Since they are potatoes, do not laugh at the pompous name, because as you will see when you try it, it is not overestimated. If your guests do not recognize the plebeian origin of this cake, conceal it, because they would undervalue it. Pellegrino Artusi, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well (1891)
If I had tasted this cake without first knowing the ingredients, I would have hardly believed it was made primarily of potatoes, without flour and with a minimal amount of butter. It has a moist and delicate texture, almost like a cheesecake, and a crisp crust, deliciously caramelized at the edges. The aroma of lemon zest is light and you barely notice the almonds, yet everything is absolutely essential to create a perfectly balanced cake, a pleasure to be enjoyed for breakfast or in the afternoon.
Either you are a tea or a coffee kind of person, this cake is for you. It’s surprisingly good.
After the glories of the chocolate mud cake I was looking for something more modest, yet still a sweet recipe for my Healthy every week column.
I started to browse Artusi*‘s book, Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, and I realized that many of his recipes are naturally gluten free: potato starch, rice flour, almonds to be ground with care and patience in a mortar until they reach the consistency of a delicate powder. Pellegrino Artusi is ahead of his time and chose for his book recipes that today, after more than a hundred years, perfectly embodies the contemporary spirit. This is what happens with classics, they never cease to amaze, they have always a contemporary appeal.
Alternative flours that will satisfy even those who present intolerance to gluten, a few simple ingredients that do not overweigh the preparation, a very modern and fresh taste, not too sweet. Sometimes you look everywhere to find the inspiration, and it’s there, in the book that my grandmother received as a wedding gift on the day she got married, the same book that we browse together every time we need to check a recipe or procedure. I have the precise feeling that you will soon see other sweet recipes from Artusi, cakes and cookies so simple and basic that you have the moral task to learn them, to use them when you need something simple and traditional to please a crowd.
* If you want to know more about Pellegrino Artusi, one of the fathers of our Tuscan and Italian cuisine, read Emiko’s praise, and discover the many recipes she has tried and loved from his Science in the Kitchen and the Art of Eating Well, a book first published in 1891, that has come to be recognized as the most significant Italian cookbook of modern times.
Healthy every week: 641. la torta di patate dell’Artusi – Artusi’s potato cake
I followed Artusi’s recipe step by step, updating it where needed. Pellegrino suggests to mix the cake by hand with a wooden spoon, for an hour. Yes, one hour. At first I thought I would have followed his advice, then the idea of an electric mixer was too tempting, and I shortened considerably the time of preparation. He obviously does not give information about the cooking time and temperatures, they had wood fired ovens and stoves at the time, so I set my oven to the average temperature of 180°C – the same I use most of the time I bake a cake – and I patiently waited for the cake to get dry, golden and slightly darker at the edges: one hour was enough.
The cake has also the perfect texture to add some fruit: I will try raspberries, as soon as they will be in season.
- 700 g of large starchy potatoes, I used yellow potatoes from Valdichiana
- 150 g of sugar
- 70 g of almonds
- 30 g of melted butter + a knob to to grease the cake tin
- A pinch of salt
- Grated zest of an organic lemon
- 5 free range eggs
- Breadcrumbs to dust the cake tin
- Icing sugar to decorate
- Peel the potatoes and boil them or ,better, steam them. When they are ready and soft enough to be pierced effortlessly with a fork, mash them as you were making gnocchi or mashed potatoes. Choose your favourite kitchen appliance, either a potato masher or a food mill, and remove all, I mean all, the lumps. Spoon the mashed potatoes in a bowl.
- Blend the almonds with the sugar until you get a powdery flour, then add them to the mashed potatoes with the melted butter, a pinch of salt and the grated zest of a lemon.
- Heat oven to 180°C.
- Beat for about ten minutes with an electric mixer, adding one egg at a time.
- Butter a round 18 cm cake tin, dust with breadcrumbs and scrape the potato batter into the tin. Bake for about 1 hour, until the cake is dry and golden. Test the doneness with a toothpick.
- Remove the cake from the oven and let it cool completely before serving, so that the lemon flavour will come out in all its freshness. A dusting of icing sugar will make the cake even more delicate.