Italian Carrot-Pecan Torta

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Yield:

    8 to 10

    Servings

Appears in

Only distantly related to the American-style dense, spicy loaf capped with a cream cheese frosting, this light, airy cake traces its roots to the delicate carrot-almond torta that Italian Jews enjoy on Passover. I’ve lightly caramelized the carrots with a little brown sugar to get their sweet juices going before adding them to the batter, and I’ve replaced the blanched, slightly drier almonds with buttery-tasting toasted pecans to produce a moister cake with richer flavor In fact, this torte does not taste like Passover at all and is a welcome addition to fall holiday menus, too.

Perfect unadorned, the cake dresses up with a mantle of powdered sugar, accompanied, perhaps, by a scoop of mango, pineapple, or citrus sorbet. Well-wrapped and unrefrigerated, it stays delicious for several days.

To avoid disappointment, taste the pecans first to make sure they are fresh.

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Ingredients

  • cups packed scraped and finely grated carrots, preferably organic (about ½ pound)
  • ½ cup granulated light brown sugar
  • 1⅓ cups shelled pecans
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • Salt
  • ½ cup granulated white sugar
  • 3 tablespoons matzoh meal
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon kosher-for-Passover vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon kosher-for-Passover almond extract
  • Confectioners’ sugar, purchased or prepared from recipe (optional)

Method

Have all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Line the bottom of a 10-inch round cake pan with 2-inch sides with parchment paper.

To prepare the carrots, gently dry-fry them with some of the brown sugar: warm a large, nonstick skillet over moderate heat. Add the carrots, spreading them out evenly in the pan. Sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of the brown sugar, and cook, turning the carrots, until the sugar has melted and the carrots are glistening. Raise the heat to medium-high, and continue cooking for about 4 minutes, as the carrots begin to caramelize. Transfer the carrots to a bowl and set aside to cool.

Toast the nuts: spread them out in a single layer in a baking dish or on a baking sheet, and roast in the oven, shaking occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until they are very fragrant. Remove from the oven and let cool. Leave the oven on.

In a large bowl, use electric beaters to whip the egg yolks with ¼ cup brown sugar until thickened, about 5 minutes. In another large bowl, using clean beaters, whip the egg whites with a generous pinch of salt on low speed until they are foamy. Increase the speed and slowly tip in the white sugar while continuing to whip the whites until they hold stiff, glossy peaks.

Grind the pecans in a food processor together with the remaining 2 tablespoons brown sugar, the matzoh meal, cinnamon, and nutmeg, using the pulse motion. Stir the mixture into the beaten egg yolks. Add the vanilla and almond extracts and the carrots and combine well.

Gradually fold the whites into the carrot-pecan mixture, incorporating them gently but thoroughly so that no whites are visible. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Remove the pan from the oven and let cool on a rack. Unmold by running a thin-bladed knife around the edges of the cake to release it from the pan; invert onto a platter. Peel off the parchment paper. Serve the torta at room temperature, lightly dusted with Passover confectioners’ sugar, if desired.

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