There are a few things that define summer to me: the smell of chlorine and sunscreen, warm nights and a cool breeze, barbeque and laughing children, and torta di ciliege. (According to my Italian elementary school teacher, that's pronounced "TOR-ta dee chill-YAY-jee.")
When I was a kid, cherries were my favorite fruit, so when my mom found the recipe for this cake in our local newspaper, I'm sure she thought it was heaven-sent. It's light, eggy, and great for dessert or breakfast or midday snack. And yes, this has been my birthday cake once or twice!
A bit of a forewarning: the recipe says the "cake is as easy to make as it is delicious to eat," but I think any recipe that has you separate eggs isn't easy. That being said — on to the blow-by-blow!
First up, cream together butter and sugar until they're fully combined.
Is there any better combination that butter and sugar? Ladies and gentlemen, I sincerely doubt it.
Here's the hard part: Separate the eggs.
Add the yolks to the butter and sugar one by one, mixing the yolk in entirely before adding the next yolk. Put the whites in a separate bowl — don't get rid of them!
By now it's a fun yellow color from the yolk. Add milk and pure vanilla extract.
Add flour and baking soda. If you have the tools to sift flour, do it: Sifting will make the cake extra fluffy, but don't worry about it if you don't have the ability. I didn't sift my flour and it turned out just fine.
When the flour is all mixed in, go back to the bowl of egg whites and beat them until they're fluffy and form soft peaks, like this:
Please don't try and beat the egg whites by hand. It's really, really hard. Use an electric beater or mixer.
Once the egg whites are forming those lovely soft peaks, scoop about a quarter of the egg whites out and mix them into the batter. Then fold the rest of the egg whites in. Do this by stirring from the top of the bowl to the bottom instead of around the sides of the bowl. Do this gently so you don't flatten the egg whites.
Pour the cake batter into a springform pan and set it aside. Pull up a bowl of pitted cherries and add a few tablespoons of sugar (use 2 tablespoons if the cherries are sweet; 4 tablespoons if the cherries are a little bitter).
To be fair, pitting and sugaring the cherries is something that can be done ahead of time, but then you have the problem of roommates coming and eating all the cherries in the bowl while your hands are full with the batter. If you can set a guard about the fruit and know they'll be safe, then by all means prep ahead of time!
At any rate, when the batter is in the pan, pour the cherries on top of the batter as evenly as you can.
As the cake bakes, the batter will rise up around the cherries, and the cherries will sink down and be distributed throughout the cake. Or you can be impatient like I was and push on the cherries, and they'll all end up at the bottom. Either way, pop it in the over for an hour and once it's cooled, the cake is delicious!
Excuse me, I'm going to go get myself another slice. In the meantime, here's the recipe!
Torta di ciliege, from In Nonna's Kitchen by Carol Field
0.5 cups unsalted butter (one stick)
0.75 cups sugar
3 eggs, room temperature, separated
3 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
Pinch of salt
1 pound meaty, dark ripe cherries, pitted
2 to 4 tablespoons sugar
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees; butter and flour a 9.5 inch springform pan.
2. Cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.
4. Stir in milk and vanilla.
5. Mix together the flour and baking powder, then sift into the bowl.
6. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks.
7. Stir a quarter of the egg whites into the batter, then carefully fold in the rest.
8. Spread the batter into the springform pan. It will come halfway up the sides.
9. Combine the cherries and sugar, then spread them over the top.
10. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the top is golden and a testing knife comes out clean.
11. Cool in the pan for 15 to 30 minutes, then unmold onto a rack to cool completely.
As a surprise addendum, the newspaper included nutritional information with the recipe! One cake has eight servings, and each serving has 381 calories, 6 grams of protein, 49 grams of carbohydrates, 18 grams of fat, and 159 milligrams of sodium. I hope you enjoy the cake anyway!