When I was the chef on board a classic sailing yacht owned by an Italian couple, one of the dictates of the job required me not to repeat any dishes in the menus throughout the five-month season. The owner’s wife, upon her word, was the only one who could bend this rule. She requested this dessert more than a few times each summer.
Chocolate Capri Cake
Torta di Cioccolato Caprese
Makes 10 dessert servings
On the island of Capri there is typical cake called torta caprese—a chocolate and almond cake that is almost flourless—but finding a recipe proved to be difficult. I adapted the chocolate torta recipe from a similar one I learned at a restaurant called Albergo del Sole where I had done a stage. Because the technique is very much like making a soufflé, it has a light, airy, and moist texture that is not shy in flavor. With the espresso crema, the flavor pairing is ottimo (optimal)!
12 tablespoons (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus a little more for the cake pan
8 ounces unsweetened chocolate
1/2 cup (3 ounces) whole almonds, toasted
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar for dusting
Whipped Mascarpone Cream (recipe follows)
Place a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 300°F. Butter a 9-inch cake pan and line the base with a circle of parchment paper. Butter the paper.
Place the butter and the chocolate in the top of a double boiler or in the microwave and melt, stirring to combine. Cool and set aside. Grind the almonds with the flour to a flourlike consistency in a food processor. Set aside. Beat the egg yolks with the granulated sugar on high speed until light yellow and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Fold in the chocolate mixture. Fold in the almond flour until just incorporated. Beat the egg whites to soft peaks in a separate bowl, then carefully fold them into the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread in an even layer.
Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center of the cake comes out dry. Cool completely on a wire rack. Invert the cake from the pan to a plate, carefully remove the parchment circle, then invert back onto a serving plate. Dust the top with confectioner’s sugar.
To cut the torta, run a long, thin knife under hot water. Shake off the excess water, keeping the blade clean for each slice. Serve with a dollop of the espresso cream on the side.
Entertaining Note: The torta can be made up to a day in advance. Keep it in the pan and cover with plastic wrap. Store at room temperature. Add the confectioners’ sugar just before serving.
Whipped Mascarpone Cream
Crema di Mascarpone
Makes about 3 cups
This luscious and elegant blend of sweetened mascarpone cheese with espresso and whipped egg whites is a fantastic accompaniment to cakes and tortes. Or try it with a tablespoon of rum, cognac, or grappa instead of the espresso to serve with baked, poached, or fresh seasonal fruit, berries, and tarts. A little nutmeg or orange zest grated on top is divine too.
3 large egg yolks (see Note)
1/4 cup sugar
One 250-gram container (about 9 ounces) Italian mascarpone
2 tablespoons brewed espresso
2 large egg whites at room temperature
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt
Beat the yolks and sugar with an electric mixer on medium speed until the mixture is light yellow and ribbons fall from the beaters when they are lifted up. Add the mascarpone and espresso. Mix at low speed and blend until smooth, then at high speed until soft peaks form.
Using clean, dry beaters, beat the egg whites in another bowl on low speed until foamy. Add the cream of tartar and salt, then continue to beat, increasing the speed in increments, until stiff peaks form. Fold the whites into the mascarpone mixture. Keep refrigerated.
The crema can be made 3 to 4 hours before serving. If it separates a little bit by becoming thin on the bottom and still fluffy on the top, give it a gently stir to make it smooth throughout before serving.
Note: This recipe contains raw eggs. People with health problems, the elderly, or those who are pregnant should avoid consuming foods with uncooked eggs that, in rare cases, carry the potential for Salmonella infections.
These recipes and more with an evocative coming of age story at sea can be found in my culinary travel memoir, Mediterranean Summer.