Saturday, March 6, 2010

Torta Di Grano Saraceno (Buckwheat Cake)

Feb. 2010 360-1 Every time I’m in the Dolomite mountains,  this cake tempts me. Along with other offerings, it’s there on the teatime buffet table at the hotel every afternoon when we get back from skiing. It’s made with something called grano saraceno, and I bought a bag of the flour in Italy, as well as a small cookbook with local recipes that included this cake.

Back in the U.S., I find out that grano saraceno is actually nothing more than buckwheat and I could have bought it here for half the cost at my local health food store. Live and learn.

Both grano saraceno and buckwheat are misnomers, because it’s not a form of wheat and it’s not really a grain, even though it has properties of many grains. It’s actually a fruit seed related to rhubarb and sorrel. Below is a picture of the flower and the actual seed, before it’s milled into flour:

image image

The name buckwheat derives from the Middle Dutch words boek, for beech and weite for wheat, because the seeds resemble the much larger seeds of the beech nut tree.

But to me, the Italian name - grano saraceno – sounds so much more interesting and mysterious than buckwheat. It  conjures up visions of turban-cloaked Saracens on camels crossing the Silk Road in ancient times. In fact, according to Wikipedia, it was first domesticated and cultivated in inland southeast Asia, possibly around 6000 B.C., and from there spread to Central Asia and Tibet, and then to the Middle East and Europe.

It’s a great alternative for people with celiac disease, those who have an intolerance to gluten. But it’s got a ton of beneficial health benefits for everyone. It’s useful in protecting against heart disease, lowering cholesterol, and controlling blood sugar levels, among other things.

It’s more popular outside the U.S., especially Eastern Europe and Asia. When it’s toasted, the whole form minus the hull is called groats or kasha, the Russian name. The Japanese use it for making buckwheat noodles, or soba, while Americans are most familiar with it in buckwheat pancakes. Italians in the northern regions near the Alps love it too, not only in cakes, but also in a tagliatelle-type noodle dish called “pizzocheri.”

It has a nutty taste and when baked, it can be heavy if nothing is added to lighten it, like baking powder or some all-purpose flour. In fact, in my first attempt to make this cake, I used the recipe in the Dolomite cookbook I purchased and it called for only buckwheat flour. It was a bit dense to put it mildly. My husband announced “It tastes like health food.”  Not exactly the results I was hoping for.  Not one to give up so easily, I substituted a bit of regular all-purpose flour for some of the buckwheat. (If you do have Celiac disease, omit the all-purpose flour and use only buckwheat.) In addition, I added some baking powder and some buttermilk, decreased the amount of almonds and eggs and added some lemon peel too.

I thought the revamped recipe was a great improvement and my husband did too. My Italian chit-chat group agreed after tasting the cake at our last meeting and declaring it a “winner.”  I hope you think so too. Feb. 2010 356

 Torta Di Grano Saraceno

Printable Recipe Here

4 eggs, separated

1 1/2 c. sugar, softened

1 1/2 sticks of butter

1 cup almonds, finely ground

1 c. buckwheat flour

3/4 c. white flour

1 t. baking powder

1 t. vanilla

dash of salt

grated peel from 1/2 lemon

3/4 c. buttermilk

seedless raspberry jam (I used 1 full 18-oz. jar and half of another one)

Separate eggs. Beat whites until light peaks form and add half of sugar, a little at a time. Set aside. Place butter in mixer and beat with other half of sugar. Add egg yolks and vanilla. Place almonds in food processor and pulse a few times. If you leave the processor on and walk away, you may end up with almond paste, so stay nearby and just use the “pulse” button. Add the flours to the almonds and pulse until the almonds are ground finely. Add the salt, baking powder, lemon peel and the flours and ground almonds to the egg yolk mixture, alternately adding the buttermilk. Mix just until everything is blended. Take the egg whites and fold into the mixture. Batter will be stiff. Pour into a greased and floured springform or cake pan and bake at 350 degrees for 50 minutes to an hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean and cake shrinks in a little from sides of pan.

When cake has cooled, cut into two layers. (I leveled off the top of the cake to eliminate the “hump” and make it flatter.) Warm the jam in the microwave a few seconds to loosen it a bit. If it melts completely, don’t worry, it will solidify if you wait a bit. But don’t pour it on the cake if it’s totally liquid and melted. When it has a smooth but semi-solid consistency, spread it on top of the bottom layer. Do the same thing with the top layer, then decorate with whole raspberries tossed in sugar, and mint leaves if available.



  1. I love Kashi, and all things buckwheat and found this incredibly interesting. I didn't know the origin of the word or any of these intriguing details. The cake looks like something from a fairy-tale tea party. Thanks for yet another inspiring post. With my busy (to say the least) life, it's so hard to find time to cook and bake for myself outside of blogging and I live vicariously through your beautiful photos and recipes.

  2. You are killing me here, with all these gorgeous and special Italian confections.
    I want to try a piece of every single one! You ate your way thru the alps!

  3. bellissima la tua torta e bello il post, che stavo aspettando!!Anche alle mie ragazze è piaciuta l'idea e temo che dovrò preparare presto la tua torta!!! un bacione e buona domenica

  4. Aside from the fact that I am tring to stay away from baked goods, thank-you very much - I am loving this. It looks so "other-worldly," from a past time and place and I love that. I do love you bringing buckwheat home - thinking you could not get it here under it's much more beautiful Italian name. And, well - I have a husband who occasionally tells me "it tastes like health food." Oh that can be the a sorrowful time. But the cake - is not sorrowful, it is a taste of Italy and another time.

  5. ciao!! che meraviglia il tuo blog!!! complimenti!!
    grazie della tua visita!!! a presto!! ciaoooo

  6. Good to know the Italian name for buckwheat! Sounds like a delicious cake and like you made perfect changes. After looking at this, I'm really ready for breakfast!

  7. This is why I'm not a huge fan of American cakes with tons of frosting. Having been raised by a European mom, I appreciate these kinds of desserts. I love raspberry jam, and I can almost taste this torta. How I long to head to Europe with my husband. Soon.... we are saving our acorns to make the trip.

  8. God BLESS you for posting this! :-)

    As someone from Ukrainian heritage Buckwheat was a hug part of my diet growing up. In my adulthood..I had a huge thing happen to me I became Gluten Intolerant! I now cannot eat wheat (along with rye, barley & oats) any longer.

    My husband is Italian and I am sure this beautiful cake will be a hit at our house!

    Also a note to Nancy Gail Ring who said...
    "I love Kashi"

    Kashi is not Buckwheat it is a Cereal Brand Name that utilizes many different grains in their breakfast cereals.
    I am sure you must mean "Kasha" as that here in America is Buckwheat.

    Love & Light,


  9. A friend of mine was just diagnosed with celiac disease and I will pass this on and tell her just to use the buckwheat. Thanks so much for sharing this!

  10. what a great post...can't wait to try this!

  11. I never eat it before, but now that I found out I'm celiac, this has become one of my best friend!

  12. Ho avuto il privilegio di assaggiarla ed e' buonissima. Solo la bilancia ha avuto delle obiezioni.

  13. When I think of buckwheat I think of something very dry. But this does not look dry a all! The raspberry topping is perfect too! It sounds like a difficult recipe though! :) I'm glad to come here and see your creation and version.. I think I would have been apprehensive if I hadn't seen all your changes!
    It sounds beautiful!

  14. How wonderful this looks and sounds. I've never baked with buckwheat, but on your recommendation I'm certainly willing to give this a try. I hope you have a wonderful day.

  15. I've never cooked anything with buckwheat before, but it does sound healthy and another good grain to add to a diet.
    I find adding buttermilk increases moisture in a cake and is especially good when baking with whole wheat flour.

  16. Buckwheat is not something I can find easily in my town so I have never tried it but your torta looks delicious. And so does your tea party!

  17. I like buckwheat in this cake~ It must give a lovely nutty flavour. :)

  18. I love the description of this cake! I made a buckwheat cake a while back and it was a huge hit (it was very buttery and flavored with rum). I like the addition of the preserves!

  19. Bellissima la torta, e bellissimo qil tuo post, ti seguo con molto piacere. Un abbraccio Daniela.

  20. this looks divine and sound healthier than other cakes! Thanks for sharing!

  21. Holaa

    Que ricura de pastel y que color tan bonito, disfruto muchos con estos platos... te quedo espléndido.


  22. Your cake is so beautiful. I just bet it tasted awesome.
    P.S. I made your zuppa di ceci this morning to take to work with me for lunch (used canned ceci, it was fast!) And delicious.

  23. I just printed this to make Friday. Thank-you Linda!


  24. Que receta más buena y que fotos más espectaculares haces...un beso

  25. Love that cake; bet it has a "real" flavor. Could never understand how people in the US (my kids included) could eat cakes out of a box!
    Lovely pic too!

  26. I would eat this in the Dolomite mountains everytime too, but then again I would eat sand there! I never baked with buckwheat flour but thanks to you I learned how healthy it is. You've inspired me to pick some up and give it a try!

  27. This cake looks especially tasty with the raspberry preserves on top. I love the fact that you have an Italian chat group. How fun that must be!

  28. I can taste in my mind how delicious this would be! thank you that was really informative!

  29. Buckwheat cake looks gorgeous! I am sure it must have tasted delicious too!

  30. ah wow this cake looks amazing! i have never used buckwheat flour before, not even whole meal flour - have only just used plain and self raising.. maybe i should venture out of my comfort square hehe