Fair warning: I MAY have gone a bit crazy with pics on this post. I was trying out new techniques both pre-and post processing and decided to put them all on here for your consumption. Hope they tantalize your eyebuds!
The other day my good friend and colleague came to work and handed me a book. It was a small book of recipes from GAS – Gruppo di Aquisto Solidale (Cascina), each recipe contributed from one of the many families who formed a part of this “bulk purchase” group. These groups are very popular all over Italy but it wasn’t until recently that I discovered them myself.
What is GAS, you ask?
In each community, various farmers, anyone with a garden overwhelmed with produce, or even small lot producers of pasta, honey, or other alimentari can join and put their wares for sale. To cut a long story short, you sign up to become a part of this group, and then can browse the various producers to see what they have available and either buy from them individually, or get together with some friends and buy things in bulk. Often they will have a “default” mix and if you order a basket from them you’ll get an assortment of various fruits and vegetables at their peak, all fresh and all more or less at KM0. This is a fantastic way to support your local community – but more than that. It’s a great way to experiment with new fruits and vegetables. I won’t get into that here, as this post is on cake, but suffice it to say that come winter, I can’t wait to get my hands on as many different types of winter squash and artichokes as possible.
I had had this little book of recipes in my hand for not more than 2 seconds when my colleague leaned over my shoulder and said, “I recommend the torta all’aqua”. The “water cake”, I thought to myself dubiously fearing that I had mistranslated, once again, something that I would later repeat to other friends much to their amusement.
“Yes. It’s delicious.” A dreamy look entered his eye. He brought his hand up to his lips and kissed his fingertips. He then turned and went back to his desk and I swear I saw a tear drop onto his keyboard (I work with developers remember) which he wiped away quickly with a scrap piece of paper rife with 1’s and 0’s.
OK so that didn’t happen at all.
He did say it was good, and then scooted back to his desk and went back to work.
I was curious though.
“Water cake”? What is this all about? I looked up the “Depression Cake” or “Wacky Cake” that had similar ingredients, but noticed that they were not the same. This cake required nothing more than some flour, sugar, yeast, oil, and water and didn’t require me to put it all in one pan with strategically placed holes everywhere.
“I’ll have to make it as soon as possible”. I thought to myself. Even that weekend. Even that night. Dammit! I should leave work right now and make this cake! Alas! This was not possible what with bills to pay and mouths to feed, but I filed the thought away and went back to my reports.
When I did find myself with a few moments to spare which could have been used for something much better than making cake (I say that, but really it was more my husband’s thoughts as he glanced ruefully at our unkempt bathroom and sticky floors) I wondered how it would come out seeing as I was still using my unreliable gas oven and old yeast.
I quickly got out all of my ingredients determined to use my weigh scale in grams and to not, I repeat, NOT, for once change something in the recipe. Do I fancy myself a recipe developer? I dabble. I had already decided that I was in the mood for something chocolatey with a kick though so while I gathered up the ingredients that the recipe called for, I also brewed up some espresso, got out my unsweetened cocoa, and a little cinnamon.
I set the measuring cup onto my kitchen scale and started to pour in flour a little at a time until I got to the recommended 200g. I noticed though that my measuring cup (easily 2 quarts) was nearly three quarters full and the grams on my scale had still not hit 100. Something was wrong.
Sighing deeply (because who sighs lightly, I ask?) I got my phone and US measuring cups and started making conversions the old fashioned way. Old fashioned for the new generation that is, I looked up a conversion tool online and got to work.
After I had my oven pre-warmed, my spring form pan buttered and floured up, and batter poured in, I set it down harshly on the counter to release any bubbles and help the batter settle, opened the oven, slid in the cake, and held my breath. This would not be the first time that I had tried to make something in my gas stove and had it turn out completely burnt on the top and raw in the middle.
Thirty-five minutes later, I plucked a toothpick from the shot glass above my sink, opened the oven door, and plunged it into my cake. As I pulled it out, I waited for the toothpick to show me my worst fear – batter.
But I needn’t have worried. My toothpick came out clean. So clean in fact, that I had to poke my beautiful cake a few more times just to be sure.
Now, this cake is not sickeningly sweet or overwhelmingly chocolatey. By itself it is pleasant. I found myself having a little slice here and there and being satisfied afterwards. No weird taste left in my mouth that really sugary sweet cakes often leave.
This cake, on it’s own, is your “everyday cake” – an old standard. It will never let you down, and you can dress it up or down. If you did want to dress this cake up a bit, I would do so with a rich buttercream chocolate icing – like this one.
I will definitely make this torta all’aqua again though. It is versatile and lends itself to any number of flavours – add some lemon zest for a lemony cake and leave out the cocoa, add straight vanilla, play with it, you really can’t go wrong. It’s a simple Saturday afternoon cake that you can make with your little girl or boy and not worry too much about their helping hands.
Let me know how it goes in the comments! Did you have any problems making it? What flavor combination did you try? I’d love to hear from you!