Italian Traditional Cakes

Italy has many sweet speciality pastries and cakes some of which are very intricate and could take up a page on their own! The ones we’ve chosen to focus on are simpler but no less Italian. We’ve recipes for rum babas, drenched in sweet syrup, a delicious hazelnut cake and a nutty tea cake.

Rum Baba

If you want a baba, rum or otherwise, then head for Naples! Although the baba was originally created in France, it is Neapolitan pastry-makers who are considered masters of the art of creating these little dough mushrooms soaked in alcoholic syrup.

  • 1 teaspoon yeast
  • 50 ml (2fl oz) milk, heated to hand-hot
  • 450g (1 lb) strong white flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 150g (5 oz) butter
  • 60g (2½ oz) sugar
  • 7 eggs

Sprinkle the yeast into the milk. Sieve the flour and salt into a large bowl and rub in the butter. When you have a breadcrumb-like mixture stir in the sugar, the yeast and milk, and 2 eggs. Mix well then leave to rest for 10 minutes before adding the remaining egg. Leave the dough, covered in a warm place until it has doubled in size.

Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Grease baba moulds.

Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Divide between the moulds only filling each one to halfway. Cover and leave in a warm place until the dough has again risen and fills the moulds. Bake for about 20 minutes.

Meanwhile make syrup by placing 450g (14 oz) brown sugar in a saucepan along with 1 litre of water. Add a stick of cinnamon, a piece of lemon peel and a piece of orange peel. Heat gently until the sugar has melted. Bring to the boil and boil for about 10 minutes or until you have a syrup. Add a glass of rum and stir well.

When the babas have cooked, allow them to cool and then slowly pour the syrup over them, letting them absorb it. Serve with a dollop of thick cream.

  • For cooking babas you really need special moulds that are available from cookshops.
  • Omit the rum from the syrup for a non-alcoholic version.

Simple Tea Cake

  • 10 tablespoons butter
  • 1 whole egg
  • 4 egg yolks
  • 150g (5 oz) caster sugar
  • Finely grated zest of a lemon
  • 175g (6 oz) plain flour
  • 50g (2 oz) pine nuts
  • 110g (4 oz) whole blanched almonds

Preheat the oven to 170°C, gas mark 3. Grease and baseline a loaf tin.

Melt the butter and allow it to cool. Beat the eggs and sugar together until very light and fluffy. Add the lemon zest and fold in the flour and pine nuts. Finally gradually fold in the melted butter. Pour the batter into the tin and sprinkle over the almonds. Bake for about 50 minutes or until golden. A skewer inserted into the middle should come out clean. Cool and serve in slices for afternoon tea.

Hazelnut Cake

A speciality of the Piedmont area of Italy, and particularly the province of Cuneo, from where Ferrero Rocher source the hazelnuts for Nutella and their truffles.

  • 275g (10 oz) hazelnuts, toasted
  • 110g (4 oz) digestive biscuits
  • 110g (4 oz) unsalted butter
  • 175g (6 oz) caster sugar
  • 3 eggs, separated
  • 175g (6 oz) best quality cooking chocolate, grated

Preheat the oven to 180°C, gas mark 4. Grease a shallow 8/9” tin.

Whiz the nuts and biscuits together in a liquidiser for a few seconds to give a fine powder. Mix with the grated chocolate. Set aside.

Beat the egg yolks, sugar and butter together until light and fluffy. Whisk the egg whites until they will stand in peaks. Mix the chocolate, nuts and biscuits into the creamed mixture and then gently fold in the egg whites. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for about 30 minutes. Allow to cool on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar before serving.

Leave a comment

Cake Baker