The year I graduated from college and moved to New York, I had a fall ticket series to the New York City Opera with a work friend. I didn’t know much about opera and still don’t, but seeing the magnificent performances of Madame Butterfly and Tosca at Lincoln Center are forever etched in my memory. That was a very long time ago and the big names were and still are world-renowned stars and today Andrea Boccelli’s voice absolutely makes me swoon. (And this relates to Paradise Cake how, you ask?)
Maria Callas, one of the most acclaimed and influential opera singers of the 20th century was born in New York to Greek parents, received her musical training in Greece and established her career in Italy. She owned a beautiful villa in the medieval Italian town of Sirmione on Lake Garda and after singing at La Scala or the Arena in Verona, she would retreat to her peaceful villa to rest and relax.
Maria loved food in the same way we food obsessed people do. She collected recipes wherever she went and often walked into the kitchen of the restaurant where she was dining to watch the chef work. Heavy at the start of her career, she lost quite a bit of weight in the middle of her career (some say she ingested a tapeworm but that is rather disgusting and I wish I could unread that fact). She ate mostly salads but adored desserts and baking was a relaxation.
(Above two Photos Courtesy of Italian Cultural Institute of Los Angeles)
One of Maria’s favorite cakes to bake was Torta Paradiso or Paradise Cake, a legendary cake which was created at a monastery by a monk in the town of Pavia in Lombardy. Luscious and buttery, Torta Paradiso is quite simple to make. Cake is often eaten for breakfast in Italy and this is perfect as it’s uncomplicated and keeps well. But add some whipped cream, wild berries, chopped nuts or a few slivers of chocolate and Paradise Cake takes on a whole new persona. Kind of like La Divina Maria Callas in full costume singing the final aria to a sold out performance at La Scala.
(This recipe for La Torta Paridiso was adapted from Massimo Ghidelli’s book Il Gusto del Garda).
- 100 g / A bit less than ¾ c. Flour
- 200 g / A bit less than 1¼ c. Potato Starch
- 1 packet lievito / 1 T. Baking Powder
- 300 g / 10½ oz. Butter
- 3 eggs, separated
- 3 eggs, whole
- grated peel of 1 lemon
- 1 tsp. Vanilla
- 300 g / 1¼ c. Sugar
- Confectionary sugar to dust
- Preheat oven to 350°F or 180°C.
- Grease and flour a 9" round cake pan.
- Sift together flour, potato starch and baking powder and set aside.
- In a large bowl, beat butter and 3 egg yolks until mixed.
- Add the 3 whole eggs and mix until combined.
- Add lemon peel, vanilla and sugar and mix until combined.
- Add flour mixture and beat until well mixed.
- In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
- Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter.
- Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and bake 40-50 minutes until done.
- Dust with confectionary sugar when cool.