Torta Mantovana

Mantua Cake

Light, delicate, and delicious, this pound cake is the perfect plain cake to adorn with a few berries or to serve with tea or coffee when you want something sweet but not rich. It is sometimes referred to as torta paradiso, undoubtedly because of its heavenly flavor and texture. This version is based on one from the Panificio Pavesi, an unpretentious but high-quality bakery in Mantua.

Ingredients

  • 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 6 large eggs, separated
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup cornstarch
  • Pinch salt

Method

Butter a 10-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment or wax paper, cut to fit.

Beat the butter until soft and light, either by hand, with a hand mixer set at medium speed, or in a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle. Beat in half the sugar and continue beating until the mixture whitens, about 3 or 4 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time, beating smooth between each addition and making sure the mixture remains smooth and does not separate. If it does, warm briefly in a bowl of hot water and continue beating until smooth. Beat in the vanilla.

Combine the flour and cornstarch in a bowl and stir well to mix. Sift once onto a piece of wax paper to aerate.

In a clean, dry bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until they hold a very soft peak. Increase the speed of whipping and whip in the remaining sugar in a stream, continuing to whip the egg whites until they hold a soft peak.

Fold one-third of the flour-and-cornstarch mixture into the yolk mixture, then one-third of the egg whites. Fold in half of the remaining flour mixture, then half the remaining whites. Fold in the remaining flour mixture, then the remaining whites, being careful to fold gently and thoroughly and not to deflate the batter. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the torta at 325 degrees for about 1 hour, until the cake is firm in the center. Cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then release the sides of the springform pan and slide the cake off the pan bottom to a rack to cool. When the cake is cool, wrap well in plastic and store at room temperature.

Confectioners’ sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder for finishing

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