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Demanding Desserts: Bolognese Torta di Riso

Torta di riso

Our friend Leona (so dubbed for his ever-so-slight similarities to the phone-flinging hotelier) invited us to dinner this past weekend and as I generally do, I offered to bring dessert. He is an accomplished cook, lovely friend, and one of the few people not afraid to invite us over for dinner (sigh…), so I am always happy to bring something along to Leona’s, particularly since he’s gluten-free and safe baked goods are generally few and far between. This time around, though, he went all-out “only the little people pay taxes” on me and specified a dessert that was not only gluten-free, but dairy-free as well. Lord.

Now, this isn’t nearly as complicated as it may seem, what with decent gluten-free all-purpose flour blends and various types of vegetable shortening. And yet… shortening? Blergh. I think not. So, a recipe with no gluten and no butter OR shortening. Pavlova? Ehh, with no whipped cream (CREAM) or fruit curd (BUTTER), it’d seem a bit spare. Daquoise? Same issue.

I was discussing this challenge with Dae Dae, our PassionFruits European correspondent, and she suggested a torta Bolognese, an Italian cake flavored with citrus and nuts, but mercifully sans flour and butter. Intrigued, I put my Google-ing hat on and got to it. Turns out  that torta Bolognese is a cheesey baked pasta dish… neither gluten-free, dairy-free, or even a dessert. Undaunted, I pressed on to figure out that she’d been talking about Bolognese torta di riso, which does indeed have candied citron and ground almonds and relies on rice for body. SOLD!

Four different “ricettas”, some iffy Google translating, a few adjustments, and voila, we have cake! It’s basically rice pudding that gets almond flour, egg yolks, and candied citrus peel mixed in and then lightened with beaten egg whites. Of course, I had to fudge a bit on the whole dairy thing, but I think using almond milk to cook the rice rather than cow’s milk is legit.

Legit, and delicious. Cake-y around the edges, pudding-y in the middle, and suffused throughout with the flavors of almond, citrus, and vanilla, this was a big winner. The starch from the rice held everything together, but the beaten egg whites kept it from being gluey or heavy, a common fault of gluten-free baked goods. Instead, it was lush and creamy–without, mind you, any actual cream. Perfect not just for the gluten-free or lactose-intolerant, but even for the most demanding of dessert divas!

I suggest a 10″ springform pan in the recipe, but I’d think a 9×13″ would work just as well, if not better for cutting into the traditional small diamond shape pieces. Just keep an eye on it towards the end of baking. Several of the recipes I found suggested doing the rice the day before, this would make for a lighter lift, certainly. And, having made this a few times now, I’d go for an everyday medium to long grain rice rather than a short grain risotto rice like Arborio. The latter makes for a slightly gloopier cake, even when baked.

Bolognese Torta di Riso
Yield: 10-12 servings

1 liter milk (whole, almond, whatever)
1/2 vanilla bean
1/4 tsp salt
zest of 1 lemon (in big pieces)
300 g sugar, divided
150 g medium grain rice
100 g candied citron
100 g almond flour
1 tbs ground bitter almond (or 1 tsp almond extract)
4 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
3 tbs almond liqueur
powdered sugar for dusting

Put the milk in a medium saucepan.   Split the vanilla bean half lengthwise, scrape out the seeds and add the seeds and scraped bean pieces into the saucepan. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the (thoroughly scrubbed, preferably organic) lemon in strips, trying not to take too much of the white pith with it. Add the zest, salt, and 1/3 (100g) of the sugar to the saucepan and bring to a boil.

Add the rice and reduce heat a bit so the mixture is just simmering. Cook, stirring regularly to prevent sticking, till almost all the moisture is absorbed, the rice is tender, and the spoon leaves a track in the rice when dragged through it–about 25 minutes.

While the rice is cooking, measure out the rest of the ingredients and finely dice the citron. Separate the eggs; the six yolks in one small bowl, the four whites in the bowl of a stand mixer or other large bowl. Grease a 10″ round springform pan, line the bottom with parchment, and dust with (gluten-free, in this case) flour. Knock out the excess and set aside. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Once the rice is done, remove the pot from the heat and spread the rice on a large, lipped platter to cool. Pick out the lemon zest and vanilla bean pieces. Discard the zest, but rinse and save the bean for vanilla sugar. As soon as the rice has cooled to room temperature, scrape it into a large mixing bowl.

Beat the egg whites with the whisk attachment of the stand mixer (or with a hand mixer) till it makes firm, but not stiff, peaks. To the cooled rice, stir in the remaining (200g) sugar, candied citron, almond flour, and egg yolks. Using a wide-bladed spatula, gently fold in the beaten egg whites. When the mixture is just evenly combined, scrape it into the prepared pan. Smooth it out and put in the preheated oven. Bake for 20 min, then reduce the heat to 300°F and bake an additional 45-55 minutes and the top is evenly golden brown.

Remove the cake from the oven and let sit for five minutes. poke the surface with a cake tester or toothpick and brush over the amaretto. Cool completely in the pan. Dust with powdered sugar before serving.

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