Torta Caprese Is An Italian Cake That Isn't What It Sounds Like

If you're just hearing about Torta Caprese for the first time, you might assume it's related to the globally-renowned Caprese salad. If you know some cursory Italian, you'll recognize that torta means cake. Put those two things together, and your imagination is bound to conjure up something confusing. A cake made with tomatoes and mozzarella? Far from it.

Torta Caprese is a type of flourless chocolate cake that stands out for its use of almond meal and whipped egg whites. Many flourless chocolate cakes are pretty dense, with a texture akin to fudge. There's nothing wrong with that, per se, but sometimes you want something a little lighter. In Torta Caprese, the almond meal provides structure, while the egg whites act as a leavening agent. The result is a gluten-free dessert with a texture that falls somewhere between a flourless fudge and a wheat flour crumb.

Torta Caprese and Caprese salad are actually connected. They are both named for the island of Capri, where they are thought to have originated (there is also some debate over the origin of Caprese salad). Capri, located off the coast of Naples, has a long history of famous guests. Roman Emperors Augustus and Tiberius spent ample leisure time there, and it later became a popular vacation spot for showbiz stars from Grace Kelly and Elizabeth Taylor to Leonardo DiCaprio and Mariah Carey. Tourism is a massive part of Capri's economy, and it reportedly led to the invention of Torta Caprese.

The mysterious origins of Torta Caprese

Torta Caprese appears to be a relatively recent invention, born in the early to mid-1900s, yet nobody knows exactly who invented it or why. There are multiple theories regarding its origins, but they all follow the same theme: some guests visiting the island ordered chocolate cake at a restaurant, and the chef forgot to add flour. Certain versions of the story say that the chef was trying to make an almond cake, while others suggest that they added the almond meal by mistake. Each take on the tale credits a different person with this happy accident.

One of the most widespread theories claims that Torta Caprese was created by a pair of Austrian sisters who lived on Capri. Some believe it is related to Austria's Sachertorte, a type of dense chocolate cake. This is questionable since Sachertorte contains not only flour but also a layer of apricot preserves. It's one thing for a cook to mistake almond meal for flour in haste, but to forget the signature layer of jam as well seems doubtful.

Another popular origin story credits the invention of Torta Caprese to a chef named Carmine Di Fiore, who worked at an unidentified restaurant on the island. Supposedly, members of the American mafia dined at his eatery and requested that he make them an almond chocolate cake. Di Fiore obliged but forgot to add flour. Fortunately, the gangsters loved his creation.

The magic of flourless cakes

The wonderful thing about flourless cakes is that they are at once decadent and incredibly simple. Torta Caprese can be made with as little as five ingredients: melted chocolate, almond meal or almond flour, sugar, eggs, and butter. Some recipes add cocoa powder and/or vanilla extract to enhance the flavor, but that's about as complicated as it gets. If you're planning a multi-course meal for guests, the simple nature of this dessert can take some of the load off, and since it will keep for several days, you can easily prepare it in advance. It's an ideal choice for anyone on a gluten-free diet, but its appeal extends to just about everyone.

The key to flourless chocolate cake isn't what it lacks (flour) but rather what it adds to make up for that absence. These baked goods usually have more fat in them than wheat flour cakes in the form of butter and eggs. A typical chocolate cake recipe calls for about two to three eggs, but flourless cakes like Torta Caprese often require five eggs, along with a cup or so of butter. They also include melted chocolate, while a classic chocolate cake has only cocoa powder. These additions give flourless chocolate cake a superbly silky texture. To complement this richness, Torta Caprese is classically served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.