La torta sbrisolona is a classic crumbly cake from Lombardy, the northern Italian region best known for its capital city, Milan. Sbrisolona is compact and coarse, unlike the layer cakes common in the United States.
The cake gets its name from the verb sbriciolare, meaning "to crumble," for the cake's most distinctive feature.
I pair the cake with blackberries for an American flair. When I was growing up in the Pacific Northwest, we'd fill the trunk of the family Oldsmobile with buckets of blackberries. This simple sauce brings a moistness and seasonality that perfectly complements this traditional dish.
Save a few pieces for the next day -- this is one of those cakes that tastes even better the day after you make it.
Walnut Sbrisolona with Blackberries
Recipe reprinted with permission from "Molto Batali" (ecco, 2011)
Serves 8 to 10.
2 tablespoons plus 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
8 ounces chopped walnuts
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup finely ground cornmeal
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
3 egg yolks
3 pints fresh blackberries
Juice of 1 lemon
1 cup sugar
Confectioners' sugar, for dusting (optional)
1 pint heavy cream
Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Butter the sides and bottom of an 11-inch round cake pan with 2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Cut two strips of parchment paper about 20 inches long and 4 inches wide. Arrange the strips in an X over the bottom of the pan, with the ends hanging over the edges. (These will help to unmold the cake later.)
Combine the walnut pieces, flour, cornmeal and sugar in a food processor, and pulse until the texture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Turn the machine off and add the vanilla, lemon zest, egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup melted butter. Pulse six times for 3 seconds at a time. It will form a dough that looks like sticky wet sand.
Spoon the "wet sand" into the prepared cake pan as evenly as possible. (It will not look like cake batter, but it will come together as it cooks.) Place the pan in the oven and bake the cake for 1 hour. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the blackberry sauce: Combine the blackberries, lemon juice and sugar in a saucepan, and cook over medium heat until the blackberries break down and form a sauce. Let the sauce cool to room temperature.
Lift the cooled cake out of the pan with the help of the parchment strips, and place it on a serving plate. Dust it with confectioners' sugar, if using.
Whip the cream in a cold bowl until it forms frosted peaks, and put into a nice serving bowl.
Serve the cake in wedges, with the blackberry sauce and softly whipped cream on the side.
(Mario Batali is the owner of Babbo, Lupa, Otto and other renowned restaurants. His latest book is "Molto Batali," published by Ecco.)