Italian Chocolate-Almond Torte
Every summer seems to have a mood, don’t you think? I’m sure the mood is always different for everyone else, but there definitely always seems to be one and it always seems to change from year to year. Maybe one summer there’s an overwhelming feeling of work where your job casts a shadow (good or bad) on your summer months so all you remember of them is missing out on daily sunshine to serve customers, or wait tables, or answer phone calls. Maybe you remember another summer as the one where you fell in love, and how everything else that summer is defined in some way around that. Maybe there’s a summer when you moved out west–or east–and met people and went places that you had thought were only stereotypes or caricatures from books. I’m not sure if this is a common thing, but at least that’s how summers seem to go.
I’m maybe only technically halfway through my summer vacation, but already this summer feels decidedly lazy and decadent. And really, it’s hard not to have a summer like that when you begin it with a three week trip to Europe where you spend a few good summer’s worth of labor to do things like eat gelato, lay on the beach in Nice, and tour the Hagia Sofia. But still, I could have came home afterward and worked like a maniac or found something productive to do. Instead, I’ve laid in the sun a good deal, spent plenty of the daytime at the beach plucking up sea shells and dipping my toes into the chilly Puget Sound, and read books featuring lazy, decadent characters like Amory Blaine from This Side of Paradise–hey, we all like to relate to our protagonists, don’t we?
I’ve also spent a fair amount of time in the kitchen, sufficiently making up for time I lost during the school year in my dorm. While kitchens and ovens don’t really sound as appealing in the summertime as the winter months when baking is seen as something of a comfort against miserable weather and stressed lives, there are certainly desserts that are perfect for the summer months even though they may require an oven. This torte is one of them. The recipe comes from Pure Dessert, by Alice Medrich, which is a lovely, lovely cookbook that I can’t believe I haven’t seen until now. The torte has settled in perfectly with my summer– it had its debut last night while everyone was sitting out on the deck long after their dinners were finished and the sun was just about to set. We ate our slices with a couple raspberries (well, except me), and a large dollop of freshly whipped cream. Yes, perfectly lazy and decadent.
But really, I’m sure this torte would be enjoyable, no matter what type of summer you were having. It’s pretty simple to make, rustically pretty, and infinitely tasty. As Alice Medrich notes of the recipe, it’s “a moist rich torte without the dense heaviness you might expect”–making it light and fluffy but full in flavor. That’s due to the torte being comprised of pretty much only chocolate, sugar, almonds and whipped egg whites. (At this moment I think I will also note that this whole thing is FAT FREE. Like, not even egg yolk fat. Fat free. Isn’t that crazy? But I don’t want to make it a defining feature of this torte, because I hate stuff like that.) Anyway, the texture is nutty and crumbly and fluffy all at the same time, and it leaves you perfectly content after just one slice. It kind of tastes like a chocolate almond macaroon, in torte form. It’s basically a universal good, one that I’m certain is always satisfying no matter if it ends a day filled by long work hours, or pathetic lazing around, or whatever the mood may be.
Italian Chocolate-Almond Torte (torta cioccolata)
From Alice Medrich’s Pure Dessert
Serves 8 to 10
1 cup (5 ounces) whole almonds
7 ounces good-quality unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
7 large egg whites (about 1 cup or 200 grams)
1/4 teaspoon cream of tarter
powdered sugar for dusting
lightly sweetened whipped cream
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter sides of a 9-inch springform pan with a removable bottom and line the bottom with parchment or wax paper.
Combine the almonds, chocolate, 1/2 cup of the sugar, and the salt in a food processor and pulse until the almonds and chocolate are very finely chopped but not completely pulverized. Set aside.
In the clean dry bowl of a stand mixer or using a hand-held mixer and a large bowl, beat the egg whites with cream of tarter until soft, moist peaks are formed when the beaters are lifted. Gradually add the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and continue to beat until the egg whites are stiff but not dry. Add one-third of the nut mixture to the egg whites and fold in with a large rubber spatula until nearly incorporated. Repeat with the second third of the nut mixture, and then with the last. You want to fold it all in so there are no streaks of egg white, but make sure to be gentle.
Carefully scrape the batter into the prepared pan and even out the top. Bake until the torte has risen and is golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, or with a little melted chocolate, 25 to 30 minutes. Set the pan on a rack to cool for 10 minutes. Remove the sides of the pan and invert the cake onto the rack. Remove the bottom of the pan and then the parchment liner. Turn the cake right side up and cool completely. Dust with powdered sugar before slicing into it, and serve slices with a good, heavy dose of lightly sweetened whipped cream.