Wednesday, 20 May 2015

Torta di tagliarini for The Second Duchess

As soon as I spotted The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas and read on the back cover that it is set in Ferrara, I wanted to read it. My husband is a Ferrarese, and Ferrara's history is fascinating. This novel is set in Renaissance Italy and tells the story of Barbara of Austria, the second wife of Alfonso d'Este, Duke of Ferrara. Both he and his first wife Lucrezia de' Medici have been immortalised in Browning's poem My Last Duchess. The books has a riveting plot, and this was a part of the history of Ferrara I was unfamiliar with.
Barbara of Austria arrives to Ferrara as the eponymous second duchess with a great pomp. But her entry in town is marred by the undisguised threats of poison and the gossip about the first wife, who was said to be murdered by the Duke. Barbara might be plain looking, but she is intelligent and determined to find the truth. Murder, court intrigues and conspiracies - all the ingredients for those who love their doze of escapism, like I do.
There were also quite a few food references.
"...This tart is delicious, and like nothing I have ever tasted before".
"It is called a torta di tagliarini, for the sweet pasta in the filling". He smiled, "It was created for the wedding feast of my grandfather and his second wife, Lucrezia Borgia, in homage to the bride's magnificent golden hair..."

Italian cake recipe

When Barbara visits the Abbess, she is served some wine and a slice of pampepato.
"She nodded, put a whole slice of cake into her mouth, and wiped her fingers daintily on a napkin. Abbess or not, clearly she did not practise austerities of the flesh".
Pampepato was mentioned several times through the novel.
"Music swirled softly through the room; the courtiers whispered and laughed. The servitors presented sweet wines and slices of pampepato, the dense cake rich with cinnamon, cloves, citron and pepper. It was the same sort of cake Mother Eleonora had offered me at the Monastero del Corpus Domini. I picked my piece into small bits; it seemed too highly spied, too cloying..." What Barabara forgets to mention that this is a chocolate cake, in fact this was the first chocolate cake in Europe, cooked in honour of the Pope (hence the name, which translates as the bread of the Pope).
I have a recipe for pampepato on my blog, if you are interested.
Barbara also reminisces about the rice pudding of her childhood:
"I was a child again, seven or eight years... My nurse was making the milchreis, rice pudding, my favourite supper. Thump-thump-thump went the wooden spoon in the pan as she stirred it and stirred it. Each stroke made a thick wet swishing sound. Milk and rice and eggs and sugar, and then the reddish-brown dusting of cinnamon..."

I was tempted to cook milchreis, and I might still do one day, but what I really fancied was to cook a torta di tagliarini. I have seen this cake in the Italian pastry shops, sold as individual-sized cakes.
For the original authentic recipe you need to make your own pasta and pastry.
My version is very much simplified. I used a ready-made block of pastry and fresh pasta.

Torta di tagliarini
1 block of dessert pastry (not the whole amount, about 350g)
2 medium eggs
100g caster sugar
100g ground almonds
3 tbsp cocoa
50g melted butter
150g candied orange and lemon peel, cubed
1 tub of Milkybar dessert (70g) or 70ml double cream
80g fresh pasta

Roll the block of pastry with a rolling pin to 5mm thickness on the parchment paper and move over to the spring cake tin. It will be the base of your cake. Even the surface with the fingers.
In a medium bowl beat the eggs with the sugar, add the almonds, cocoa and melted butter, and mix well. Add the chopped orange and lemon peel and 1 tub of Milkybar. It was supposed to be the double cream, but I forgot to buy it, and the only possible candidate for a replacement that I could find in the fridge was the Milkybar dessert.
Put 2/3 of fresh pasta like tagliarini or tagliatelli at the bottom of your cake, pour the cocoa and fruit mixture over the pasta. Place the remaining pasta on top and slightly flatten, it should not all be immersed in the cocoa mix, as you want the crunchy texture on top once the cake is cooked.

steps: 1. place the pasta at the bottom; 2. pasta over the cocoa mix

Place a buttered parchment paper circle on top of the cake, and bake for 30+ minutes at 190C.

Serve warm, with or without cream. A cup of coffee wouldn't go amiss.

This cake has an interesting history and an intriguing texture, from the crunchy pasta on top to the creamy almond and cocoa filling.

Italian cake from Ferrara

I know I am abysmally or fashionably late with ReadCookEat linky for May, so I will run it until the end of June.
Have you read a book recently which inspired you to run to the kitchen and cook to your heart's content?

Are you an avid reader who enjoys food references in fiction? Would you like to recreate a meal, inspired by a book you've just finished and join in our #ReadCookEat challenge.

The idea is to choose a book, either a world classic or modern fiction, or even memoirs and pick up a dish mentioned or described in that book and then recreate it in a recipe. Please say a few lines about your chosen book, and maybe even do a quote from the book.

If you decide to take part, please add the badge to your post and link up back to Chris and me, and either use a link-up tool or add the url of your post as a comment. Alternatively, email me with the link to your post (my email is sasha1703 at yahoo dot com).

I will Pin all blogs posts taking part in this challenge, as well as RT and Google+


  1. Wow, what a fascinating recipe - it must seem very strange eating pasta in a sweet cake !

    I had a readcookeat recipe ready in advance for Sgt Windflower's Smothered Salmon. You can always count on the food-loving Mountie for lots of foodie inspiration !

  2. What a really interesting recipe, I would never have thought of adding pasta to a cake. I haven't read any books with recipes recently, still keeping a look out

  3. I love this! I need to try that cake and the book sounds really good too. So clever to do a post that ends up as a book review AND a recipe all in one