For the past three years, I’ve spent springtime working on a production with Shakesqueer Theater, a ragtag crew of anti-authoritarian thespians here in Tucson. This year, a demon-themed Romeo & Juliet was in the works and, for months, folks practiced their lines, wrote music, built sets, designed costumes, did directorial and logistic work, and so much more. Then, a week-and-a-half before opening night, the university closed in response to COVID-19. By the time we met–via Zoom–that Sunday, the city had canceled our permits (we perform outdoors, in a city park). We decided, with sadness, that Romeo & Juliet–while it will still happen, hopefully in Fall 2020–needed to be postponed.
Here’s a (pretty open) secret: One of my favorite parts of “fun week” (our name for “hell week,” the week before the production opens) is that we all cook and eat together, and I love love making dessert for the cast and crew. I was planning to try my hand at developing a torta caprese (an Italian flourless chocolate cake) spiked with dried and ground chile de árbol my partner grew, and to bring it to rehearsal that Sunday. But that rehearsal turned into a meeting, then the meeting shifted to a virtual platform, and then play the was canceled, so I never had the opportunity to make it. A couple weeks later, when I was so stressed and panicked the only thing I could focus on was cooking and baking, I decided to work on the recipe anyway. It’s an homage to incredible crew that is Shakesqueer Theater and the production of Romeo & Juliet that, when it happens, will be truly amazing.
Oh yeah, we ended that Zoom meeting by singing “Under the Greenwood Tree,” from last year’s production of As You Like It. When our musical director pulled out his trombone to play along, tears welled up in my eyes.
Chile-Chocolate Torta Caprese
14 tbsp butter
1 1/4 cups walnuts
1 cup of chocolate chips
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2-3/4 tsp powdered chile de árbol
1/4 tsp plus a pinch of salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350° and butter or oil a 9-11 inch round cake pan. Line the bottom of the pan with a circle of parchment paper and butter/oil the paper.
2. Melt the butter and allow it to cool by placing it in the fridge. Grind the walnuts and chocolate into a fine paste in a food processor. Separate the egg yolks from the whites.
3. Beat the yolks with the sugar until a thick, pale mixture is formed. Then add the walnut mixture, butter, chile powder, and 1/4 tsp salt. Beat to combine.
4. In another bowl, beat the eggs white with a pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks (rinse your beaters first!). Whisk 1/4 of the eggs whites into the chocolate mixture. Fold in the remaining whites gently, until they are fully combined. Pour the batter into the pan.
5. Bake the torta for 40-50 minutes, or until the the edges of the cake start to pull away from the pan & a tester comes out with crumbs on it. Cool the torta in the pan for 10 minutes, then invert it carefully on to a plate (run a knife along the edge before you invert it to help it come out cleanly!). Invert it onto a plate and let it cool completely.
Notes: This torta is super rich, so a tangy counterpoint works really well. I served this one with a hibiscus syrup made from concentrate, water, and sugar (you might also consider raspberry or citrus jam, or lime curd). Also, while it’s definitely delicious fresh, I like this cake better cold–it tastes like a brownie-truffle hybrid!
This recipe is adapted from one that ran in Gourmet Magazine in 1998, and is available on Epicurious.