Torta di Pignoli

Pine-nut Cake

Years ago I stole a recipe from Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California. It was for a rich cake which used olive oil instead of butter, and was flavoured with a sweet dessert wine. Reception of this dish in Britain was guardedly polite, i.e. they hated it, but the Italians went berserk about it. Over the years it has mutated slightly and acquired a topping of pine nuts and icing sugar. Serve it with Baked Plums, or fresh fruit salad and mascarpone.


  • 4 tbsp top-quality olive oil
  • 125 g plain flour
  • 4 x size 3 eggs
  • 125 g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp equal parts finely grated lemon and orange zest
  • 2 tbsp sweet dessert wine
  • 80 g pine nuts
  • icing sugar to dust


You will need a 30 cm spring-clip cake tin, and a 30 cm circle of non-stick baking paper. Preheat the oven to 150°C/300°F/Gas 2.

The best way of making this cake is with a mixer; to attempt to do it by hand is brave but foolhardy Brush the sides of the tin with extra olive oil and dust with extra flour, shaking off the excess. Oil the base of the tin lightly and fit the circle of paper. Assemble all the ingredients: everything must be to hand, or a disaster will ensue.

Put the eggs and sugar in your mixer bowl and beat on high speed until pale, fluffy and very stiff – they should have at least doubled in volume. Add the orange and lemon zest. Turn the mixer to low and pour in the flour in a steady stream: it will combine almost immediately. Very quickly add the wine and oil, and switch off. Working even more quickly, gently mix the oil and wine into the cake batter. You do this by turning over and folding the mixture with a large spoon, while you turn the bowl by hand. Three or four folds will do.

Still at a frantic pace, pour and scrape this mixture into your prepared cake tin, and run this to your preheated oven. Shut in the oven and do not look at it or otherwise open the door for 25 minutes. When this time has elapsed peer quickly in: if the cake is rising and overbrowning, turn the oven down to 140°C/275°F/ Gas 1. If it is golden and only slightly domed, leave for 5 minutes. Then more than quickly scatter with the pine nuts, dust copiously with icing sugar and return to the oven for 15 minutes or so until the cake is done and the pine nuts have started to brown. A clean knife inserted into the centre of the cake should come out very slightly moist. Allow the cake to cool on a rack in its tin for 15 minutes then remove.