This recipe is about my never-ending quest to perfect the chocolate cake. I think it’s one of the more temperamental cakes, which is why I want to master it.
I often get caught up or hooked on a specific recipe at different times. I’ve been through a chocolate mousse phase, a tiramisu phase and a lemon tart phase – which, I have to say, I think I mastered.
As I work through the curiosity and the testing, I will often make about 30 versions to get it right. After that, I might never eat it again. A lemon tart, for instance, hasn’t passed my lips in 20 years.
With chocolate cakes, there are variations on the theme – anything from the light and fluffy and flour-based to the dark, fudgy doorstops that were popular in the 1990s and were grossly and appropriately called mud cakes.
There’s a bit of a science behind chocolate, which keeps it interesting. If the preparation’s too hot, the chocolate will split. If it’s too cool, the chocolate will seize. And that’s just the beginning.
What drew my attention to the Torta Caprese is the mix of chocolate, almonds, lemons and olive oil. The lemon and olive oil in particular got me excited. Olive oil brings moisture and a subtle flavour. The lemon brings an aromatic edge to the cake.
Fresh almonds are really important. Local and seasonal are best. Please resist shopping for almond meal: it is rarely not stale. I go a step further and buy almonds with the skin on, which helps with freshness and possibly nutrients.
What’s important about chocolate cake, which is often overlooked, is the temperature when eating. Most chocolate cakes, when served straight from the fridge, lack the desirable texture. For me, the best chocolate cake is cooked on the day and never put in the fridge. This cake is a happy exception. It can be refrigerated – I might even say this improves it, but I don’t want to encourage that – and served at room temperature the next day.
The testing of this cake was quite nuanced and lengthy. I do find, though, that I would rather have an undercooked chocolate cake that’s a little oozy over something that is overcooked and dry.
Like all recipes, this cake will differ in different hands and different ovens, so if the first time it’s not quite right, you will be able to add or subtract a few minutes of cooking. Even something as simple as using cold eggs rather than room temperature eggs can change how the cake cooks.
Time: 45 minutes preparation + 45 minutes cooking
- 22cm-diameter cake tin
- 1 tsp butter to grease cake tin
- 130g whole organic almonds (skin on)
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder, plus some extra for dusting
- 225g dark chocolate (55%)
- 170g butter
- 6 eggs (at room temperature)
- 150g castor sugar
- 110g soft brown sugar
- pinch of salt
- 2 lemons, zested
- 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- Preheat your oven to 180ºC and grease the cake tin with the butter.
- Take a small pan of boiling water and blanch the almonds for one minute. Remove from the hot water and, when cool enough to handle, remove the skins. Now roast the almonds in the hot oven for five minutes, cool to room temperature and grind to a fine meal in a food processor, with the cocoa powder.
- Melt the chocolate and butter together in a bowl, above a pan of gently simmering water. Meanwhile, whisk the eggs and sugars by hand until the sugar dissolves (about one minute).
- Fold the almond and cocoa mixture into the egg mixture, followed by the melted chocolate and butter. Finally add the lemon zest and the olive oil.
- Transfer to the buttered cake tin and cook immediately for 45 minutes. When ready remove from the oven and cool to room temperature.
- To serve, turn out the cake onto a large plate or platter and dust with a little cocoa powder or icing sugar.
- Slice the cake with a long knife, dipping the knife into a jug of hot water between each slice.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on January 21, 2023 as "Takes the tor ta".
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