Ahhh, the illusive Sicilian Torta di Pistacchio! There is a small hilltop town near Mount Etna named Bronte which is known for its pistachios. And I love pistachios. Whenever I get to Sicily, I try to find their famous Torta di Pistacchio or at a minimum, a jar of their Crema di Pistacchio to keep in my room. But was I surprised when I decided to dig up a recipe to recreate this at home – no where to be found! I could only find bad American versions (made with pistachio pudding), a few online in Italian (or very badly translated) and one video that showed the ingredients but not the amounts. I have translated plenty of recipes into English but never a cake which requires more exact measurements – so the mission began! I learned alot while making this – make it as a genoise or standard cake method ? (tried both – results below); how to convert grams to cups? (it depends on the density of the item; what is a ‘bustina di lievito ‘? (Baking powder? or yeast? Answer: baking powder in this case) All great fun!
I tried the recipe two ways. The first attempt – standard cake method translated from an Italian recipe. The recipe worked great. The cake was very flavorful and dense; tasted like versions that I had had in Sicily. However, after chatting with my trusted foodie friend, Felix, who bakes alot more than I, he suggested trying it as a genoise (fluffier cake). So we decided to make the genoise together and co-post (see his great blog over there on the right!) . So second attempt was using a classic genoise technique (adapted from a recipe by Carol Walter). Felix and I had great fun making a mess this morning and we ended up with a beautiful fluffy genoise which we filled with yummy pastry cream and frosted with simple whipped cream and topped with pistachios.
My friend Felix has also selected our Torta as his recipe of the month over at Philly Burbs …check out his great blog! http://www.phillyburbs.com/information/guides/food_and_entertaining.html
So if you are looking for a special cake – something a bit different that will impress – this Torta di Pistacchio will do the trick!!
Sicilian Torta di Pistacchio
Adapted from recipe by Carol Walter
1 1/2 cups pistachios, shelled, skinned and finely ground
2/3 cup cake flour, sifted
2 tablespoons cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided into 1/4 and 3/4 cups
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
5 large egg whites
1/4 cup warm, clarified butter
For pastry cream:
6 tablespoons flour
3/4 cup sugar
Vanilla bean or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 egg yolks
1 pint whole milk
Pinch of salt
1 cup of whipped cream (from instructions below)
2 tablespoons finely ground pistachios
For whipped cream:
1 pint heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
Brandy or other aromatic liquer
Ground pistachios for sides and top of cake
-Position rack in the lower 3rdof the oven. Preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 9″ X 2″ round cake pans.
-Put cake flour, cornstarch and nuts in a food processor and grind until a fine powdery mixture develops – about 30 to 45 seconds. Try to ensure that there are no large pieces of pistachios but also be careful to not over-process.
-Place the egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer. Beat the egg yolks until thick and light in color – about 3 or 4 minutes at medium high speed. Slowly add 3/4 cup of sugar. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar at a time to the yolks. TAKE YOUR TIME!! Carol’s recipe indicates that this should take about 3 minutes to incorporate the sugar. When finished, the yolks should be ribbony.
-Add in the vanilla and the grated lemon rind. Place in a large bowl and set aside.
-Place egg whites in bowl of the electric mixer and beat at medium speed until soft peaks have formed. Increase speed to medium high and slowly add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds. Beat for another 1/2 minute.
-Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk together for 1 minute.
-Measure the warm butter.
-Working quickly, add a few tablespoons at a time of the pistachio/flour mixture to the egg white/yolk mixture. Work quickly and fold in CAREFULLY so as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 tablespoons of the nut/flour mixture remain, fold the butter into the batter and then the remainder of the nut/flour mixture.
-Transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with a spatula or back of a spoon. Tap the pan on the counter to release any air bubbles.
-Bake in the preheated oven for about 25 minutes if using a 9-inch round cake pan. The cake will be done when it springs back if touched and separates itself from the sides of the pan. Watch carefully so it does not over cook!
-Remove from oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating spray.
Make pastry cream:
–Place all but 1/2 cup of the milk with the vanilla bean over low heat.
-Lightly whisk the yolks in a bowl. Sift the flour into the bowl, whisk gently ensuring that there are no lumps. Add in the sugar and the remaining 1/2 cup of milk, watching closely for lumps as you whisk.
-Remove the milk from the heat. Remove the vanilla bean.
-Slowly whisk the milk into the egg/milk mixture. Return the mixture to the pan and place back on the low heat. Bring the mixture to a boil and boil for about 1 minute, stirring constantly. You want the mixture to be thick.
-Transfer to a bowl and let it cool. Stir it ofter while cooling to keep a skin from forming across the top.
-Once cool, fold in 1 cup of whipped cream and ground pistachios.
Make the whipped cream:
-Mix the heavy cream and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until stiff peaks form. Be careful not to overbeat.
-Cut each cake round into two layers. Place first layer on cake plate. Brush surface with brandy. Place about 1/3 of the pastry cream on top being careful to not go all the way to the edges (or the cream will seep out). Repeat with 2 more layers, ending with pastry cream.
-Put fourth and final cake layer on top. Brush with brandy. Frost entire cake with remaining whipped cream.
-Finish sides of cake with ground pistachios and sprinkle top with ground pistachios.
-Allow to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours to firm up and walaa!!!! Enjoy!