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Never judge by appearances! Sbrisolona, for instance, a traditional almond cake, has a rough, uneven appearance, and yet, as soon as you taste a bite, its exquisiteness wins you over. It is so good that even the noble and wealthy members of the House of Gonzaga - dukes of Mantua - were very fond of this cake. Sbrisolona originates as a cake made by Mantua poor peasant families, who, in order to save money, prepared it with corn flour only, hazelnuts and lard, instead of the more expensive butter. It is an absolutely delicious cake, for its firm but crumbly texture, for its simple and unmistakable flavour. And, as tradition has it, Sbrisolona is to be placed at the center of the table, be broken into pieces and eaten with your hands.
INGREDIENTS (for a 20cm/7.8in cake pan)
For the cake:
200g/7oz pastry flour
70g/2.4oz corn flour
2 egg yolks
20ml/0.6fl oz brandy
For the zabaglione:
1 egg yolk per person
1 tbsp sugar per person
1 tbsp Marsala wine per person
Turn on the oven to a 160°C/320°F temperature in convection mode. Arrange the unpeeled almonds on a cutting board and pound them with a meat mallet. In a large bowl, fold the sugar into the butter, at room temperature, the broken almonds, the flour and the grated lemon zest. Combine the ingredients by rubbing them, as if you were washing your hands. You'll have to form a crispy dough, quite similar to a crumble. Finally add the egg yolks and the brandy, repeating the same movement.
Put the dough into the cake pan, without flattening it, as its surface has to remain full of irregularities. Bake for 30 minutes in the oven. Prepare the zabaglione at the very last minute. Use a deep steel bowl and a whip, that you will use energetically. An electric mixer can also be used. Add the egg yolk or the egg yolks - depending on the number of guests - then stir in sugar and Marsala wine, blending it all. Heat water in a pot on your induction hob, and bring it amost to a boil, then put the bowl with the ingredients to cook on it on a bain-marie.
Never stop whipping the zabaglione: it will take about 10-15 minutes before it gets soft and velvety. Serve the zabaglione in small ceramic bowls, break the Sbrisolona into irregular pieces and serve it after having sprinkled it with sugar.