Every time we host our Northern Italy boutique group trip, one of the most popular activities is wine tasting in Franciacorta. And, yes, of course, a big part of that is because we sip some of the best bubbles in Italy at some of the (in our opinion) most stunning wineries in the area. But another reason? Because it's also the day we introduce our guests to the traditional local cookie known as sbrisolona (pronounced sbreeze-ah-loh-nah, by the way).
The torta sbrisolona as it's traditionally called is an historic sweet from the northern Italian region of Lombardy and, even more precisely, from the town of Mantova. Like so many classic Italian recipes, this comes from modest origins and its believed the original recipe was made in the hillsides outside of Mantova and almost exclusively with cornmeal and lard.
Over the years, the sbrisolona recipe has evolved and come to reflect the famously "rich" taste of the Mantovans (both in terms of pricey ingredients and heavier ingredients) with some recipes even said to call for once hard-to-find and pricey ingredients like saffron or cinnamnon.
It must be said the torta sbrisolona implies your making a cake but it's really more like a hybrid of a shortbread and a streusel. The key is not just the combo of the ingredients but also the technique. Known as sbrisolare in Italian, you essentially drop nuggest of the dough from above and have it "rain" into the baking pan.
Once you've made it once you'll have mstered the techinique and then all you have to worry about is keeping it around long enough because it's addictive!
(can substitute all purpose flour)
cut into large dice (you can also use a mix of half lard and half butter)
plus additional for sprinkling on top
beaten until smooth
halved and seeds scraped using the back of a knife
Heat oven to 350°F and arrange ine rack in the upper third and one in the lower third of the oven. Set a rimmed baking sheet on the lower rack. Meanwhile, butter the inside of a 12-inch springform pan.
Combine the flour, cornmeal, almond flour in a large bowl and whisk it together until evenly incorporates. Add the butter and, with clean, dry hands, rub the butter between thumb and forefingers to incorporate into flour mixture until butter is in lima bean-sized pieces and rub into flour mixture until mixture forms pea-size pieces (some big chunks should remain) and comes together in fist-sized clumps when squeezed, about 1 minute.
Add the vanilla and lemon zest and the sugar and mix it again until those ingredients are evenly incorporated. Drizzle the beaten eggs on the dough then mix one last time until just combined (the mixture should be in pea-sized chunks).
Starting with half the dough and the buttered springform pan, take a handful at a time and lightly rub it between your palms at a distance of about 6 inches above the pan, letting the dough "rain down" into the pan. Mix the whole almonds into the remaining half of the dough then repeat the earlier technique until all the dough is in the pan. Take one additional spoonful of sugar and sprinkle it across the top of the pan.
Make sure you leave the dough in little chunks and do not push it into the pan -- this ensures you get the correct texture for the final cookie.
Bake the mixture until it is set and golden brown, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool. Remove the springform then serve it. Do not try to cut this as it will just crumble. Instead, go with the traditional technique and break it up into chunks (like you would with a brittle) and serve it on its own or with a glass of sweet dessert wine.
The sbrisolona will last up to 2 days when stored covered at room temperature.
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