Friday treats ~ Torta di Zucca a Pumpkin Cake

What to call this post? ‘Pumpkin re-visited’, or ‘Pumpkins aren’t just for Halloween – The Return’, or ‘The cake that didn’t make it to the birthday party’, or ‘The cake that eventually got shared’. You choose!

But whatever I call it I need to write the recipe up and tell a wee story.


I make this cake once or twice a year, a great way to use up some of the huge pumpkins and squash I grow, is tasty, not too sweet, oh and has alcohol in it. Ready?

The recipe uses Grappa to soak the sultanas and we had run out of it. I tried to get some locally but it was a no-show and I really didn’t want to go to a supermarket – I avoid them as much as is humanly possible, in fact if I could avoid them on a permanent basis I would. A bright idea, ask my local Italian restaurant-pizzeria if they could get me some Grappa. Well of course they could, how much did I want? I fessed up and said it was for a cake and all I needed was a shot glass. Well then you don’t need to buy a whole bottle as it its only for cooking, have ours. 2 minutes later, clutching a carrier bag with a bottle of Grappa I made my way home.

Don’t you just love your local pizzeria!

So of course as I’d supped on their Grappa I had to take some of the cake as a thank you – and yes we played the “what is the cake made of” guessing game, and no, nobody guessed correctly.

The cake is very moist, not a crumbly little airy thing, I used a 10 inch cake tin and baked it at 180C for about 20 to 30 minutes and then turned the oven down to 160C to finish cooking. As I said it’s very moist and you don’t want to burn the bottom or the top while the middle remains uncooked, so I find a lower temperature and patience is your best ally. You can either cook the pumpkin as per the recipe, or bake it and then add the butter or as I did and steamed  / microwaved the pumpkin and then added the butter.

Torta di Zucca – Pumpkin Cake from Classic Italian CookingValentina Harris

“A traditional and delicious recipe from the Veneto region where humble pumpkins are widely used.” Serves 6 to 8

Ingredients ~

  • 150g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
  • 600g, good quality, ripe, orange pumpkin or butternut squash – when peeled I found it was about 450g in weight
  • A pinch of salt
  • 150g granulated sugar
  • 50g crushed (ground) almonds
  • 50g candied citron peel
  • 50g sultanas, soaked in Grappa until swollen – I use a shot glass full of Grappa and leave the sultanas to soak for about 30 minutes minimum, preferably an hour
  • Grated zest of 1 lemon
  • 80g plain flour
  • 1 heaped teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 eggs separated
  • Icing sugar for decorating

Method ~

  • Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4. Grease and carefully line a 30cm loose bottomed cake tin.
  • Peel and cube the pumpkin into small chunks, then place in a saucepan with the butter and cook gently until the pumpkin is soft.
  • Remove the pan from the heat, add the salt and mash thoroughly
  • Stir in the granulated sugar, almonds, candied citron, sultanas with the grappa and the grated lemon zest. Beat together very thoroughly.
  • Sift the flour and baking powder and stir.
  • Beat the egg yolks in a bowl until light and foamy, then fold into the pumpkin mixture.
  • Beat the egg whites in a separate, clean bowl until stiff, fold in lightly (with a metal spoon)
  • Turn the mixture into the cake tin and bake in the oven for about 1 hour, or until a cocktail stick inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean
  • Turn out onto a wire rack to cool and then dust with icing sugar to serve.

And as the weather is finally promising something that isn’t wet and grey I’m off up to the allotment – a long awaited session calls me. Happy cooking and gardening!


  • My dad and hubby would love this cake – purely for the grappa no doubt! I am sure we still have some stashed away somewhere and quite frankly as far as I am concerned, is only worth cooking with – tastes terrible to me.
    I love a moist cake – so would probably have to have 2 slices!
    🙂 Mandy

    • If they like Grappa, I’d add a bit more to make sure you get the flavour. As with a lot of drinks there are good drinking ones and cheaper types….. the only way to figure it out is to sample them 🙂

  • It looks delicious. I don’t know if I can find pumpkin at my supermarket any more (yes, I go there at least once a week), but if I do I’ll give your recipe a try 🙂 Yummy!!

    • Hi Giovanna, I think I am lucky to be able to avoid going to the supermarket very often – it’s something about the bright lights, the sheer size of them and too many choices which totally faze me! I hope you like the cake 🙂

  • Cake and grappa?….what’s not to like! Looks great and sounds yummy. We just made pumpkin bread in cooking school in Lucca, IT, yesterday. Coincidence?..hmm… now I have a cake recipe, too! Thanks for sharing.

    • I haven’t tried pumpkin bread yet, I realy must as I have a couple of recipes to try, and some squash left to use, so thanks for the reminder. Coincidence? Let’s call it serendipity 🙂

  • Can I take a piece of this beauticul cake? Seems so delicious… Thank you dear Claire, I loved it. Have a nice day and HAPPY MOTHER’s DAY, love, nia

    • The pizzeria guys are wonderful – funny, generous, kind and having been a regular for so many years, now friends. Hope you have a great weekend 🙂

  • Cake AND Grappa hhmm now there’s a recipe for me!.But why haven’t I spotted this earlier in my by now well thumbed, stain splatterd copy of Valentina Harris?
    And ha ha Monfortes don’t you love them:-)

  • This looks amazing. It’s going to be a few months before our winter squash start coming in here in the States, but I’m saving the recipe to pull out at the opportune moment. (And hoping that the squash vine borers leave my pumpkins alone this year!)

    • I’ve heard about Squash borers and they sound awful! Luckily (lets cross some collective fingers here) we don’t have them in the UK so my main pests are snails and slugs who seem to like the young leaves and immature squash. Grrrr.
      Thanks for popping in 🙂

  • Ya have to love a recipe that calls for using Grappa to soak sultans. Next time, though Claire, ask for 2 shots. Mustn’t forget one for the cook. 😉

    • So true John, the thing was I didn’t want to appear to be too greedy. But the next time I make it I’ll throw appearances out of the window 🙂

  • Your cake is beautiful, Claire. As I write I am making raisins in the dehydrator: I found cheap grapes yesterday on the rotting rack at Berkeley Bowl — it’s a supermarket, but it is full of bulk bins and marked down produce: three pounds of grapes for ninety-nine cents, large box of organic strawberries for the same.

    • Now that sounds like a good supermarket – all those bargains! I can’t imagine what itis like to be able to make your own raisins, I bet they taste fabulous

      • They are the best: all you need is fresh grapes and a dehydrator. I removed the seeds and put them in overnight. Voila. Raisins this morning. Dry them well and store them in the fridge in a jar to prevent mold.

  • Ooh, this looks good! I’ll have to remember this for the fall when I (fingers crossed) have lots of pumpkins from the garden!

    • Thanks Kate, it is only because I’ve been able to save a few that I still have pumpkins at home. I think I’ll try and re-post it come autumn. Hope you have a great weekend!

  • Oh Claire, what a lovely cake! Not to sweet but packed with flavor, just spectacular!

  • Hi Deb, thank you! I’ve been meaning to make your lovely grapefruit cake, I think that is next on the list, I just hope I can do it justice 🙂

  • Beautiful and if you get desperate, I´m sure my mum and dad have a bottle of grappa in their drinks cabinet in St Leonard´s! Which pizzeria can you recommend? (Just thought I´d be cheeky)

  • I don’t actually know Grappa, Claire, but I get the idea 🙂 This is actually my favorite kind of cake. I love plain, moist cakes, and love sultanas and pumpkin…and it only stands to reason that I’ll love Grappa. I’m growing pumpkins now, but I don’t want to wait that long…I presume I can adapt with canned pumpkin. Not the same, but sometimes substitutes are necessary! Debra

  • I have something of a fanatic attachment to pumpkin pie… but this cake looks very inviting. Thank you so much for the recipe.

  • Thank you Shimon. You have reminded me that I have a recipe to try out for pumpkin pie, I’ll taste test it on your behalf to see if it matches your exacting standards!

  • I can’t wait to give this a try. Tomorrow may not come soon enough except I don’t have grappa which may delay it a day or two. Yum!

  • cant wait to try this one, there is pumpkin in the fridge, and i think a dash of brandy plus some strong homegrown licorice tea might give the sultanas the right flavour ….. there are no italian restaurants within 50k’s here 😀

  • I almost missed this one! We love grappa.. indulging in it whenever we go out for an Italian dinner at Mercato… I think grappa in cake would be just fantastic!

  • I will have to save this recipe until my butternuts are all grown and ready to be put into a cake… but what is Grappa? ~ Lynda

      • hi Linda, hmmmm a substitution… Grappa is pretty unique so I see why maybe raki would be suggested. I think I’d go for something like brandy or congac (both French but who’s counting!) or maybe even something like orange juice would work – the raisins need to fatten up, so I’m sure that would work. But more than anything I’d use what you have in your store cupboard first.
        I think I’ll re-post this in autumn as a reminder for us all 🙂

Submit a comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s