Sbrisolona (Almond Cookie Crumble)

Since Roman times, a heavenly dessert wine has been made in the Veneto from grapes laid on bamboo mats to dry throughout the winter. The concentrated red nectar squeezed from these raisinified grapes is called Recioto della Valpolicella—the historic precursor to Amarone, one of the most seductive, hedonistic wines in all of Italy. (Yes, I’m a head-over-heels Amarone groupie.)

Recioto della Valpolicella is often accompanied by an equally traditional dessert from Mantua called sbrisolona. Based on simple ingredients—cornmeal, flour, sugar, almonds, eggs, plus some lemon peel or anise liquor—this crumble cake is not too sweet. That makes it a perfect match for dessert wine, honoring the rule that dessert wine should always be sweeter than the dessert.

But 'cake', the usual descriptor in recipes, is a misnomer. In reality, it’s a huge, crumbly cookie. Even in fine-dining settings, it comes to the table intact, like a monster-sized cookie meant to be broken into pieces by hand. (Here, it’s okay to play with your food, which makes it extra nice!)

Last week on our DOLOMITES tour, some guests had sbrisolona for dessert at Le Salette, an elegant “0 kilometer” restaurant outside of Verona that strictly adheres to the principle of locally sourced food. It was very, very good! So due to popular demand, we’re including a recipe here.

Pair sbrisolona with a glass of Recioto della Valpolicella for a delicious combo from the Veneto. Vanilla ice cream works wonders, too. (Just don’t eat that with your hands.)

(Makes 8 servings)

3/4 cup pastry flour
2/3 cup stone-ground cornmeal
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup almonds, lightly toasted & roughly ground in food processor
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 egg yolk
6 tablespoons butter, softened and cut into small pieces.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

On a clean surface, create a mound with all the dry ingredients. Make a small hollow space in the center and place the egg yolk there. With your fingertips, mix the yolk and the portion of dry ingredients that immediately surrounds it until the yolk is no longer running. The dry ingredients at the periphery of the mound will remain dry.

With your hands, crumble the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is homogeneous, though not bound together.

Gather the crumbles with your hands and place them in an 8-inch spring-form pan. The cake will be about 1/2-inch thick.

Shake the pan lightly to even out the crumbles and avoid empty spaces. Do not press the crumbles or the cake will become hard.

Cook for about 25 minutes, watching carefully. This cake is thin and therefore very sensitive. When the edge is golden brown, remove from oven. Let cool without removing from the pan

Break with your hands to make portions.

This recipe comes from NPR's "Kitchen Window" program.