12 February 2013

Dreaming of Capri and Torta Caprese with Coffee Whipped Cream

Torta Caprese with Coffee Whipped Cream

In planning a trip to Italy you will be on information overload. Even after being there a month there is so much more I want to explore that a second trip to the same area is in the works.  It was my first time travelling south of Naples and my first time travelling completely solo, so, I wanted to experience all that I could to share with everyone. When travelling to Campania I knew I would be asked if I ventured to the island of Capri, and knew that everyone would ask if I would go back. To answer that question I would go back to Capri in a heartbeat!! The island beckons me, but, for today join me on an armchair journey to the stunning Isle of Capri that arises from the Tyrrhenian Sea and hypnotizes us with its incredible beauty. Fabled to be the home of the seductive sirens that called to Odysseus’ in the poetic Greek myth, Capri haunts me still.

The fabled island of Capri rises like a mirage just off the Sorrento peninsula of southern Italy. Since the early 19th century, the stunning coves and crystal clear rocky beaches have attracted poets, artists, writers and actors. It is here that some say Odysseus resisted the seductive but deadly song of the Sirens, and the Roman emperor Tiberius caroused in orgiastic debauchery. Ever since Caesar Augustus discovered the charms of this small, flowering island and purchased it in 29 B.C., the rich and famous have moored in its two inviting harbours, climbed its steep streets to admire dazzling views of the bay and neighbouring islands, sat on its sun-baked terraces, and swam in its clear turquoise waters.  But don't be put off by its glitz and glamour, there are still plenty of sun-drenched vistas, ancient walking paths and island quaintness to experience away from the "maddening crowds." Like many visitors, I recently set out for Capri by ferry, dreaming of its storied past and hoping to discover the "real" Capri. 

From a distance, the island looks like a sculptured rock dwarfed within by the surreal panorama before you that spans Mount Vesuvius, Naples and the larger island of Ischia. Its jagged peaks are haunting and forbidding, and the hazy Mediterranean air gives it a veil of fantasy just off the coast.

As you near the island you see the sparkle of shades of cerulean and turquoise emerging from the sea. Seagulls swarm along the steep walls of the coastal cliffs, where stone and stucco villas cling as nimbly as the goats that also inhabit the island. Capri begins to look real, but no less spectacular. My first glimpse of the island was the colourful fishing boats moored in the harbour in front of the pastel hued village. It was off season so the only time I saw crowds was at the end of the day when I needed to catch the final return ferry back to the mainland. On an island that is 4 miles long and 1 and a half miles wide I wondered where they had all been during the peak of the day since many times I felt all alone while wandering the streets. As always time in the enemy so a return trip is now my goal. Next time I will go by private boat so as not to be tied down by a schedule. 

One of the fun aspects of the island is to take a taxi that winds up the steep road to Capri's lower-key sister Anacapri beckoning from the plateau above. I was overheated and the iconic candy-coloured convertible taxi was a refreshing way to cool off. With the wind blowing my hair with wild abandon we climbed along the zigzagged road to the top in my flamingo pink taxi. I was told this would be a harrowing experience but I live in British Columbia after all so was not intimidated by the sheer cliffs and took in the  jaw dropping vistas instead. Let me tell you right now, Anacapri was my favourite part of the island. The town is almost clinically white, with little specks of colour from the flowers peaking out from arbours and flower boxes, unexpected Moroccan styled buildings and intricately designed patterns adorning random surfaces like open air stairways and benches. It's narrow streets wind along hillsides, between whitewashed facades and among gardens scented with juniper, myrtle and lemon trees.

"Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life."

 Anna Akhmatova

From there the island's highest point can be reached quickly and easily by taking the popular chairlift (seggiovia). I found myself swinging my dangling legs high above the hillside in a single chair. Continuing up to the summit of Monte Solaro (589m above sea level) I found a pleasant cafe at the top of the hill with fairytale views. From here you can see the infamous three peaks protruding from the cobalt blue water, as if racing up towards the sky. These peaks are collectively called Faraglioni and known separately as Stella, di Mezzo and Scopolo or Fuori.  Just like the rest of the island, the Faraglioni did not fail to capture me under their spell. The surrounding slopes are peaceful and speckled with flowers offering a real contrast to the busier corners of Capri. Next time I hope to have time to walk down the island pathways and discover all the nooks and crannies of this lovely island.

"What's good to eat on Capri you ask?"    

The traditional gastronomy of the island is based on fish and fresh vegetables all livened up with luscious olive oil. Although simple and tasty, the cuisine is a subtle combination of influences left over by the various rulers of the island, from the Greeks and Romans to the French and Spanish.  Typical island recipes make liberal use of fresh fish, caciotta and mozzarella cheese, sun-ripened tomatoes, aubergine, garlic, peperoncino, olive oil and aromatic herbs such as basil, oregano, parsley and rosemary. Fish and seafood, wild quail, and freshly picked fruits and vegetables provide the basis for Caprese cuisine. When prepared with just the right balance of flavours these basic ingredients become masterpieces. The addition of anchovies, capers and olives further enhance this exquisite flavour of Italy. Nearly all restaurants on Capri serve typical island cuisine. An all-time favourite, which you'll find on most menus is Capri's ravioli capresi which are filled with cheese and marjoram and served with a tomato sauce. I hope to make this in a future post.

If you are a little more adventurous some of the dishes you might try while on Capri include linguine drizzled with a rich sauce of grouper and scorpion fish, calamari stuffed with pine nuts and raisins, anchovies marinated in citrus sauce, vermicelli made with a lively sea urchin sauce, or wild quail prepared with pancetta, onions and fresh peas in a white wine sauce. Not to be forgotten is its namesake insalata caprese, first introduced in Anacapri in the early 1900′s, and prepared by alternating slices of the freshest, whitest mozzarella cheese and tomatoes. Capri is known for growing plump tomatoes, fragrant basil and for producing some of the best olive oil in Italy, so of course the Caprese salad makes perfect sense

I stopped at Ristorante Materita in the very heart of Anacapri, right next to the Church of Santa Sofia erected in 1510. Materita was the ideal place in which to stop for a light lunch while visiting the town's picturesque historic centre. The restaurant and pizzeria's balcony, festooned with the island's colourful flowers, overlooks Anacapri's most vibrant meeting place, a pretty piazza lined with Capri's characteristic ceramic benches. I started with an antipasti of ricotta stuffed zucchini flowers and a primo of pumpkin risotto. Being winter my Caprese salad was topped with rapini plucked fresh from someones garden instead of the usual basil. Accompany your meal with a glass or two of local wine (there's a vast choice), and conclude with a shot of chilled limoncello which is offered as a digestive everywhere in Southern Italy. 

Sweet-toothed travellers will love the island's torta caprese, a wonderfully moist chocolate and almond cake. This flourless chocolate-almond torte was invented in Capri (hence the name, “caprese”). It’s velvety and lush and chocolate-y. It has no flour so it is even gluten-free and the almonds give it a wonderful crunch. I also add some cocoa for extra chocolate flavour and enhance the almond flavor with almond extract. It has a crunchy exterior and a very moist interior. We had half of it in the afternoon and after that I cut the rest with small heart shaped cookie cutters to make mini-cakes and dusted them  again with confectioners sugar for Valentine's day. Even a day after, this cake was as moist and delicious as the moment it came out of the oven. A real crowd pleaser. I like to bake these type of cakes in a spring form pan usually 8-inches in diameter. By using a smaller pan you do need to increase the baking time by about 5 minutes to accommodate for the extra thickness.

They best way to connect with the Italian culture is through food. What better way to end a Valentine's Day feast than with a luscious chocolate dessert born on an island off the coast of Italy.  As an ode to Italy I topped my torte with some coffee flavoured infused whipped cream. It seemed fitting to offer a sweet confection from Italy where there is no shortage of expressions of love within the Italian language. It not surprising as Italians express their love and desires as often as possible even to a woman of my age....wink...wink. If you want to woo your loved ones this Valentine's Day read this for 100 Ways To Say I Love You in Italian. 

**Torta Caprese (Flourless Chocolate Almond Torte) with Coffee Whipped Cream**

6 oz/ 1 1/2 cups / 170 gr. almonds (peel on)
8 oz/ 200 g. good quality dark chocolate (bittersweet, not unsweetened) – I used 75%
3/4 cup + 1 tablespoon / 200 g butter
1 cup/ 200 g sugar

6 eggs, separated

2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons liqueur (rum, coffee liqueur, or other)
1/2 cup (75g) blanched almonds, lightly toasted

Butter and flour a 9 or 10 inch spring form pan. (I use an 8-inch pan so adjust the baking times for the size of pan you use) Preheat the oven to 350F.
  Gently press about half of the sliced almonds against the side of the pan, adhering them about 2/3 of the way up from the bottom. An easy way to do this is to simply add the sliced almonds to the pan and then tilt the pan and rotate to cover the bottom and sides as you would when you dust a pan with flour. 

Grind the almonds in a food processor (not too fine to leave some crunch and texture).

Melt the chocolate and butter together (I do this in the microwave a couple of minutes, stirring in between). Allow to cool slightly. Whisk the egg yolks and the sugar, then add to the first mixture.

Add the ground almonds, the baking powder, the cocoa powder, almond extract and the liqueur.
 Finally, gently fold in the egg whites, whipped to foam.

Pour everything in the pan.Top with the remainder of the sliced almonds and bake about 45 to 50 minutes depending on the size and depth of your pan, (do NOT over bake).

Allow to cool slightly then dust with confectioners’ sugar. 
The cake will sink in a bit in the center. That’s totally part of the plan! Serve with Coffee Whipped Cream for that extra touch.
** Coffee Whipped Cream**
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 teaspoon instant coffee crystals dissolved in 2 teaspoons heavy whipping cream
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

Using electric mixer, beat cream, powdered sugar, coffee mixture, and vanilla in large bowl until peaks form. Dollop coffee whipped cream onto top of cake.

You are reading this post on More Than Burnt Toast at http://morethanburnttoast.blogspot.com. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the author and or owner of More Than Burnt Toast. All rights reserved by Valerie Harrison.
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  1. Oh goodness Val! What a lovely post in so many ways.

  2. Oh my, I can't keep my eyes off of this!

  3. This cake looks incredibly droolworthy! I am bookmarking this recipe.



  4. Stunning vistas. Great flourless chocolate cake.

  5. Val, what a beautiful cake. I'm imagining a tiny wedge with a coffee.


  6. Now I know what cake to make for my stepmother's birthday dinner.

    Wish it came with a slice of Capri though.

  7. It looks rich, decadent, and so delicious.

  8. I love this post Val with all, pictures, food and all:)

  9. Beautiful post! I feel like this was written just for me... in the midst of planning overload. We take a group of 8 to Positano for a week. Capri will be on the top of our list.
    A funny note about Capri that you can appreciate... we missed the sign for the furnicular. We WALKED the whole way from the dock to the city. Yes. It can be done.
    No. I don't recommend it!
    I look forward to more posts on the Amalfi coast.

    1. I know you will enjoy another visit to Capri Sandi. If you're a group it is best to take a water taxi so that you don't need to be restricted by the ferry schedules. Spend the morning wandering, have a nice lunch and spend the late afternoon on the water.

  10. This looks simply amazing as is your description of Capri, I so want to go there!

  11. Sigh. Thank you so much for allowing us to share this lovely interlude and a glimpse into your trip. And that torta looks out of this world!

  12. I want to go to Italy so badly!! And this amazing cake is not helping :P

  13. this is wonderfully done delicious dessert

  14. This is JUST the slice of life that I have been needing! All sunshine and beautiful views and wonderful description of a beautiful place! I hope you DO get back to Capri! It is obviously so special to you! Happy Valentine's Day, Val!

  15. I have wanted to go to Capri ever since my brother went there on honeymoon 14 years ago. I still haven't made it, but seeing your pictures makes my feet get itchy! That single chair lift makes my legs feel all tingly :o) And I would LOVE a slice of the torta right about now!

  16. What stunning views, Val. You describe your adventures beautifully. Have a wonderful day. Blessings...Mary

  17. You make me want to visit Italy about once a week.

  18. outstanding recipe and photo... off to pin that drool worthy slice yum!

  19. Your pictures are wonderful, Val. Going back to a place we love or going on to a new adventure can be a tough decision. Your beautiful cake looks decadent.

  20. Ooo, that cake sounds divine.
    And Italy. Sigh. You make me dream of sun, oceans, and lovely architecture.

  21. Beautiful (all of it!). Capri is so beautiful. Definitely on the top of my list of destinations now. Happy Valentine's Day. (Jennifer/www.seasonsandsuppers.ca)

  22. Holy moly, this sounds amaaaazing! I am a huge lover of dense flourless chocolate cakes. Anything that gives me more chocolate and less of all the other stuff is perfect, and this cake sounds ideal! Especially with that coffee whipped cream topping :)

  23. what a magnificent torta to pair with such magnificent scenery! i'm just in awe of both. :)

  24. capri is literally one of the most prettiest places on earth.
    the weather, the people...
    you were lucky val to go there.
    i was there once, but i was very young and don't remember much.
    also, i love the idea of coffee whipped cream

  25. I would love to travel around Italy. Maybe one day. The cake looks wonderful. I have a similar recipe, but it doesn't have the alcohol or make a lovely deep cake like that. I must try your version.

  26. I love traveling vicariously through others. What a lovely place! Your cake is absolutely amazing as well. :)

  27. Val, I am blown away. I need to come back and visit this post again to take it all in. Thank you for such an informative and beautiful narrative.

  28. Thanks for this lovely virtual tour! What a great view from the top. This torta sounds delightful, and I love the coffee whipped cream!

  29. Oh yes, take me back to Capri. After reading your post, I want to be there in that beautiful place eating a slice of torta caprese. Thanks for the recipe and the evocative post and photos.


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