Torta Quattro Quarti al Vin Santo

Torta quattro quarti in Italian, pound cake in English. Either way, this is one of my favorite cakes to make and to eat. There is something magical about a cake that rises so beautifully without added leavening, producing that deep golden brown, slightly crunchy crust and those dramatic cracks that allow a peek into the pale, buttery interior.

Pound cake is British in origin (you probably know that), dating to the early 1700s. Four ingredients comprised the original recipe: one pound each of butter, eggs, flour, and sugar ~ plus all the elbow grease that was needed to beat enough air into the batter to allow the cake to properly rise in the oven. The stand mixer does the hard work now.

Even so, many modern pound cake recipes call for baking powder and/or soda. These ingredients may insure a good rise, but a pound cake with added leavening lacks the beautifully dense, velvety crumb of a true pound cake. So on this matter I am a purist ~ no extra leavening.

On the other hand, I am big on improvisation, and such a simple, basic recipe practically demands it, don’t you think? I do. For me this typically means an Italian twist. The first pound cake recipe I developed was for my book Big Night In. I played around with ratios a bit, decreasing the amount of eggs to six (about 12 ounces) and increasing the amount of fat to 1 1/4 lbs. I also substituted mascarpone for some of the butter, and folded in amarene (sour cherries).

A few years later I reworked the recipe for Williams-Sonoma Rustic Italian to make a more wintry dessert, omitting the cherries and adding a splash of dry Marsala, plus a compote of poached dried fruit as a garnish. Variations have come and gone since then. Here is the latest, in which Vin Santo takes the place of Marsala. It gives the cake a more delicate zabaglione flavor that is ideal for spring and summer. Farmers’ market strawberries were at their peak when I made this a few weeks ago, but of course fresh cherries, raspberries, or sliced peaches would go just as well, along with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

Makes 1 (10-inch) ring cake, to serve 12

Torta Quattro Quarti Al Vin Santo

Add a splash of Vin Santo, the Tuscan dessert wine, to classic American pound cake and the flavor becomes uniquely Italian. Serve this plain but rich cake with whipped cream or ice cream and fresh berries or sliced stone fruit.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups (12 oz) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
  • 3 cups (15 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the pan
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 cups (21 oz) sugar
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/3 cup Vin Santo
  • 1 cup (8 oz) mascarpone (may substitute sour cream, labneh, or Greek-style yogurt)
  • Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream and fresh fruit for serving

Instructions

Heat the oven to 325 degrees F. Lightly butter and flour a 10-inch tube pan or Bundt pan and set it aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and salt. Set aside.

Put the 1 1/2 cups butter in the bowl of a standing mixer and beat briefly on medium speed to soften. Gradually add the sugar, 1/2 cup at a time, and beat at high speed until light and airy, 5 full minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Beat in the vanilla. Change the speed to medium and beat in 1/3 of the flour mixture, followed by the Vin Santo. Beat in another 1/3 of the flour mixture, and then the mascarpone. Finally, beat in the remaining flour mixture until until incorporated.

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and shake lightly to even out the top. Bake until the cake is golden brown and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

When the cake is done, transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool for 20 minutes. Invert the cake onto a plate or another rack, and then re-invert to cool completely. Serve with the whipped cream or ice cream and fresh fruit.

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26 Responses to Torta Quattro Quarti al Vin Santo

  1. Mark A. Bauman June 28, 2017 at 9:10 am #

    I love Vin Santo (especially with Cantucci, of course), but how would this be made with Limoncello?

    • Domenica Marchetti June 28, 2017 at 11:47 am #

      That is an excellent question, Mark, and I think there is only one way to find out ~ try it! I would add some lemon zest as well. I may have to give this version a go myself. Thanks for the inspiration.

  2. Rosa Jeanne Mayland June 28, 2017 at 1:42 pm #

    Oh, this cake must taste divine! I love Vin Santo. A perfect summer dessert.

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  3. pblevitt June 28, 2017 at 2:51 pm #

    Ran out to buy the mascarpone this morning – 4th dessert with a side of marinated peaches & vin santo – Thank you Domenica!

  4. Marguerite Rigby June 28, 2017 at 4:03 pm #

    We are in Tuscany and we’ve already bought our first bottle of vin santo to bring home. This inspires me to tuck in a couple extra. P.S., we cooked the other day with your friend Giulia. So glad I found her through your blog!

    • Domenica Marchetti June 29, 2017 at 11:03 am #

      Fantastic, Marguerite! Giulia is the real deal. I’m so glad you and Jim sought her out. Cheers, D

  5. Marisa Franca @ All Our Way June 28, 2017 at 4:44 pm #

    The cake looks amazing. I love the denseness of the cake. I’ve been wanting to do the strawberries with balsamic and instead of ice cream I wonder how they would be with this delicious looking cake? The balsamic we were gifted is a chocolate flavored balsamic.

    • Domenica Marchetti June 29, 2017 at 11:04 am #

      My guess is that it would be delicious with this cake. Someone once gave me a bottle of chocolate balsamic. I wasn’t expecting to like it, but it was good ~ especially in desserts.

  6. Gail Maganani June 28, 2017 at 11:35 pm #

    Okay – I have to admit I am a tad skeptical about no leavening, but I thus far have had faith in your recipes with no disappointments! I am willing to haul out the KA and give it a whirl – probably will use peaches, as they are my very most favorite fruit in the WORLD! (only from Farmers’ markets; supermarket peaches are not even worth a second glance).

    • Domenica Marchetti June 29, 2017 at 11:05 am #

      I agree about supermarket peaches. There is nothing like peach season!

  7. Gail Maganani June 28, 2017 at 11:36 pm #

    Just had another thought – instead of vin santo, if I use peaches, I am wondering if amaretto would be a good match….

    • Domenica Marchetti June 29, 2017 at 11:06 am #

      I’ll bet it would be wonderful, Gail. Almonds and peaches go so well together. Give it a try!

  8. stefano June 29, 2017 at 5:16 am #

    lovely simple cake.
    Just an historical note: in Artusi (late 19th century, as u know): “quattro quarti all’italiana cake” is a cake where the sultanas he uses un the “quattro quarti all’inglese cake” (i.e. a pound cake with some sultanas) are replaced by chopped almonds + he also uses a touch of bic of soda to give lightness to the cake (I love both versions, with and without leavening)

    + one technical question: why did u substitute mascarpone for the butter? is a matter of flavor or texture?
    thanks

    • Domenica Marchetti June 29, 2017 at 11:08 am #

      Thanks for letting us know about Artusi’s take on the cake, Stefano. I have his book (both Italian and English) and will look for it. As for the mascarpone, I guess I was just experimenting. I had make pound cake with sour cream (also very good) and it seemed to me that mascarpone would work as a substitute. I haven’t tasted classic pound cake and mascarpone pound cake side by side, but I think the cheese adds to the tender and moist texture of the cake, and probably rounds out the flavor.

  9. D.J. June 29, 2017 at 8:20 am #

    I make homemade Limoncello so I may give Mark’s suggestion a go. Thanks for the recipe Domenica. I am sure it is awesome like all your others.

    • Domenica Marchetti June 29, 2017 at 11:10 am #

      Thank you! I am going to have to try Mark’s suggestion, too, as well as Gail’s to use Amaretto. Lots of possibilities…

  10. Chiara June 29, 2017 at 1:36 pm #

    la torta quattro quarti piace a tutti per la sua semplicità, questa variante è da annotare, grazie Domenica !

  11. ciaochowlinda June 29, 2017 at 3:39 pm #

    A cake for all seasons – and writing that draws you in. I am loving the ideas about peaches and amaretto and limoncello too. I have tried pound cakes with and without leavening and like them both ways. I may try this over the fourth of July weekend with berries.

  12. David July 6, 2017 at 10:11 am #

    You can be sure I will make this soon – and I am in total agreement with you: no extra leavening in a pound cake! It completely changes the texture. My only challenge will be finding a decent vin santo in Tucson!

  13. Mark A. Bauman July 18, 2017 at 5:07 pm #

    Domenica- the recipe turned out great. The variation with Limoncello and grated lemon zest, as suggested, worked very well. Very light and lemony. Thanks!

    • Domenica Marchetti July 19, 2017 at 8:18 am #

      Mark, thank you for reporting back with your results. I’m going to give this a try!

  14. Sandra Robinson July 28, 2017 at 2:44 pm #

    What can you use in place of the Vin Santo, I am assuming from the other comments that it’s wine. Normally don’t keep wine in the house and would hate to buy it just to make a cake. Not even sure if I can get it near me.

    • Domenica Marchetti July 28, 2017 at 4:15 pm #

      Hi Sandra, yes ~ vin santo is a Tuscan dessert wine, usually used as an accompaniment to biscotti. How about apple cider as a substitute, or orange juice if you want a citrus kick? Either of those should work fine. If you want a bit of booze, you could use sherry.

      • Sandra Robinson July 28, 2017 at 4:36 pm #

        Thank you

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