Chocolate cake

Cook this: Torta al cioccolato – chocolate cake – from Torta della Nonna


Emiko Davies’ chocolate cake comes without eggs, without butter – just pantry staples

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Our cookbook of the week is Torta della Nonna: a collection of the best homemade Italian sweets by Emiko Davies. Over the next two days, we’ll feature another recipe from the book and an interview with the author.


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To try another recipe from the book, check out: Pandiramerino (rosemary and raisin buns) and crostata di marmellata (apricot jam pie).

Emiko Davies’ torta al cioccolato (chocolate cake) consists of no eggs, no butter – just pantry staples. Inspired by an almost 100-year-old recipe in Ada Boni’s Il talisman della felicità (a.k.a the talisman ), it fits as much in our time of pandemic as the Italy of the 1920s.

“It’s a really unusual chocolate cake,” says Davies. “I think the idea behind it was basically to make a cake with very few ingredients and very few fresh ingredients around.”

Milk is the only liquid needed for the recipe, and even that is negotiable. Davies has had great success replacing nut milks, rice milk, coconut milk – which “turns out to be amazing” – coffee and even water.


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  1. Pandiramerino (rosemary and sultana rolls) from Torta della Nonna.

    Cook this: Pandiramerino – rosemary and raisin buns – from Torta della Nonna

  2. Crostata di marmellata (apricot jam tart) from Torta della Nonna.

    Cook this: Crostata di marmellata – apricot jam tart – from Torta della Nonna

  3. Crostata di marmellata, left, and pandiramerino from Emiko Davies' new book, Torta della Nonna.

    Italian sweets for mother’s day

the talisman was published between WWI and WWII, and Davies wrote Torta della Nonna during Florence’s first COVID containment last spring. Meeting the pandemic needs of bakers, especially in the face of food shortages, was a priority when she developed her version of the recipe for war.

“It’s a pretty amazing cake,” she says. “And one that I wanted to highlight 100 years later as a useful cake when you want to bake something, but maybe you don’t have everything in the fridge, or you just want to bake a cake without having get out.”


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Torta della Nonna by Emiko Davies
Torta della Nonna is the fourth cookbook by Florentine author Emiko Davies. Photo by Hardie Grant


Chocolate cake

100 g (3 1/2 oz) Dutch cocoa powder (unsweetened), sifted, plus a little more for dusting
200 g (7 oz / 1 1/3 cups) all-purpose flour, sifted
200 g (7 ounces) of sugar
2 teaspoons of baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of natural vanilla extract or 1 vanilla pod split lengthwise and the seeds scraped off
350 ml (12 fl oz) whole milk (or substitute, see note), or as needed

Step 1

Preheat the oven to 180 ° C (350 ° F).

2nd step

Butter a 20-cm (8-inch) round cake pan and sprinkle with sifted cocoa powder. Pat upside down to remove any excess.

Step 3

Place the dry ingredients together in a bowl (make sure the cocoa powder is well sifted to avoid lump problems later). Add the vanilla to the milk, then gradually add it to the dry ingredients, stirring with a wooden spoon until combined and smooth. If the dough is too firm, you can add more milk (or even water).


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Step 4

Pour into the mold and gently smooth the top. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the center of the cake is elastic to the touch and smells cooked (see note) – it will be noticeably chocolatey.

Step 5

When it has cooled enough to handle, remove it from the mold and serve as desired – sprinkled with icing sugar or, when completely cooled, covered with ganache, perhaps with berries on top or cream. whipped on the side.

Serves: 6-8

Remarks: I have experimented with countless versions of this cake, especially making it dairy free by replacing milk with alternatives – I tried it with almond milk and coconut milk (my favorite, as it makes a cake so buttery you would never guess there wasn’t); the coffee, which brings out the flavor of the chocolate well (I go with a freshly brewed filter coffee or an Italian mocha); and just water (yes, it works!). I encourage you to experiment if you are interested in doing this with other liquids; it’s quite surprising how well it works. If you find the dough to be slightly stiffer than you expect, you may need to add a little more liquid.


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If you are using a larger cake pan it will be slightly thinner and you may want to check the cake a little earlier to make sure you are not overcooking this cake.

A word about cocoa powder. I use Dutch cocoa powder (unsweetened), which is the most readily available type in Italy. In this process, the cocoa has been neutralized from its naturally acidic state, making it darker, slightly softer in flavor, but also more soluble (for drinks like hot chocolate). Especially for baking, Dutch cocoa powder should be paired with baking powder rather than baking soda or baking soda, which Ada Boni’s original recipe calls for – as in many more recipes. old, she may have used natural cocoa powder, which is acidic and reacts with the baking soda to help the cake rise. You can also use natural cocoa powder here if that’s all you have, but if you’re using Dutch cocoa powder, don’t use baking soda instead of baking powder. It’s all about chemistry.

Recipe and photo from Torta della Nonna: A Collection of the Best Homemade Italian Sweets by Emiko Davies © 2021 Reproduced with permission from Hardie Grant Books. All rights reserved.



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