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At Christmas time in our part of the world there is a Sbrisolona on every table, bringing good luck to the entire family. The odd name comes from the Mantova dialect and means ‘sbriciolare’ ‘to crumble’, because of the very crumbly consistency of the cake. This recipe originated around 1600 in the grand Gonzaga court of the Duchy of Mantova, and soon became popular throughout the more modest houses of the Po Valley. It is said that walnuts, which are more typical of our area, were originally used instead of almonds. But walnuts were meant to be the ‘fruits of the witches’, while almonds have luckier significance, meaning ‘light’ and ‘rebirth’. Hence the change of ingredient!
250 g of white flour
150 g of cornflour
200 g of sugar
200 g of unsalted butter
200 g of almonds
A few drops of vanilla extract
Keep aside a spoons or two of the sugar, to be sprinkled on the cake when it is cooked. Keep aside a handful of whole almonds - 7 or 8 whole for the decoration and the others for the mixture.
Coarsely grind the rest of the almonds.
Put them a in bowl together with the white flour and cornflour, the sugar, the soft butter in pieces (take it out of the fridge 30 mins before), 2 egg yolks, the vanilla and grated lemon peel. Mix it all quickly using your hands until the yolks and butter are well integrated. The mixture should be very airy and ‘sandy’. Taking care not to compress it, put the mixture by hand into a buttered spring form cake pan (25 cm diameter).
Decorate with whole almonds. Bake in a Bertazzoni oven at 170°C for 35-40 minutes. Just out of the oven sprinkle with the sugar.
Even if you are serving your Torta Sbrisolona at a formal dinner party, don’t try and cut it with a knife into regular slices. It’s so crumbly you will find it impossible!