lunedì 30 novembre 2009

Torta marmorizzata or “Marble cake”: classics never die


This post is a random repechage of what I wrote on Nov 22nd as the second post to this blog: last night, while posting the vegetarian stir fry recipe through Windows Live writer - an amazing tool lacking in clarity as to how to save new posts without overwriting the previous ones- I accidentally deleted that post. Surely I am no geek (this is one a big truth) but on my side I have to firmly assess that I know a “save button” when I see it (or a pop-up saying “you are deleting the previous post…are u sure???”). Ok, maybe I am rambling, but this is how it - roughly - went

A few nights ago I had a chocolate craving, that subtle, instant need for the most wonderful anti-depressive substance ever discovered by mankind: cocoa.

We were watching “Night at the museum 2” - an awful movie with great visual effects – when I caught myself wanting a fluffy, chocolate-y something to munch: I had no comfort food matching these characteristics at hand, so I arranged a quick dessert by melting dark chocolate with a dash of milk in the microwave and use it to glaze a left-over shortcake I made for a blueberry shortcake experiment  (yum!).

At that point the night was saved, yet my chocolate thirst was far from being quenched.

A quick detour (I promise I have a point): lately I had dreamt of my grandma Rosina, my father’s mother, a smart, open-minded, sensitive  Catholic woman (yeah, Catholic AND open-minded, amazing uh?) who was literally the CEO of a kitchen feeding 15 people on a daily basis. Nana arranged meals for her husband, 2 children, her old mother and her nurse (who brought home some of the food she made to the 3 members of her family), her unmarried sister in law, 2 nieces and an obnoxious brother in law who had a sweet wife - zia Angelina – who served as co-cook. She wasn’t exactly a subtle chef, yet  Nonna Rosina literally majored into an Italian classic, torta marmorizzata, a simple yet rich marble cake she called “Notte e Dì”, Night and Day. How evocative!

This reminiscing + my extra hunger for chocolate resulted into this lovely recipe (here’s the point!), that definitely helped me feed the chocolate beast inside.

This cake is really simple and, like Proust’s madeline, it brings back memories of time spent with Nana telling me stories about family people I have never met and about her hometown village Tufo, where our family owned a chestnuts wood (and still owns actually, only I think there must be 15 heirs or so by now ).

As I said, Nana was a smart woman, extremely social and charitable: she was always busy visiting someone in need, in pain, on the verge of delivering or who had just delivered a child. The usual setting of all this “visiting” activity was our little town, Scurcola Marsicana, where she managed to cook for loads of people with her kind-hearted way, always wearing a warm smile and lavishing silent and heartfelt prayers.

Mind you, being such a busy PR person didn’t make her the most focused cook, still she made 2 or 3 dishes like no other, and this cake is among those three points of excellence. Unfortunately I don’t have the original recipe, first because grandma never wrote it -  she eyeballed almost every recipe she made – second because I always forget to ask my cousin Francesca, the only one who ever cared to put it down in measurements, to pass it on. So, when I thought of making Notte e Dì in I started from this recipe and some adjustments to match my memories: and the result was surprisingly close to the original!

Ah, the good ol’ times…


150 grams sugar

150 grams butter at room temperature

100 grams rice flour

200 grams all-purpose flour (Italian 00)

1 phial of vanilla essence (1 teaspoon)

20 grams chocolate chips

4 eggs

75 ml milk

60 gr dark, unsweetened cocoa

pizzico abbondante di sale

2 tbsp baking soda 


1 I creamed sugar and butter in a bowl, then gently added the eggs, mixing with a wooden spoon ( if the butter is at real room temperature there’s no need for an electric whisk)

2 Add the flours and the baking soda, mixing in the milk as you go on. Add the vanilla essence.

3 Once the Day is ready,make the Night dividing  the batter between to bowls: add the cocoa and the chocolate chips to one of the two, and if the result is too thick add a couple of spoons more of milk, so it will loose a bit.

4 Add the two batters in spoonfuls in a bundt-shaped cake pan, previously greased with butter and dusted with all-purpose flour; distribute the batter alternating chocolate and vanilla. Once it’s done, use the back of a wooden spoon to trace circles in the cake pan. This will mix the colors creating the elegant marble effect.

5 Put in the middle rack of the oven at 180°C for 40 minutes. I have a very aggressive oven  so it only took me 30 minutes to get it done. I suggest you insert a toothpick into the cake to check if it comes out clean.

It should look like this:

amazing marble cake - photo by kitchn dahling all rights reserved  
Enjoy with a warm cup of Earl Grey tea!


P.S. I thought it was curious to add that Nana also cooked for her husband’s manpower everyday: these people brought  metal bowls working as sort of Tupperwares,  filled with polenta, oat meal, pasta or boiled potatoes to work where grandma – at midday everyday - would add stew or sauce made with meat and vegetables. She did so, so that every person could enjoy a warm, nourishing meal at least once a day. Even the wine was a collective benefit: our family made 3000 liters of red wine every year and even if - as my dad recalls - it had an awfully bitter taste, it quenched the thirst of family members as well as co-workers’. Not a drop seems to have ever gone wasted.

Nana took care of feeding anyone who came to her home all through her life, cooking for the workers, for her mother’s nurse Vittoria and her family, and for almost everyone she knew who needed extra help: when times got better for all, she kept on making cakes for every neighbor, friend and villager she knew, sometimes making 10 in one day… her sister called her “Aggiungi un posto a tavola” (verbatim: add a seat at the table), from a famous Italian musical theater play.

I hope I get to be nicknamed like that someday soon. She simply was amazing… ciao nonnì!

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