Please Don’t Eat the Daisies

daisies The other morning on my walk I passed a young man sitting on the roof of a car. He was perched up pretty high, so probably an SUV, though lacking the car gene that both my Michigander husband and my son seem to have, I didn’t notice the make or model.

The boy looked to be a high school senior. He was wearing aviators (are they back in fashion?) and leaning slightly back on his hands. He said ‘hello’ politely as I walked by. In the middle of the street, next to his parked car, someone had written the word ‘PROM?’ in giant, colorful chalk letters. I guessed it must be him and that he was waiting for his crush to walk out her front door and into his surprise invitation.

It was a sweet moment that made me smile and so I wanted to share it with you.

It also made me think back to my own senior prom, of which I have few memories at all (and not because I was under the influence of anything, people). It just wasn’t memorable. Except for one moment.

My date was a bright, awkward boy whom I didn’t know that well. At a certain point, as a group of us was seated around our table, he proceeded to eat the centerpiece. Not the entire centerpiece, just a couple of daisies, the way a little goat might do. To this day I don’t know what possessed him, or what he was trying to say with his action. Was he bored? Unhappy? Hungry? No doubt it was some sort of teen angst-speak, but really, who knows? At the end of the evening we said our good-byes and that was that.

I’m a little sad to say I’ve forgotten his name. But wherever he is, whoever he is, I would like to thank him for that moment which, even today, some three decades later, still makes me shake my head and smile. torta margherita 2 The word ‘daisy’ translates to ‘margherita’ in Italian. One of Italy’s most famous cakes is la torta Margherita, named not for the flower but for Italy’s Queen consort. It’s a lovely, springy cake, with air whipped into the egg-rich batter. But, much  like love, it is both simple and complicated. It requires just a few ingredients but it can be tricky to execute. 

The recipe below is adapted from one by Ada Boni. Be sure to follow the instructions carefully, including the Notes at the end. Use weight measurements if possible, for accuracy, and use a light hand when incorporating the egg whites. Boni’s original recipe called for potato starch only. I substituted “00” flour, with a little potato starch mixed in, which I find yields a lighter cake.* If you don’t have “00” flour on hand use cake flour as a substitute.

Torta Margherita makes an excellent base for a trifle. It is also good served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and strawberries macerated in sugar spooned on top, a la strawberry shortcake.

* Potato starch is a common ingredient in sponge cakes and in other Italian baked goods. It is pure white and has a fine texture, like cornstarch. It is said to produce a “lighter” and “fluffier” crumb. But that hasn’t been my experience (and, admittedly, my experience on this front is limited), which is why I opted for finely milled flour. One day I’m going to crack that potato starch code. If you have any insights on the subject I’d love to hear them.

* * * * * *

Join Abruzzo Presto and me for a culinary tour of Abruzzo ~ nine magical days in Italy’s most spectacular, undiscovered region. There are still a few spaces available for our fall tour, September 21-29, 2014. Click here for details.

Makes 10 to 12 servings

Torta Margherita

Similar to pan di spagna (sponge cake), Torta Margherita is a light and delicate cake, perfect for using as the base for a trifle. It's a bit tricky to execute so read the instructions carefully, including the Notes at the end of the recipe. Eggs provide the only leavening, so be sure to whip them properly. Dust generously with powdered sugar before serving, and serve with strawberries macerated in sugar. This recipe is adapted from one in Ada Boni's classic book, 'Il Talismano della Felicita.'

Ingredients

  • 6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature (see Notes)
  • 7 ounces (200 grams; 2 cups) confectioners' sugar, sifted to remove lumps, plus more for serving
  • 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams; 7 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened (it should be spreadable)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 4 1/3 ounces (125 grams; 1 cup) "00" flour or cake flour (see Notes)
  • 2/3 ounce (20 grams; 2 tablespoons) potato starch (see Notes)
  • 1 packet powdered vanilla or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (see Notes)
  • 1/8 teaspoon fine salt
  • Sliced strawberries (or other berries) macerated in sugar, for serving

Instructions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch round springform cake pan. Line the bottom with a 9-inch round of parchment paper and butter the parchment. Coat the interior of the pan lightly with flour, tapping out the excess.

In a large mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and fluffy. Beat in the butter, about 1 tablespoon at a time, taking care to incorporate it thoroughly after each addition. The mixture will lose a little volume but still be thick and glossy. Beat in the lemon zest (and, if using, the liquid vanilla extract).

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour and potato starch and, if using, the powdered vanilla. Gradually add the flour mixture to the egg yolk-sugar mixture, 1 heaping tablespoon at a time. I turned the mixer off each time I added another tablespoon to avoid kicking up lots of flour dust. The batter will be very thick.

Wash and dry the whisk attachment. Place the egg whites and salt in a clean mixing bowl. Beat on high until the whites are firm and billowy. Take care not to overheat the egg whites or you'll end up with big dry clumps of it, which will be hard to incorporate into the batter.

Spoon about 1/4 of the egg whites into the egg yolk-flour mixture and, with a large silicone spatula, gently stir the whites into the mixture until well blended. This will help to loosen the batter and make it easier to fold in the remaining egg whites. Scoop the rest of the whites into the mixture and gently fold until thoroughly incorporated. The whites will deflate some as they are incorporated but that is OK. Just take care to use a light hand to deflate the batter as little as possible. Here are detailed instructions on how to fold egg whites into batter.

Scrape the batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 40 minutes, or until the cake has risen, is golden-brown on top, and has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan. Set the pan on a cooling rack and cool for 30 minutes. Gently remove the ring from the pan, invert the cake onto a plate and peel off the parchment. Re-invert the cake onto the cooling rack and let cool to room temperature.

To serve, dust the cake generously with confectioners' sugar. Serve each slice with a spoonful of macerated strawberries and a scoop of vanilla ice cream, if you like.

NOTES Separate the eggs while they are still cold but let them come to room temperature before proceeding with the recipe.

"00" pastry flour is finely milled soft wheat flour, used to make pasta and pastries. Cake flour is a good substitute.

Potato starch is a common ingredient in Italian baked goods. It has a fine texture and adds moisture to cakes and pastries. I think it makes cakes a little chewy so I don't always use it when called for, though I wanted to keep a small amount in this recipe for the sake of authenticity. If you don't have potato starch or don't want to use it, substitute cornstarch or just use all flour.

Small packets of vanilla powder (such as Paneangeli brand) are available at many Italian grocery stores. Substitute 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract Add it to the wet ingredients when you add the lemon zest.

, ,

23 Responses to Please Don’t Eat the Daisies

  1. Rosa May (@RosasYummyYums) May 16, 2014 at 8:16 am #

    A lovely story and delightful cake!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. Helen Free May 16, 2014 at 9:11 am #

    Good ol’ Ada Boni. Thanks for this icing-less cake (my favorite kind) and for this precious story plis a peek at your pottery that I admire so much.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 16, 2014 at 9:22 pm #

      I almost always prefer icing-less cake anymore, Helen. Although once in a blue moon I do get a craving for piece of bakery cake with that thick, ultra-sweet bakery frosting…Thanks for reading, friend.

      • jamielifesafeast May 17, 2014 at 2:54 am #

        I am thinking that slicing it in two to make two layers and slipping in a thin spread of cherry jam and a thin layer of whipped cream or vanilla pastry cream could really dress this up! But my men would prefer it as is.

        • Domenica Marchetti May 18, 2014 at 5:03 pm #

          Ooh that sounds divine, Jamie. Or strawberry or blackberry jam. I love this idea. Thank you for the inspiration.

  3. Ciao Chow Linda May 16, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    There goes that beautiful marble counter again. Well, the story was delightful (you don’t even remember your prom date’s name?) and so is the cake. It kind of sounds a bit like pan di spagna. Is it like that? And that table covering of margueritas was the perfect foil for the cake.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 16, 2014 at 9:24 pm #

      I have a terrible memory in general, Linda. I need to start taking ginkgo or something. Yes, the cake is similar to pan di spagna, but it has a bit of butter mixed in. That seems to be the main difference.

  4. familystyle food (@familystylefood) May 16, 2014 at 4:38 pm #

    Sounds like your date was a man ahead of his time – foraging for edible plants is all the rage these days 🙂
    I’ve made this cake again and again over the years – I love its simplicity and the texture is so perfect for serving with fresh berries.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 16, 2014 at 9:25 pm #

      I like your perspective, Karen. And yes, I agree; the perfect foil for fresh berries. Cheers, D

  5. jamielifesafeast May 17, 2014 at 2:52 am #

    I love your stories. I love the idea of that young man and his colored chalk invitation and the weirdness of your own prom date. All leading into this beautiful, perfect cake. Perfect for summer and summer berries. I now have to make it so I can see what that bit of potato starch does to the sponge. Pretty as a daisy.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 18, 2014 at 5:12 pm #

      Jamie ~ I’m going to make the cake with only potato starch and see what happens. I did make a version that was half flour, half starch but that was just too heavy. Eliminating most of the starch took care of that problem. I can’t imagine that using only potato starch would yield a lighter cake, but based on what you and others have said on FB, I’m now curious. More research (and more cake) needed, obviously!

  6. Gail Magnani May 18, 2014 at 10:32 am #

    Lovely story, Domenica. I printed the recipe right away so I won’t forget to try it out. Since you explained that “daisy” translates to “margherita”, what do you think is the significance of the buffalo mozzarella/fresh basil pizza called “margherita”? I’m trying to make a daisy connection but my brain can’t seem to squeeze one out.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 18, 2014 at 5:10 pm #

      Gail, the cake is named for Regina Margherita, the queen consort of Italy. Pizza Margherita was created in 1889 by a Neapolitan pizza maker in the queen’s honor. The colors (red tomato, green basil, white mozzarella) represent the colors of the Italian flag.

  7. elisa May 20, 2014 at 9:08 am #

    When a was a kid my father, who loved cakes, use to make a Torta Margherita for my birthdays and he he slathered Nutella in between two layers. It was my favorite cake and so was his! I loved the story of your prom date!

    • Domenica Marchetti May 22, 2014 at 11:44 am #

      Thank you, Elisa. I’m glad you enjoyed the story. Thanks for your Nutella suggestion ~ a good one!

  8. paninigirl May 20, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    What a delightful story! Maybe your date just happens to read you blog…

  9. Frank Fariello May 22, 2014 at 8:05 am #

    Two sweet stories for a sweet recipe… I like it! And thanks for the link, Domenica. Trust you’re enjoying this mild (if rainy) spring.

    • Domenica Marchetti May 22, 2014 at 11:46 am #

      Frank, can you believe we’ve had an actual spring here?! Usually we go right from cold to hot. This has been a welcome change, especially the last few days of cool mornings and evenings, with daytime temps in the 70s. A real treat. Hope you’re enjoying it as well.

  10. Farah @ The Cooking Jar May 27, 2014 at 4:57 pm #

    I just had to leave a comment saying I loved that story! Both the boy on the car for his dramatic prom asking out and your own prom date eating flowers 🙂

    • Domenica Marchetti May 27, 2014 at 6:34 pm #

      Farah, welcome. Thank you for reading and for leaving a comment. When I saw that boy sitting so confidently on top of his car I just had to smile. Young love and all…Cheers, D

Leave a Comment

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox

Join other followers: