is traditionally made with butter only but I have swapped a little vegetable oil for some of the butter: this makes the crumb more tender and moist. I have also added a little grated apple for the same reason: this is omitted in most versions, but it improves the cake that might otherwise steer towards dryness.
Excellent tea time treat, perhaps even better with coffee.
Torta di Grano Saraceno e nocciole – Buckwheat and hazelnut cake
20 cm deep cake tin, with a removable base, butter and lined with parchment
80 g soft butter
100 g caster sugar
pinch of salt
half a teaspoon of cinnamon
45 g vegetable oil
3 eggs, well beaten
1 apple, unpeeled and grated
100 g toasted hazelnuts or walnuts or half and half, ground
2 strips or orange zest, finely chopped
125 g buckwheat flour mixed with 1.5 tsp baking powder
Few tablespoons of red currant jam
Preheat the oven to 160 C
Pour hot water into the bowl of the mixer to warm up, empty and dry it. Cream the butter until it is light and fluffy.
Add the sugar, salt and cinnamon and mix on medium-high until it looks like mayonnaise, scraping the sides down occasionally. Slowly add the oil, still beating.
Add the beaten eggs a little at a time, adding a teaspoon of flour after each addition.
Add the grated apple.
Add the hazelnuts and the flour. Finally, add the orange zest, mix well and pour the mix into the tin.
Bake for 45 minutes, check with a toothpick or with a spaghetto for doneness, and if it doesn’t come out clean, give the cake another 15 minutes.
Let it cool completely.
Un-mould it. Halve the cake and sandwich it with a thin layer of jam – do not overdo it, it should really be just a hint of fruity sour-sweetness.
Dust with icing sugar and serve with sour cream.
The recipe above uses a combination of butter and oil, for a more tender and moist crumb: buckwheat flour has a tendency to make baked goods dry and the oil counteracts this. This is a substitution of mine, which is not traditional, but one that I think improves the cake (otherwise use 125 g butter, for a traditional rendition of this cake).