A mystery cake: it is called mantovana, meaning from Mantua (in Lombardy) but it is in fact a speciality of the Tuscan town of Prato.
It is a buttery and eggy cake with a tight, tender crumb, subtly perfumed with lemon zest and topped with almonds and pine nuts. There is no baking powered in the batter and this makes for a rather flat cake. It is one of those cakes that Italian 19th century cook books would define as da credenza, i.e. a dresser cake, one that that home cooks would keep in a dresser, on a platter or on a cake stand, covered by a napkin – as I do.
It really is ideal with a mid morning coffee or with an afternoon tea.
We do not know much about the history of this cake and the version now popular comes from the venerable Pellegrino Artusi (1820-1911), the grandfather of Italian middle class cooking. In his book, La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene (1891) he says he got the recipe from a pasticciere, a pastry chef, from Prato, but similar cakes were (and still are) popular also in other parts of Northern Italy.
Torta Mantovana di Prato – almon and pinenut sponge cake
a 25 cm cake tin, with a removable base, lined with parchment paper. This is supposed to be a flat cake and a smaller tin would be inappropriate.
Pre-heat the oven to 160 C
150 g sugar (170 g in the original Artusi’s recipe)
a pinch of salt
the grated zest of half a lemon (or to taste)
170 g 00 flour
150 g butter, melted and cooled
25 g sliced almonds
25 pine nuts, chopped coarsely
Whisk the egg, yolks, sugar, salt and lemon until very think and bulky.
Sieve the flour over and incorporate it lightly, alternating it with the butter. The last addition must be of butter.Be swift and light.
Top with the almonds and pine nuts.Bake the oven for about 45 minutes, until firm. Start checking after the first 30 minutes.
Dust it with a little icing sugar before serving, if u fancy that.