I did a sneaky thing – made a gluten-filled cake in a celiac household. Not just any gluten, semolina; the Queen of the glutens. It’s a starchy baby.
My mother was feening for a ‘NORMAL CAKE,’ as she phrases it. Luckily, I am not the one with an allergy and also went two weeks without pizza. So, I was not opposed to a little low key gluten party. It also gave me another perfect opportunity to get creative in the cucina!
I found a bag of Bob’s Red Mill semolina flour in my parent’s pantry. While I initially thought to save the bag for pasta making, I decided to be generous. Why not make a fabulous nonna cake?!
A nonna cake? Think of anything sweet your grandma would make when you were 5 years old. For me, its a delicious and simple citrus essenced cake served with morning coffee. It is a life staple. And, yes Italians eat cake for breakfast.
Now, I am no professional baker…I got a little too excited and experimental with this. In a very hocus pocus ‘dash of this, a dash of that’ mentality, I made an aromatic batter rich in lemon and orange zest. I quickly noticed how the semolina flour thickened fast. Semolina flour is very high in protein and gluten. That means it becomes a really thick boy if not measured properly.
I got schooled by gluten.
I made this cake erupt. No literally, a pure chemical reaction caused this cake to look like a UFO before cooling. The cake’s outer layer was like a thick asteroid belt. The center was a yellow black hole. My thick as a brick cake made me irritable. Who wants to eat a brick? It made for a pretty photo though.
Now, this may seem redundant as why would you want to listen about a really screwed up cake recipe? Well, in a period of self-isolation, you have time to TRY again…
I did it! There were ancient tricks my modern brain didn’t catch. The key here is mixing semolina in hot milk as if to make porridge. It is a trick as old as time (seriously Neolithic era people were eating porridge.) The milk softens the grain and also lets you properly meld the sugar. By the way, my new favorite scent is lemon rinds soaked in milk…
All this learned from the iconic Pellegrino Artusi recipe for torta di semolino. His iconic book La Scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene is a foundational element of the Italian cuisine we know today. When in doubt, consult the guidance of a super old person who had to figure it out with their whole brain. No google, no Pinterest…
Just a note, this cake is like an Italian wheat version of a cheesecake. It requires no rising agents. It is short and creamy.
If you (still) really hate gluten by the end of this post, please check out my Pumpkin Bread recipe. It will make you want to fast forward to October 2020, if we are out of our houses by then. If not, think of how much pumpkin bread and/or semolina cakes you could make!
See below for a light nonUFO looking semolina cake recipe for all the gluten TOLERANT folk in your household. BUON APPETITO!
Torta di Semolino
(adapted from Pellegrino Artusi’s torta di semolino from La Scienza in cucina e l’arte di mangiar bene)
- 1/2 cup of semolina flour
- 1/3 cup of sugar
- 1/3 cup + 1 tablespoon of almond flour
- Chocolate chips/chunks (optional)
- Powdered sugar (for dusting)
- 2 cups of milk
- 1 tablespoon of butter
- one lemon and/or orange rind
- 1 teaspoon of liqueur (I used mirto, a liqueur made from myrtle berry)
- Preheat the oven to 350F/180C. Grease a round cake tin with butter. Line the bottom with parchment paper. (If you do not have parchment, lightly coat bottom with almond flour)
- Pour the milk into a small pot with the citrus rind(s.) Place over medium heat.
- Before the milk starts to boil, remove the rinds.
- Once the milk is boiling, lower the heat. Then, add in the semolina and whisk. Keep whisking until thick and smooth.
- Remove the pan from heat, add in the butter, sugar, and liqueur. Keep whisking. Then, the almond flour. Once everything is well incorporated and smooth, put aside to cool for a few.
- Whisk the eggs in a small bowl and set aside.
- Pour your semolina & milk mixture into a larger bowl. Slowly add in the eggs.
- Mix everything well. If your mixture is still warm and you are adding chocolate chips, let the mix rest for a minute so that you do not melt the chocolate!
- Pour batter into greased pan. Bake for 50 minutes or until the outside is completely golden brown.
I ate this with ice cream too, because: quarantine. Can’t wait to have it again in the AM with coffee (and maybe some more ice cream…)