The chosen theme for this month’s issue of Italian Table Talk, the lovely project about Italian food and traditions that I proudly share with my friends Giulia, Valeria, and Emiko, is Italian breakfast.
How’s breakfast at your place? Mine is a bit complicated, but oftentimes it includes torta Margherita, a very traditional Italian sponge cake. But let me explain why my breakfast is tricky, before we talk about the cake.
I’ve always found breakfast somewhat challenging. When I was a child, my mum had to force me to have a glass of milk before I left for school, milk that I would have regretted ever drinking later, on the school bus, where I felt sick all the time. With the milk, I was supposed to have cookies, which is what most Italian kids have for breakfast, but I would never, ever give in to eating them: I would only accept to munch – and not too enthusiastically – on homemade cakes. A foodie since my childhood, I hated boxed cakes and store-bought snacks, because I felt they tasted weird, artificial, full of alcohol and chemical stuff.
When every other kid around was having Nutella on bread, milk and cornflakes, Mulino Bianco cookies, I was sitting there, my arms crossed, looking at the table in open hostility.
Growing up, luckily, I’ve learned to appreciate “the most important meal of the day”: I’ve grown accustomed to drinking tea and coffee, to eating cookies… I’m more or less a normal person nowadays.
The only thing I still can’t stand, even today, is store-bought, ready-made cakes: they taste all wrong and unnatural, don’t they?
That’s why at my place you’ll always find a nice, homemade cake for breakfast: zebra cake, chocolate cake, classic crostata, a couple of muffins… anything will do, as long as it comes from my oven and not from a plastic bag.
My current favorite breakfast cake – and I say current because my preferences tend to be volatile – is this torta Margherita, a very typical Italian sponge cake. It’s soft and fluffy, yet filling and nourishing, and is especially divine if you dip it in a cup of milk. I can’t think of a better breakfast!
This cake can easily be made gluten-free as my friend Emiko explains. I find that it tastes good on its own, but is also very nice with a thin spread of jam, just like the British Victoria sponge cake.
If you’ve never tasted a proper torta Margherita, it’s time for you to get baking.
Italian sponge cake - Torta Margherita
- 100 g sugar
- 50 g cake flour
- 50 g potato starch
- 40 g butter
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1 big egg + 5 egg yolks
- First of all, preheat the oven to 365°F.
- In a food processor or with handheld electric whisks, beat eggs and sugar together until smooth, light, and creamy: it will take some time to reach the desired consistency, more or less 15 minutes, so don't give up too early. Please don't throw away your leftover egg whites: use them to make some delish meringues or some other recipe of your choice.1 big egg + 5 egg yolks, 100 g sugar
- Incorporate the sifted dry ingredients, with a delicate gesture from top to bottom, into the liquid batter, and stir to combine. In a little pan or the microwave melt the butter, then pour it over the cake batter. Add in the vanilla, too, and stir again so that the batter is smooth and all ingredients are incorporated.50 g cake flour, 50 g potato starch, 1 tsp vanilla, 40 g butter
- Pour the batter into a greased and floured 5-inch spring-release tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes or until golden brown.
- Allow the cake to cool, then gently free it from the tin and flip it onto a serving plate.
- Sprinkle the cake with icing sugar and serve.