Torta margherita, one of several Italian specialties named after the Neapolitan Queen Margaret, is a simple cake, similar in texture to a chiffon cake. In summer, serve the cake plain with slightly sweetened fresh fruits. I make the cake in a tube pan, to serve eight, but baking it in two eight-inch cake pans gives you two cakes that will serve six or more if cut into thin slices, with the option of freezing one for later use.
2/3 cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon baking powder
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons vanilla sugar or granular sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon salt
Confectioners' sugar for sprinkling
Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter an 8 by 2½-inch springform tube pan or two 8 by 1½-inch round cake pans. Sift the cornstarch and baking powder together onto wax paper.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks until pale in color. Slowly beat in the sugar. Beat in the vanilla, lemon zest, and juice. Fold in the cornstarch mixture.
In a clean bowl, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the salt until stiff but not dry. With a rubber spatula, fold the whites into the egg yolk mixture a little at a time, taking care not to deflate the whites. Spread the batter evenly in the pan(s).
Bake for 20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown and springs back when pressed with your finger. Remove the cake(s) from the oven. If using a tube pan, invert the pan over a long-necked funnel or bottle and cool completely before removing from the pan. If using cake pans, let the cakes cool for just 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the cake pans and carefully turn the cakes out onto a cooling rack. Let cool completely.
To serve, sprinkle with confectioners' sugar and cut into wedges with a serrated knife. (This cake can be frozen for up to 1 month.)
This recipe is from CELEBRATIONS ITALIAN STYLE by Mary Ann Esposito, published by William Morrow and Company, Inc., in 1995.
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