I always like to cook, I have enjoyed playing around in the kitchen since I can remember but, I have to admit, for a long time I had not much clue of what I was doing, and that is particularly true for sweets and baking. I lived in the delusion that one could just randomly mix things that taste good together and out of magic a great result would come out. Well, it took me a while to grasp how cooking, and baking especially, is a science by all means and, although ingenuity is what make science great, without a solid background of discipline and method it could not exist.
Ho sempre amato cucinare da che mi ricordo ma, devo ammetterlo, per molto tempo il mio cucinare era più che altro un gioco senza una vera propria cognizione di causa, in particolare quando preravo dolci. Nella mia illusione, era sufficiente buttare in pentola degli ingredienti che avevano un buon sapore e che si combinavano bene e, come per magia, i risultato sarebbe stato un piatto gustoso. In realtá mi é servito un po’ di tempo per capire fino in fondo come cucinare, ma soprattutto la pasticceria, sia una scienza a tutti gli effetti e che, in quanto tale, l’ingegno é ció che la rende grande ma senza disciplina e metodo non potrebbe propio esistere.
Only after I moved to the UK I realised the value of learning and “educating” myself on how to be a good home baker. It is a long process, and I am still in the very middle of it, but it was only then and there that I started to enjoy it so much. I am not 100% sure why, and I hope after this post my Italian citizenship will not be revoked, but I have a theory. And it comes down to the fact that it was only in the UK that I had the chance learn how to make properly the item that is at the very foundation of baking: sponge cake.
É stato solo dopo che mi sono trasferita in UK che ho compreso quanto sia importante imparare e prepararsi a cucinare dei buoni dolci fatti in casa. É un processo lungo, non credo si finisca mai di imparare (come per tutte le cose nella vita del resto), ma é stato proprio lí e in quel periodo che ho cominciato ad appassionarmi. Non sono sicura al 100% perché proprio allora e spero che dopo quello che seguirá potró continuare a mantenere la mia cittadinanza Italiana, ma ho una teoria al riguardo. Sostanzialmente é perchè solo in UK ho avuto la possibilità di imparare a preparare un dolce che sta alla base della pasticceria: le torte lievitate.
Italy has probably one of the best cuisine in the world, that takes roots from more than thousands year of history and culture. However, what we are really great at is savoury food. In terms of sweet and baking we have some specific regional recipes that are fantastic, but they are not cohesive into a systematic baking tradition, like for example French patisserie. We have tiramisu, which I consider one of the major creations of the human kind, and other delicious dishes, but they are individual items disjointed from each other. But it comes to create an array of varied sweet items with a fil rouge and based on specifically thought out methods, we should and actually do look a bit further north in our continent.
La cucina Italiana è fuori di dubbio una delle migliori al mondo e prende le sue origini da una tradizioni e cultura più che millenarie. Quello in cui in Italia siamo praticamente imbattibili é il cibo salato. Quando si parla di dolci, certo, abbiamo delle ricette regionali e locali grandiose, ma quello che ci manca é una tradizione “dolciaria” sistematica e coesa, come per esempio la pasticceria Francese. Abbiamo il tiramisù, che, sono convinta, dovrebbe essere elevato a una delle più grandi invenzioni del genio umano e altri piatti buonissimi, ma sono elementi individuali e distinti l’uno dall’altro. Quando si parla di creare una varietà complessa di elementi con un filo conduttore e preparati secondo metodi elaborati specificatamente, dobbiamo guardare, ed effettivamente guardiamo, sempre un po’ più a Nord.
When it comes to sponges there’s very little that the UK baking tradition cannot teach about sponge cake: how to prepare the ingredients properly, how to combine the flavour in the best way, how to decorate and present it. It’s when I started to master something so simple but so delicious like a sponge cake and being able to then add my creativity to it that I fully understood how rewarding baking was for me. And from there I started to grow and improve. This coffee and walnut cake is my homage the UK baking tradition for what I learned from it.
Quando si parla di torte lievitate c’è veramente poco che non si puó imparare in UK: come lavorare gli ingredienti nella maniera migliore, quali sapori combinare per avere successo e come decorare e presentare. É stato quando ho cominciato a diventare esperta di questo tipo di torte cosí semplici ma di cosí grande impatto e ad aggiungere la mia creativitá alla tecnica di base che mi sono resa conto di quanto questa passione mi gratificasse. E da lí ho voluto migliorare e imparare sempre di più. Questa torta al caffé e noci é il mio omaggio a quello che ho imparato in UK.
This recipe calls for a regular 25cm tin, depending on how you decorate the cake you might not need all the icing but if you have any left you can store it frozen for a few weeks, when reusing it just leave it overnight in the fridge and then give it a quick whisk before using.
For the Sponge:
300gr of butter
300gr of caster sugar
300gr of plain flour
300gr of eggs (Cracked and weighted without the shell. I find measuring egg according to weight is more precise and gives better results. A sponge like gives a certain room for flexibility, I would say 30gr but, as a general rule, I think a little bit more it’s better than less).
200gr of roughly chopped walnuts
3 tbs of instant coffee dissolved in as little boiling water as possible (10/20 ml)
1.5 tsp of baking soda + 1 tsp of cream of tartar or
2 tsp of baking powder
1 pinch of salt
200 ml of espresso syrup (espresso plus enough sugar to give it a thick syrup consistency)
For the Buttercream:
400gr of granulated or caster sugar
80ml of water (for precise measurement weight it on a digital scale: 80gr is 80ml)
5 large egg whites
1 tsp of cream of tartar
680gr of butter at room temperature
2 tbsp of vanilla paste
6 tbs of instant coffee dissolved in as little boiling water as possible (10/20 ml)
200gr of walnut
Make the sponge first. Heat your oven at 200C, temperature is so oven specific so yours might behave differently, whatever is the right temperature for your regular sponge-baking in your oven, just add 20C-25C and use that. Cream the butter with the sugar using a mixer on a high speed until a creamy, smooth, fluffy consistence. Add the coffee and mix all the remaining dry ingredients together, then reduce the speed of the mixer, add the eggs in two-three batches, alternating with the same number of batches of flour mixed with baking powder etc…The secret for a soft crumbly sponge is, once the flour is added, to mix the batter as little as possible, only the necessary to incorporate the ingredients. Add the chopped walnuts. Line a cake tin, either with butter and flour or baking paper, pour the batter in the tin and put in the oven. As soon as the tin is in the over reduce the temperature to 180C or whatever is the right sponge-banking setting for your oven and bake for about 45’-55’ or until perfectly raise and golden brown. After 40 minutes you can open the oven and stick a small knife into the cake to check if it’s cooked. Take the cake out of the oven, let it cool down for a while in the tin, then prick the surface of the cake several times with a small sharp object to make holes and pour 4/5 of the coffee syrup all over the cake. When all the syrup has been fully adsorbed, remove the cake from the tin and let it cool completely, ideally wrapped in cling film.
In the meantime prepare the butter cream. Combine sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook the mixture until it reaches 120C. Meanwhile combine the egg whites with the cream of tartar and whisk to a soft peak. As soon as the syrup reaches 120C, reduce the whisk speed to medium and start pouring, slowly but steadily the hot syrup into the eggs. Careful to not splash the hot syrup! Raise the speed to high and continue to whisk until the mixture has cooled down to almost at room temperature. It could take a little while; sometimes I help the process by placing ice-bags in contact with the outer walls of the mixing bowl. When the meringue is not more than lukewarm reduce the speed of the mixer and start adding the butter, one spoon at once and making sure the previous is properly mixed before adding the next one. If butter seems to not incorporate properly you can raise the speed of the mixer just make sure to not over-mix or it will split. Once incorporated all the butter add the coffee and the walnuts made into a paste. To make the paste roast slightly the walnuts in the oven and when still warm grind them in a food processor. Once completely ground keep the blades running and the walnuts will start to combine in a sticky smooth paste. If the processor is not very powerful adding a drizzle of olive oil will help.
To build the cake cut the sponge in half horizontally and brush the inside surfaces of both halves with the remaining coffee syrup. Then spread a generous layer of butter cream. Place the other half of the sponge on top and cover the cake with a thin layer of butter cream to remove extra crumble and smooth the surface. Place in the fridge for about half an hour until the butter cream has hardened and you can then proceed to decorate the cake anyway you like, the limit is only you imagination!
One last note. Store the cake in the fridge. However this butter cream has a very buttery and heavy texture if eaten cold straight out of the fridge, whereas it gives the best results at room temperature.