Torta Bertolina, Italian Grape Cake. It is a traditional cake made in the Autumn with a kind of grapes called "uva fragola", a small grape, sweet and aromatic. I used Coronation grapes, a variety that is seedless, sweet, juicy, and plump. There is a layer of grapes in the middle and one on top and a dusting of cane sugar before it hits the oven. The result is a fragrant, delectable, lick-your-fingers cake, perfect for dessert, and why not, breakfast!
Song of the day: "To Live" by Nora Jones
This is one example of simple Italian cakes that pack a ton of flavor. Torta Bertolina is a traditional harvest cake from Crema, Lombardia, in the North of Italy. It is made with a kind of grapes called "uva fragola", literally translated as 'strawberry grape', small, sweet, and aromatic. This kind of grape is also known as the 'American grape' because it was imported from the United States in the 19th century and was then hybridized with grapes of local origin.
Certainly, as every Italian recipe handed down from generation to generation, there are countless variations of Torta Bertolina. Some make a yeast dough and so the cake is more like focaccia, some combine regular flour with cornmeal flour, some add the grapes to the batter, some only on top, and then some, like me, have one layer of grapes in the middle and one on top.
To clarify, this is my interpretation of the cake, where I combined various Italian recipes and my little variations, but anyways, staying pretty close to tradition.
To make the cake, I used Coronation grapes, a variety of grapes that is seedless, sweet, juicy, and plump. These grapes come from British Columbia, a neighboring Province, and are a symbol of Autumn, and harvest. When leaves start to turn their colors to deep orange, yellow, muted green, and gracefully fall to the ground. That is the time when grapes are at their peak of the season, sweet and rotund, and are perfectly ripe for eating, baking, canning, and winemaking.
Can I use other types of grapes?
Actually, uva fragola is similar to Concord grapes, because it is a variety with seeds, so, if you do not mind seeds, you could use Concord grapes. On the blog, I have a traditional harvest recipe for Tuscan focaccia where I use Concord grapes.
- Coronation grapes
- butter, at room temperature
- cane sugar
- eggs, at room temperature
- milk, at room temperature
- vanilla extract
- all-purpose flour, or type 0 flour (I used an organic pastry flour)
- baking powder
- pinch of salt
Preparation: making the cake
- Wash the grapes very gently, separate each grape without breaking them, and place on a clean cloth to dry.
- Sift the flour with the baking powder and a pinch of salt in a bowl.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the butter at room temperature with the sugar. Beat at low medium for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- At this point, while still beating, add one egg at a time, and the vanilla, until all are incorporated.
- After, ad some of the milk, alternating with some of the flour mixture, then the rest of the milk, and finishing with the rest of the flour. Mix everything until incorporated.
- Butter an 8-inch (20-cm) springform pan and place a circle of parchment paper of the same size on the bottom. Butter the parchment, too.
- In a bowl, toss the grapes with 1 scant tablespoon of flour.
- Pour half of the mixture into the pan and level it with the back of a wet spoon (the batter is dense and sticky).
- Then, arrange half of the floured grapes on top of the mixture. Sprinkle with 1 tablespoon of cane sugar.
- After that, cover the grapes with the remaining batter leveling it well with a clean wet spoon. The batter is pretty dense, try to spread it as much as you can and if some grapes move and get incorporated in the batter, that is totally fine.
- Place the remaining grapes on the surface without pressing them, and sprinkle the last tablespoon of cane sugar on top.
- Lastly, bake the cake in a preheated oven at 350° F/180°C for 55-60 minutes, checking for doneness after the first 35-40 minutes with a cake tester. The cake tester must come out dry, if not, prolong the baking time 5 minutes at a time. The cake will be ready when the cake tester comes out completely dry. If the top browns quickly, cover it with foil.
- Once done, remove the cake from the oven, and let it cool on a rack for 5-10 minutes. After that, you can take it out of the springform and let it cool completely. Once the cake is cold, place it on a serving dish. And finally, enjoy!
To summarize, this cake has many layers of flavor. It is moist and rich and it so nicely holds the nestled grapes that just explode in your mouth with this incredible naturally sweet sensation. I love how the top is crystallized and offers a nice change in texture. All in all, it is a cake that in one bite will leave you feeling joyful and cuddled.
Ahhhh the aroma
One thing for sure, the aroma of this Torta Bertolina is heavenly. One that brings many memories. Loreto says it reminds him of the winemaking season, which is coming up right away. The fragrance of the grapes, fruity, sweet, however, combined with that fresh-baked cake smell gives new meaning to Fall!
How long does the cake last?
If you have enough willpower to not devour it, you can keep the Torta Bertolina for 3-4 days at room temperature in a glass cake dome. The cake stays moist and delicious as if freshly baked.
Hope you get the chance to make it, you won't be disappointed. We shared it with friends and family, and they were all enthusiastic!