Torta di Grano Saraceno
Some things don’t automatically go together. I, for instance, wouldn’t dip my bacon in chocolate, or eat scrambled eggs with ketchup. Maple syrup on both of those things is a-whole-nother story. But that’s just me. I also wouldn’t necessarily put buckwheat in a cake. Actually, before the other day, I don’t think I’d ever put buckwheat anywhere. But, as you know if you’ve been following along, I’ve been on an Italo-centric nostalgia-kick lately, and have decided to do lots of crazy things like make 73,992 miniature meatballs.
After the pasta al forno (from the south) and zuccotto (from the center), both of which exceeded my expectations, I decided to keep moving northwards in Italy, and ended up all the way in Trentino-Alto Adige, an autonomous, German-speaking region stuck right up under Austria. Needless to say, it’s gorgeous:
Francesco grew up skiing and summering in a small alpine village there, where his mother still retreats every chance she gets. This has instilled Francesco with lots of warm fuzzy feelings towards hot apple strudel, canederli (dumplings which are [and sound] exactly like, the Jewish canedelach of my youth), fresh unpasteurized milk and torta di grano saraceno.
I first tasted it during a long walk on Europe’s largest alpine plain in the middle of the Dolomites. Sounds romantic, doesn’t it? It would have been if we hadn’t gotten lost in an electric-fenced in cow pasture without water bottles, Francesco. But anyways! These long, gorgeous walks in the clouds – a tradition for Francesco and his mum – are always punctuated by rejuvenating stops at the various malga, family-run restaurants/shelters that cater to hikers, day-trippers and the tiny number of herders who still move with their animals up to the plateau for the summer.
I wasn’t exactly used to the kind of hiking where, after a few hours, a picturesque hut appears over the horizon and, once inside, a lovely girl in traditional dress serves me würstel, milk fresh from the teets, and cake. Not that I’m complaining.
I’ve sampled a few of the cakes and sweets on offer in the malghe, from sweet omelettes with lingonberries to cherry strudel, but my favorite by far is the buckwheat cake (la torta di grano saraceno in Italian, Schwarzplententorte or Buchweizenmehltorte in German). In the midst of entire families of ruddy-faced Germans in lederhosen, it was so good it almost made me feel like I fit in. So good that I go in search of it every time I find myself in Alto Adige, which is, I’m sorry to say, not very often these days. So good that I’ve poured over my mother-in-law’s cookbooks searching for The Recipe so that I can recreate it; and so good that until now, I hadn’t dared try.
Since it’s made with a combination of buckwheat flour and ground almonds, it’s moist and rich but not heavy or cloying. In true country fashion, the main ingredients (butter, sugar, flour and almond meal) all weigh the same are easily thrown together. And you really can taste the country: it’s earthy and complex but I doubt it would scare away an even-keeled 5 year old. It’s filled with lingonberry jam, sprinkled with icing sugar and served with a big dollop of lightly whipped cream. In other words, the perfect pick-me-up during a long, romantic, high-altitude walk. Or whenever you feel like going back in time…
TORTA DI GRANO SARACENO (Buckwheat Cake)
Serves at least 12
250 grams (2 sticks + 2 tbl) butter, softened
6 eggs, separated
250 grams (2 cups) buckwheat flour
250 grams (1 cup)almond meal (or finely ground almonds)
500 grams (one big jar) lingonberry jam (available at IKEA or substitute blackcurrant, cranberry or similar)
icing sugar (for dusting)
whipping cream (to serve)
Preheat the oven to 325°F/170°C. Butter and flour a 9″ springform cake pan. This cake will stick if you don’t.
In a large bowl, use a hand held beater to cream the butter and sugar until fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks in slowly, and beat until they are completely incorporated. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the buckwheat flour and almonds. It will be pretty heavy and sticky.
In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with clean beaters until it’s stiff, about 5 minutes. Gently fold the stiffened egg whites into the batter. It will be a bit tricky, but just keep folding until it’s all incorporated.
Spoon the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 45 – 50 minutes, or until an inserted knife comes out clean.
Once cool, slice the cake in half horizontally and spread the bottom half with ample lingonberry jam (or a close substitute like cranberry, blackcurrant or cloudberry). Place the top half back on top, dust with icing sugar through a sieve and serve with lightly sweetened whipped cream.
Zenzero e Cannella (scroll down for English)