Category is… chocolate cake.
It's a universal cake that celebrates children’s birthday parties, a glass of sweet sherry and Roald Dahl’s Matilda. It's safe to say everyone has a recipe and this go-to covers a few pantry staples and is typically made with cocoa and/or chocolate as the building block.
That is the base but there are many iterations. Viennese sacher torte, consisting of chocolate sponge sandwiching apricot jam, Sweden’s fika time favourite kladdkaka, which literally translates to ‘sticky cake’ a dense and deliberately undercooked beauty, all the way to Argentina’s chocotorta, the no-bake dessert of chocolate biscuits soaked in cocoa milk before being layered with dulce de leche and cream cheese filling... be right back, I need a slice of cake to finish writing this.
Chocolate cake has certainly earned its universal passport and Tupperware royalties.
On a trip to Emilia-Romagna in Italy many years ago, I remember scribbling down a recipe on the back of a napkin. I had purchased la torta tenerina, a sticky, brownie-singing cake from this small bakery/cafe around the corner from where I was staying. The thin, light and crisp outer shell encompasses a soft and rich centre.
Returning the next day for another and then on day three, there was a reciprocal smile and acknowledgement that I was there to purchase that exact chocolate torta in her window, except this time she would share the know-how behind it with me. In the time it took to grab the cake, package it and pay, she rattled off the ingredients and process and I remember leaving with a cake in one hand and a chocolate-stained napkin in the other. It read, dark chocolate, eggs (separated), a little sugar and a little butter and only two tablespoons of flour. Bake for less than 30 mins and I was under strict instructions to exercise patience and not serve it warm.
It wasn’t until Silvia Colloca’s torta Montenegro landed on our SBS Food desk that I realised it was in fact the same cake; torta tenerina is torta Montenegro. “I forgot how good this [recipe] is because I never make it, that’s my brother’s job,” laughs Silvia. The cake's origins are said to honour King Vittorio Emmanuel III’s bride, Elena of Montenegro’s soft and tender heart, her molten-like centre. ‘A tender cake’ because the flour is just enough to bind it so that it remains fudgy in the middle.
While I’d certainly never insinuate parting with your beloved tried and tested, la torta tenerina is worth folding into your at-home bakes.
Bake it at home
Preheat your oven to 180°C.
In a bowl placed over a pot of simmering water, melt 200 g of dark chocolate (70 percent). Make sure the bowl isn't touching the water otherwise your chocolate will seize and clump (code for start again), making this “the only technical bit you need to know about,” according to Silvia and she’s not wrong. When your chocolate has melted, add 100 g of unsalted butter (or a plant or oil-based butter if you want to make this dairy-free friendly) and a pinch of salt. Stir until glossy and then set it aside to completely cool.
Separate your 5 egg yolks from your whites into 2 x medium-sized bowls. Whisk your whites with ⅓ cup of sugar until stiff peaks form. Whisk ⅓ cup sugar into your yolks until pale. Stir the cooled chocolate into the yolk mixture.
Fold in the beaten egg whites in three separate batches, making sure not to overwork and mix the air out of the cake - you'll be thankful for this 'less is more' approach.
Sift two heaped tablespoons of flour and then give it a couple of stirs before spooning the batter into a 23 cm lined cake tin. Bake for 25-30 minutes.
Make sure to completely cool it in the tin. Don't worry if it slightly sinks, you can patch that up by topping it with fresh berries, cream and/or icing sugar.
Otherwise, a fun game is to cut a slice every time you get up from your desk and walk around the house. A tried and tested method, all in the name of research from me to you.
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