Toscakake: a crowd-pleasing favorite
A light cake with buttery, caramelized almond topping and a mysterious history
Christy Olsen Field
“Mom, I think I just found your new favorite cake,” I said on the phone as the glaze and sliced almonds glistened under the broiler.
My family loves anything with almond: Spritz cookies, almond croissants, kransekake. If it has almond extract, it’s a winner in my Norwegian-American family.
I came across the recipe for toscakake last month in my search for a cake that I could sell in the 17th of May Café at the Nordic Heritage Museum. I discovered it in Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclar, a slim book with recipes for coffee breads, cakes, pastries, and traditional favorites from the Nordic region.
Toscakake is an almond sponge cake leavened with egg whites and topped with a buttery caramel of toasted sliced almonds. The winning combination of cake and almonds is a crowd pleaser: short list of ingredients, not too sweet, and equally delicious in the morning or afternoon. And it takes less than 45 minutes to make, from start to finish.
But when I began to research so I could learn more about this delightful cake, very little information showed up.
Sinclair says nothing about its history in her recipe headnotes in Scandinavian Classic Baking, and toscakake didn’t show up at all in my copy of Norwegian National Recipes by Ardis Kaspersen and Arne Brimi.
The internet didn’t reveal much either, as I browsed my favorite Norwegian food blogs and websites. I even searched with Sweden and Denmark’s Google sites, but nothing came up about the history of this cake.
Some say that toscakake has Swedish or Danish origins, and many say it is a Norwegian cake. A few suggest that there is a connection to the opera Tosca, written by Giacomo Puccini in 1900. But there is one common thread through all the comments and recipes: Toscakake is a favorite among Norwegians.
I have baked this cake several times now, and here are some tips I’ve picked up along the way:
• Use a hand mixer when beating the egg whites, as this allows the best control over the texture. The first couple of times I made this cake, the egg whites became overbeaten, and the cake texture suffered as a result. Learn from my mistake: Use the hand mixer, and use two different bowls.
• When the cake is finished, the sides will be pulled away from the sides of the pan. This is very important, as the glazed goodness will spread down the sides of the cake.
• Let the cake cool for a few minutes after broiling, then remove the springform ring. This will make for a more attractive cake (not to mention easier cleanup).
It took me a long time to discover toscakake, but it’s now in my Norwegian Baking Hall of Fame.
Adapted from Scandinavian Classic Baking by Pat Sinclair
4 oz. (1 stick) unsalted butter
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/4 tsp. table salt
1 1/2 tsp. almond extract
1/2 cup sugar
2 tbsps. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup unsalted butter
2 tbsps. half-and-half
3/4 cup sliced almonds
1/2 tsp. almond extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and grease or spray a 9-inch springform pan.
In a small saucepan, melt one stick of butter over medium heat. Set aside to cool.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until foamy, then gradually beat in the sugar. Keep beating for about five minutes, until medium peaks form. The egg whites will be smooth and glossy.
In a medium bowl, beat the egg yolks until they are light and lemon-colored in hue. You will know the texture is right when it looks like lemon pudding (but it won’t taste like it).
With a rubber spatula, fold the egg yolks into the egg whites. Use a light hand, and combine until just combined—you don’t want to deflate the eggs. It’s okay to have some streaks of white.
In a small bowl, combine flour, salt, and baking soda. Gently fold the flour mixture into the eggs in four batches, then fold in the melted and cooled butter and the almond extract. Pour into the springform pan.
Bake until the cake is lightly golden brown and has pulled away from the sides of the pan, 22–25 minutes. Remove cake from oven, and turn on the broiler to high.
While the cake is baking, prepare the topping. Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then whisk in the flour and sugar. Whisk in the half-and-half and stir constantly until thickened, about two minutes. Stir in the almonds and extract.
Pour the tosca topping over the cake, and place under the broiler until the almonds and topping are golden brown. Keep a close eye on it to ensure the browning is even, and rotate if necessary.
Cool for five minutes, then loosen by running a knife around the sides of the pan. Remove the springform ring and cool completely.
This cake tastes best in the first 24 hours, and also makes a lovely accompaniment to coffee for breakfast or in the afternoon.
Christy Olsen Field was on the editorial staff of the Norwegian American Weekly from 2008 to 2012, and the Taste of Norway page was her favorite section. Today, she is a freelance grantwriter for small to mid-size nonprofits with her business, Christy Ink. Learn more at www.christy.ink.
This article originally appeared in the June 26, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.