Torta Paradiso, or Italian Paradise Cake, is a simple, comforting and yet elegant vanilla scented cake that is perfect for any occasion. Affiliate links were used in this post to link to items I would be linking to anyway in the course of my discussion. I was sent Grace’s Sweet Life by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
What a week! I hope everyone had a wonderful Thanksgiving–I am kind of jealous of those of you who were also celebrating Hanukkah, as I think combining those 2 culinary traditions would have made for an awesome meal. I did not cook much, as I was at my in-laws and they declined all of my offers of assistance. I of course made my family Sweet Rolls and an apple cake I am hoping to share soon (I want to make it again at home and re-photograph it under less hectic circumstances) but that is it. So I am dying to get back in the kitchen, and have already started tonight.
But first this cake!
I made this cake before leaving for Thanksgiving. It is from Grace Massa Langlois’s Grace’s Sweet Life: Homemade Italian Desserts from Cannoli, Tiramisu, and Panna Cotta to Torte, Pizzelle, and Struffoli, which I was sent by the publisher to review and use. I cannot claim this is a full review, however, because I wanted to make more recipes before officially reviewing. The reason is that this recipe had some errors (some instructions were left out but an experienced baker could figure out what they were), but it may very well be the only error in the book. I just don’t know, but thanks to being out of town this is the only post I have ready to share. I can definitely tell you that nearly every recipe in the book is drool worthy! And this cake was awesome and well worth sharing.
The cake is similar to a chiffon cake, as it is light and airy, but does have fat in it (unlike an angel food cake, which only has egg whites and no oil or butter). It uses Italian baking powder, which I finally found in Jungle Jim’s in the German section–the difference is that the baking powder is single acting, unlike our double acting baking powder, and I do wish the book had suggested how to proceed with double acting. Apparently the Italian baking powder is also flavored with vanilla, so I added extra vanilla. Despite its fancy name, the cake is rather homey with no frosting or glaze. This of course makes it my favorite kind of cake!
The cake recipe also comes with a fantastic story in the head notes involving a monk who broke the rules of his strict monastery by wandering in the woods for healing herbs, and speaking to a bride (read in this what you will–I know what *I* read into it!), who taught him how to make this cake. When the monks discovered his transgressions he was apparently sentenced to spend the rest of his days locked in the monastery–baking this cake for them! I love stories like that.
- 6 large egg yolks (separated from the egg whites)
- 4 large egg whites (separated from the egg yolks)
- 150 g (3/4 g + 3 T) potato starch (can sub cornstarch)
- 150 g (1 cup + 3 T) AP flour
- 8 g ( 1/2 package) "lievito vaniglinato" ("yeast for cake," i.e., single acting baking powder)
- 1/4 t fine sea salt
- 300 g (1 1/3 cups) unsalted butter, room temperature, plus more for greasing pan
- 300 g (2 1/4 cups + 2 1/2 T) confectioners' sugar, divided, plus more for dusting
- 1 t vanilla paste (can sub 2 t vanilla extract)
- 2 t vanilla extract
- zest of 1 lemon
Place the egg yolks in one bowl and the egg whites in another, cover each with plastic wrap and leave while you prepare other steps so that the eggs warm to room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Using a 9 or 10 inch round pan with 3-inch high sides (I used a springform), line the bottom and sides with parchment paper. Then lightly butter that parchment paper (if you have trouble with the parchment staying in place, lightly grease the pan under the parchment paper). This is a delicate cake, so for the prettiest cake I recommend you do this. Set aside.
Sift the potato starch and flour into a medium sized bowl. Whisk in the "cake yeast" (single acting baking powder) along with the salt--make sure it is all combined thoroughly. Set aside.
Now switch to a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat the butter until creamy, then add half of the confectioners' sugar, the vanilla paste and extract and lemon zest. Beat until creamy and pale, about 6 minutes, on medium speed. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl twice in the middle of this.
Add the egg yolks one at a time, continuing to beat on medium speed, again scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl at least twice. This process--adding the yolks--should take about 3 minutes.
Now switch to a medium-large bowl with a hand mixer (or if you are lucky enough to own 2 stand mixer bowls, switch to a clean bowl and the whip attachment). I had some trouble with this next step but the cake still came out perfectly, so do not get too stressed out by it. Whip the egg whites until they hold barely soft peaks. Reduce the speed to medium low, and very slowly (I think I added the sugar too fast) add the remaining confectioners' sugar by the tablespoons, mixing to incorporate before adding the next tablespoon. When you have incorporated all of the sugar, increase the speed to high and ideally whip the egg whites until stiff. Mine did not whip stiff and instead acted more like royal icing, so if this happens to you do not stress, just stop there. (If the egg whites do not beat into soft peaks at all however, there is probably a problem in your bowl or whip attachment, such as fat in the bowl, and you will need to start over.)
Returning to the egg yolk mixture, add the flour mixture with the paddle speed on low, and mix the flour in. The batter will be quite stiff. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. Add about 1/4 of the egg white mixture and quickly but gently mix it in using a spatula.
This will lighten the batter. Add the remaining egg whites and gently fold them in. When they are completely incorporated, scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Bake until golden brown and a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, about 45-55 minutes. If your oven cooks unevenly, rotate the pan halfway through.
Transfer the cake to a cooling rack and let it cool for 25 minutes.
Removing the cake was even easier with a springform pan--I released the sides, carefully peeling away the parchment, and then used my cake lifter to quickly move the cake to a cooling rack. If you used a regular cake pan, place parchment paper over the pan, quickly invert the cake onto the parchment, and then invert it back onto a cooling rack.
Let the cake cool completely.
Unlike a denser or richer cake, powdered sugar on this cake will not absorb into the cake and get gummy. So when the cake is cool, sift confectioners' sugar all over the top of the cake. Transfer to a cake stand or plate.
I do love the story behind this and am shocked that in living my whole life as an Italian, I’ve never come across this cake!
It is the famous Torta Vigoni from Pavia.
Laura Anna says
This is another story behind the start of this cake.
Kim - Liv Life says
Oh my heavens!!! What a fabulous cake!! I’m not much of a cake fan, but I have a feeling that I could polish off a few servings of this beauty. Paradise indeed!!
Ann Marie Cuccinello says
This cake looks and sounds heavenly. Can’t wait to try it.
Betty Jo says
This looks so good. Where can I find lievito vaniglinato? I have never heard of it. Also vanilla paste?
Lievito vaniglinato, or single acting baking powder, can be tricky to find. Your best bet is a European imported foods store–I found mine in the German section of an international grocery store. You might also try Amazon. Vanilla paste should be much easier–any nicer baking section or baking store will have it, and I feel confident both Amazon and King Arthur Flour sell it also. You can always substitute vanilla extract in a pinch.