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Recipe for crumbly almond cake, an Italian peasant treat

The break-apart almond-semolina cake has been around for centuries, and let cooks make the most of the ingredients they had.

Sbrisolona, or break-apart almond-cornmeal cake. Sheryl Julian

Sbrisolona began as a peasant dish centuries ago, when women who had little in the cupboard mixed cornmeal and nuts in a cake to extend the flour. They wanted to save on lard, and later on butter, so the mixture was a little dry when baked. In fact, sbrisolona is the word for “crumbly” in a dialect of the north of Italy, near Mantua in Lombardy, where the dessert originated.


Makes one 9-inch round break-apart almond-cornmeal cake

Butter (for the pan)

1½    cups flour

½      cup yellow cornmeal

¼      teaspoon baking powder

½      teaspoon salt

Grated rind of 1 lemon


1         cup whole roasted unsalted almonds

¾      cup (1½ sticks) butter, cut up, at room temperature

  2/  cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

1         egg

1         teaspoon vanilla extract

Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling

Set the oven at 350 degrees. Butter a 9-to-9½-inch fluted ceramic quiche pan or a springform pan. Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper cut to fit. Butter the paper and the sides of the pan. Set the pan on a rimmed baking sheet.

In a bowl, whisk the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, salt, and lemon rind to blend and set aside. In a food processor, work the almonds until they are coarsely chopped. Transfer to another bowl and set aside. Without cleaning the food processor, add the butter and pulse until it is soft. Add the „ cup granulated sugar and pulse to blend. Add the egg and vanilla and pulse to blend.

Add the flour mixture and all but ¼ cup of the almonds. Pulse just until the mixture forms large clumps. It should not come together to form a ball. Transfer the clumps to the pan and press them so they are evenly distributed. The top should not be smooth. Scatter the remaining almonds on top and sprinkle with granulated sugar.


Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes or until the top is golden. Transfer the pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Slide the cake onto a cake plate, discarding the parchment. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar. Cut into slices or let guests break it up with their hands.

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