For a long time, Italian cookbook author Benedetta Jasmine Guetta debated the origins of bocca di dama, a delicate almond cake her Libyan grandmother made. Was it Italian or Libyan? She wasn’t sure.
While researching her book “Cooking alla Giudia: A Celebration of the Jewish Food of Italy,” she learned the recipe zigzagged around the Mediterranean: “While the origins of this cake are most likely Portuguese, it had a first wave of popularity in Italy in 1660, in Livorno, when a local Jewish baker served it to the grand duke of the region,” she writes. Through trade routes between Tripoli and Livorno, the cake spread to the Jewish community in Libya. When families like hers moved to Italy in the 20th century, they brought it with them — and nearly 400 four hundred years after its first wave of popularity, it became fashionable again.
Cook’s note: The frosted cake keeps well in the fridge, wrapped in aluminum foil, for a couple of days. If left unfrosted, the cake keeps well at room temperature for up to a week.
Read more about Benedetta’s family on our partner the Jewish Food Society’s archive and find more Passover recipes here.
Excerpted from “Cooking alla Giudia” by Benedetta Jasmine Guetta (Artisan Books). Copyright © 2022.
For the Cake:
7 large eggs, separated, plus 2 large egg whites
2 cups (220 g) almond flour or finely ground almonds
1 ¼ cups (300 g) granulated sugar
Sliced almonds for sprinkling
For the Icing:
2⁄3 cup (80 g) confectioners’ sugar
2 large (60 g) egg whites
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line the bottom of a 10-inch (25 cm) springform pan with parchment paper. To make the cake, in a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, beat the 7 (180 g) egg whites on medium speed for about 5 minutes, until stiff peaks form.
- In another large bowl, using the handheld mixer (no need to clean the beaters), beat together the almond flour or ground almonds, egg yolks, granulated sugar, and the remaining 2 (60 g) egg whites on medium speed until well combined, about 5 minutes.
- Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the beaten egg whites into the almond mixture until just combined, then scrape the batter into the prepared pan.
- Bake the cake for about 35 minutes, until golden; a wooden skewer inserted into the center should come out clean. If the top of the cake starts to brown too fast, cover it loosely with foil.
- Let the cake cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edges of the pan and gently remove the springform ring. Let cool completely.
- In a small skillet, toast the sliced almonds over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes, until just browned. Remove from the heat and let cool.
- To prepare the icing, in a large bowl, using a handheld mixer, whip the confectioners’ sugar with the egg whites on high speed to make a light, glossy icing.
- Preheat the broiler (or use a kitchen torch).
- Cover the cake with the icing, then sprinkle the sliced almonds on top. Place the cake under the broiler for 3 to 5 minutes, until the top of the cake is golden (or use the kitchen torch). Let cool.
- Lift the cake carefully from the bottom of the springform pan and peel off the parchment paper, then transfer to a serving plate.