Calabrian Walnut Cake (Torta di Noci) Recipe on Food52 (2024)

5 Ingredients or Fewer

by: Emiko



28 Ratings

  • Serves 6 to 8 people

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Author Notes

As walnut cakes go, this must be the simplest and most essential of them all. The cake itself is made of just three ingredients–walnuts, eggs and sugar. A little lemon zest adds a delicate, fresh aroma and powdered sugar makes it pretty.

It's a traditional cake from Calabria in southern Italy–the sort of cake that was born out of age-old peasant traditions; the sort of cake that your nonna might whip up and have sitting on her kitchen bench, ready to be offered to guests with a short, dark stove-top espresso for breakfast or an afternoon snack. Yes, cake for breakfast.

This walnut cake seems rather humble when compared to other Calabrian sweets, which have a tendency to be deep fried, filled with custard or jam, and covered in honey, dark chocolate, or sprinkles.

This cake, however, is elegant in its simplicity and so incredibly moist–it reminds me of the Spanish Tarta de Santiago Almond Cake. The walnuts are pulverized in the food processor, so it's chunkier and a little more rustic than a cake made with almond meal. In my opinion, it needs nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar.

This recipe is taken from a 1960s volume of Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, who suggests splitting the cake and sandwiching it with a light lemon butter icing. It remains moist for several days–if it isn't eaten all by then.

**** An update to this recipe 11/9/14 ****
After reading a couple of comments that people have had difficulty with this cake (removing it from the pan, crumbling, being underdone inside), I wanted to retest this recipe again and offer some more advice–including testing the suggestion by the original author of this recipe, Ada Boni, who advises to fill this cake with a lemon buttercream. So–first, some better description on the texture of this cake. It is a very moist cake, it may even appear underdone to some - but do not fear. Let it rest a day. This cake is possibly even better a day or two old.

Secondly, I would advise using baking paper to line your cake tin. Use springform if you prefer. Bake as described (I actually find personally that this cake cooks better at a slightly lower temperature, around 350F as walnuts–like a lot of nuts–have a tendency to burn easily). Remove from the oven when the top of the well-browned cake is firm to the touch. Let the cake cool in the tin before removing from the tin. Wrap in plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until chilled. This seems to give it a bit of time to settle and will be easier to handle. It will still crumble a little when slicing but if you are careful, you won't have any problem getting pretty, nice slices.

Now on to the buttercream. This is a WONDERFUL idea! It's even better than the cake on its own, lifts it to something extra special. I followed a couple of recipes I found online for lemon buttercream using 2 egg whites, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1 stick of butter and the zest of 1 lemon. Whip the whites with the sugar over a double broiler for a few minutes minutes or until the mixture is warm and you can no longer feel the sugar granules if you rub it between your fingers. Remove from heat, beat 8 more minutes or until mixture has returned to room temperature. Slowly add the butter bit by bit, beating all the way until you have a glossy, smooth buttercream. Add zest and chill the mixture. Carefully cut the cake in half so you have two thin discs (this is a little tricky with a crumbly cake but if the cake is well-chilled it is easier). Fill with about half of the buttercream mixture. Place the top disc on top and cover the rest of the cake with the rest of the icing (I covered the top and just did a "crumb coat" around the sides). I topped it with some diced candied fruit for decoration but it's lovely just as it is. This lemon buttercream is a great pairing for this cake and it also is wonderfully forgiving as it hides any flaws, including crumbling, splitting or even an inside that might seem too soft/moist - it's hard to describe but the buttercream just holds it all together in the most amazing way! It also keeps very well for a few days and holds together very, very nicely. So for anyone else having a little trouble handling this flourless cake, I would highly recommend trying the lemon buttercream filling! —Emiko

  • Test Kitchen-Approved

What You'll Need

  • 3/4 pound(340 grams or about 3 cups) shelled walnuts
  • 4 eggs, separated
  • 1 cup(225 grams) caster sugar (superfine sugar)
  • Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
  • Confectioners' sugar for dusting
  1. Pulverize the walnuts in a food processor until you have a coarse meal, the texture of sand.
  2. Prepare a round 9-inch cake pan by greasing and lining it with parchment paper.
  3. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the lemon zest and walnut meal and stir to combine. Whisk the egg whites in a separate bowl until they form stiff peaks. Fold the whites bit by bit into the walnut mixture until well combined.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake pan and bake at 375º F (190º C) for about 50 minutes, or until the top is firm and browned nicely. Let cool completely in the pan before removing. This cake is even better the day after it is made or after it has had some time to settle -- wrap in plastic wrap tightly and let chill in fridge until 1 hour before serving. Dust with confectioners' sugar or do as Ada Boni suggests and fill or cover the cake with a lemon buttercream.


  • Cake
  • Italian
  • Walnut
  • 5 Ingredients or Fewer
  • Gluten-Free
  • Dessert

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98 Reviews

Tori S. July 24, 2023

Thank you for this delicious recipe! My mom grew up in Germany and I was raised on European torts, and this reminds me so much of the desserts of my childhood. Its not just simple to make, its fun to make! Yeah, I find beating egg whites by hand a little cathartic. It is worth it to weigh the nuts. I try not to use sugar anymore and my mom keeps honeybees so I used 3/4 cup of honey like another reviewer did. It beat up beautifully with the egg yolks and I added the lemon zest to this and let it sit while I ground the nuts and whipped the egg whites. A lot of people mentioned the nut mix being very thick and having difficulty folding in the whites. I was taught to always take the first spoonfull, about 1/3 cup, of egg whites and mix them into the base to get it moving, and then fold in the rest. It works everytime. My oven is screwy and set at 350 was measuring 400 when I checked the thermometer I have inside it. I went ahead and put the tort in and lowered the temp until it came to to 350. I checked it at the 45 minute mark and it was perfectly done. I could see making this with orange zest for a slightly different spin. The beauty of these torts is they just get better, but they are so delicious they don't last long. Now I want to play with this recipe with other nuts, hmm, maybe hazelnuts and cocoa nibs? Thanks again for bringing back my childhood for a moment! Isn't all great food great memories?

Starmade May 23, 2023

I live where fresh pecans are easy to obtain. I have made the cake a couple times with pecans and once I made an version with a mix of pecans and walnuts when I did not have enough of either to do it. Also use less sugar -probably about 2/3 -3/4 cup- because I prefer things less sweet and when baking I always use the smallest amount I think I can get away with. It is true the folding in the egg white is difficult at first but adding it in stages has always worked out in the end, and it has always turned out the most delicious dessert ever. I generally cook at a little lower temp until it looks done and have never had any trouble. It is forgiving if you have slightly less nuts or sugar or different oven temps. I am sure there are lots of people here who will think I did not follow the recipe at all, but I follow the spirit of it.

Polly May 20, 2023

Tasty simple gluten free cake.
However I found combining the ground walnuts with the egg and sugar mixture impossible. Way too many nuts to do this. Creating a thick paste. So I left half or over half of the ground nuts to fold in gradually with the beaten egg whites.

50 mins at 190 too long and possibly too hot. I removed after 40 and was done but the bottom on the edge of being burned. I’d try standard 180 next time and maybe check after 30 mins. It would have been very crisp with a charcoal bottom after 50 mins.

Moist and light and a lovely flavour but I’d say the recipe instructions and timing needs a bit of work.

Emiko May 21, 2023

Thank you for sharing your experience making this cake. Please be assured that I have tested this multiple times from Ada Boni's original recipe (which was published almost a century ago in the 1920s). But I also live in Italy, like Ada Boni, and I think that a huge part of this issue that you had may have had something to do with the walnuts themselves -- particularly their age and the grinding, but just maybe perhaps also the variety. There are a few little factors here that make this difficult to be one set, standard recipe that works anywhere in the world, I think. I haven't tested for high altitude for example either. But I'm glad you thought to remove it earlier, this could be that your oven runs a bit hot perhaps (or you had fan on?), I test with a thermometer inside the oven too to make sure it's running how it should (you'd be surprised how often there is a difference!). Again, thanks for the feedback, this helps others be aware to check their cakes too!

phip October 16, 2022

Erythritol.....Help! Advice?.....Love this recipe as is but we have to avoid sugar at all costs. I am experimenting with Erythritol. I am using Lakanto brand, Sugar free Monkfruit baking sweetener which recommends a 1 to 1 sugar replacement ratio. Given the cost (and the sweetness) this seems like an extravagance. Anyone had any successful experience with Erythritol?

JanM September 5, 2023

I have used the Lakanto Monkfruit / Erythritol sweetener 1:1 - works well. Not quite the same taste as sugar but perfect if you must avoid sugar. (I have also used light brown sugar and maple syrup, which also work well.)

Debora A. April 28, 2022

I made this cake (without buttercream frosting) and it turned out wonderful. I want to make the buttercream next time but I only have a stand mixer and not sure how I can beat egg whites while double-boiling. Any suggestions?

smb February 3, 2022

My family is Calabrian and I never heard of this cake. But I do make merengue cookies with almond slivers--so I was thinking of substituting almond meal and adding almond extract then topping with an apricot glaze (possibly some berries as well). This recipe is so versatile and healthy. Thanks for posting it--I did not see Ada Bpni's original. In addition I am gluten free and it's wonderful to find naturally healthy gluten free desserts.

I am currently working on a gluten free version of honey turdill cookies. My mother used to make a powdered sugar version of the cookies that was fried but much lighter and airier. I am looking for that version as well.

KSDB December 26, 2021

I haven't made this version, but I've made Ada Boni's original recipe. It's hands down the best cake I've ever made or eaten. If you haven't made this recipe yet, do!

The temperature in this recipe - 375 - is the same as the original, and that temperature has worked for me whenever I've made this cake. But walnuts are delicate. My advice would be to double check oven calibration before making this the first time. The size and color (dark or light) or the pan can also make a big difference in how a particular temperature works!

Drogers92 December 3, 2021

BAKE IT AT 350! Why hide the correct baking temp in the fine print? I pulled my cake 10 minutes early and it still burnt a little. Change the recipe to say 350 instead of setting people up for failure by hiding instructions! Many in the comments either has baked the cake at a lower temp or pulled it early. Not everyone is going to read through 8 extra paragraphs of info for things that would be included in any well written recipe. Go back and edit this in so you don't waste another person's ingredients.

phip October 16, 2022

Agree. My observation is that this turns out best when put into the hotter temperature and then immediately turning down the temp. That way the eggs white get that initial blast to do their thing and the cooler temp allows the walnuts to cook properly and not burn. For what its worth my fancy oven is all over the place temperature wise.

Diane A. October 23, 2020

This was amazing! I used a springform pan. The next time I will bake it at 360 rather than 375 (the edges burnt a bit). But a real winner of a recipe!

Debora A. September 6, 2020

One reviewer said she cut sugar in half. I was not quite as brave so I used only 2/3 cups. My oven does better baking at lower temperature so I baked at 350 for 1 hr 10 minutes. Came out perfect. Next time I will try with half a cup. I think the cake would be good without the lemon zest but it added a hint of freshness so it's a great addition.

arlette May 10, 2020

Hello! I absolutely LOVE this cake!
1- I was there anyway to replace the sugar with honey?

2- In the past I've used a food processor but currently I don't have one. I think I'll finely chop the walnuts. Anyone else done that? I read some of the reviews but didn't see anything on that.

3-*Would love to have a keyword search feature to search reviews.*

Thx a bunch! :)

arlette May 11, 2020

So I made it with Honey! I'm posting this in case someone would like to try honey in this recipe in place of sugar.
PS: I would use a lighter tasting honey next time, maybe like an orange blossom.

I used 2/3cup of honey and lowered the temp to 350.
Baked it for 40mins. Turned it very nice.
I did notice a slight difference in taste.
With the sugar the lemon rind taste really comes through, which is so nice.
I grounded the walnuts in a Vitamix blender; very briefly, carefully and in small batches to keep it all consistent. :)

Skyler23 January 15, 2020

I've made this cake several times. Its insanely good...gets better as it 'ages'. Its dense, nutty, and a great comfort cake for your afternoon tea. My celiac suffering sister in law was in heaven to be able to enjoy a treat that is so so good and gluten free! Make it, you will love it!

November 14, 2019

Cake came out as pictured and was very moist, especially with the lemon buttercream mentioned in the recipe notes. Things of note:
-Without access to castor sugar, I used the food processor to create some. My egg yolk/sugar mixture never got creamy/pale. It was rather thick and dense like cookie dough, which was only compounded by the addition of the walnuts. However, once the whipped egg whites were gently incorporated it turned into the batter I was expecting. Possibly my yolks were smaller than normal or the homemade "castor" sugar wasn't fine enough, but it worked out in the end.
-I stirred the lemon zest into the sugar and let it sit for an hour before starting the recipe, rather than adding it after beating the sugar and egg yolks. The sugar really extracted the oils from the zest and I ended up with a wonderfully fragrant cake.
-Cooking time: Using the 9-inch diameter pan called for my cake was well browned and firm well before the 50 minutes, around the 35 minute mark. I tested with a thermometer and removed when it was 190F in the core. Once cooled it was perfect inside.
-Based on my prior experience removing nut-based cakes from their pans, I opted for a springform pan and it released/removed perfectly.
All in all, a great cake! Thanks for the recipe!

PG B. October 24, 2019

Can this recipe be made into sheet cake?

Alex T. September 2, 2019

I made this cake today, with half a cup of sugar and a half cup of Splenda (instead a cup of sugar); This is a top notch yummy cake, and very easy to make. Thanks for the recipe.

ZestnBest August 22, 2019

Just tried this recipe tonight, and signed up to the website I found it on just to be able to say how AWESOME it is. I followed the recipe almost exactly ( except for adding an extra egg; going by the consistency of the yolk and sugar mixture based on watching my mother make many similar such cakes)
The texture and taste is sublime. The simplicity of it, incredible. And I would say that for a cake, it's within a reasonably healthy range.

Lina July 30, 2019

Is it possible to halve the ingredients to make a smaller cake that serves 3-4? I have a 6" cake pan I'd like to use... and since the recipe is so simple, I thought it might be possible.

(170 grams or about 1.5 cups) shelled walnuts
2 eggs, separated
1/4 cup (55 grams) caster sugar (superfine sugar) I'd like to make it less sweet
Finely grated zest of 1/2 lemon
Confectioners' sugar for dusting

Ellen April 26, 2019

Cake is delicious fresh but refrigerating makes it moist. I reduced the sugar by half and it was perfectly sweet.

nancy E. April 19, 2019

Emiko, some people here say they toasted their walnuts first which makes sense. How can the walnuts inside the cake get that nice flavour if not toasted? What do you recommend?

Kris April 19, 2019

We didn't toast and it was fine. But we like to eat raw walnuts.

nancy E. April 19, 2019

Thank you

elisa March 31, 2019

I absolutely love this cake, it’s my new favorite dessert! I have made it six times now, and anyone who eats it immediately becomes addicted. I don’t know how only these four ingredients can make such a perfect taste and texture, but I am beyond pleased that Emiko has shared this recipe.
I find that that once you add the walnuts to the egg yolk and sugar blend, it is very hard to fold in egg whites. I find that mixing in the walnuts slowly with a wooden or rubber spatula, a little at a time helps. You do have to use some muscles but the payoff is definitely worth it. Thank you, Emiko!

Calabrian Walnut Cake (Torta di Noci) Recipe on Food52 (2024)


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