A traditional northern Italian chocolate bread cake, made with stale bread, cocoa, cookies, and raisins. This is a vegan version, and a guest post from a very talented food photographer and friend, Chiara.
Cake is the best way to make new friends, am I right? So I’m here with a (bread pudding) cake!
Feels somehow weird to be writing a guest post, but still – hello everyone! I’m Chiara, photographer and newborn food blogger from the naked table. I’m very pleased that Alexandra invited me over here, and I’m going to share with you a favorite recipe from my family cooking traditions.
On my blog I often share recipes that draw inspiration from peasant cooking and our household’s most loved dishes. Most of them are simple, require a bunch of accessible ingredients and are nourishing and plant-based – or easily adapted.
Today I’m bringing you my dad’s favorite treat, his childhood memories made into a cake. An Italian chocolate bread cake to be precise. I promise you, it is good!
We call this bread pudding cake “papina”. In my dad’s dialect this refers to some gruel-like thing, which I know does sound anything but appetising. Think of a bread based porridge, like Danish Øllebrød: this is exactly the same, just baked and minus the beer. But with chocolate.
Traditionally, stale bread gets a good soak in whole milk, but I tweaked the recipe to make it plant-based and used almond milk instead. This is a win-win swap, because lightly sweetened almond milk will be perfect not only to leave behind cow’s milk, but to give the cake its unique and subtle flavour of amaretti as well.
The peasant origin of this recipe is the reason why it calls mostly for leftovers and pantry staples: stale bread, cookies (amaretti in the original version), raisins, pine nuts and cocoa powder, besides the milk needed to soak the base and make it creamy. The end result won’t be super sweet, because there’s no added sugar – almond milk, cookies and raisins will be just enough.
Speaking of cookies, you could omit those if you prefer. I decided to add them to replace amaretti texture wise, because they’re obviously not vegan. You can choose any kind of simple cookies, just make sure they’re quite dry and crumbly. If you can find vegan amaretti cookies, lucky you!
To be honest, I wasn’t always a fan of this cake. I learnt to love it a few years ago, when I tried baking it for the first time and fell in love with its moist, chocolate-y and melt-in-your-mouth texture.
The secret to achieve the perfect consistency is to let the bread and milk mixture sit as much as possible. Ideally, an overnight rest would be the best. You want the bread to fully dissolve into the milk, so that when you stir it, everything magically melts and produces a smooth batter. You’ll also want to bake the cake rather tall and small, to avoid having a gummy and flat disc – about 5 to 6 cm tall to say the least.
You won’t find this cake everywhere in my country. In fact, this cake is a traditional dessert from a specific corner of Lombardy, northern Italy, called Brianza. The territory stretches from lake Como to Milan, and sits at the foot of the Alps. I was born and still live there, and I dream to move even further into the green, hilly territory with my boyfriend.
Its peculiar origin is the reason why I decided to share this recipe with you, rather than some other traditional Italian dish. The net floods with that kind of recipes, but this one isn’t as famous – but surely it is equally delicious!
There isn’t a fixed recipe for this cake: every nonna here has her own, and of course they all claim their version is the best. Another fun fact: this cake has a million names, depending on the baker’s location. We Italians have tons of dialectal forms, and it’s easy to find different names for the same thing without moving too much.
In my household we call this bread pudding cake “papina”, as I told you. So shall we enjoy a piece of “papina” together? Hope you’ll like it!
You can find Chiara’s work on instagram, and she can be reached regarding video and photography work.
Let’s connect! If you liked this recipe, make sure to leave a comment below, I love hearing from you! Tag me on instagram @occasionallyeggs and #occasionallyeggs so I can see what you’re making, and stay in touch via facebook, pinterest, and bloglovin.
- 300 grams stale bread*
- 1 litre almond milk, lightly sweetened
- 100 grams dry & crumbly cookies, or vegan amaretti
- 50 grams cocoa powder
- 70 grams raisins
- 40 grams pine nuts
- In a large bowl, add roughly chopped stale bread and cover with almond milk. Stir a few times until bread chunks start to break down. Add crushed cookies and cocoa powder. Stir a few more minutes and leave to rest in a cool place at least 2 hours, ideally overnight.
- Stir the mixture around until all the bread chunks are broken down and you’re left with a smooth, thick but still runny batter. Add in raisins and pine nuts, saving a handful of those for garnish.
- Preheat oven to 180 C. Line a 20cm cake pan with parchment paper, pour the mixture in there and garnish with reserved pine nuts.
- Bake the cake for one hour. The cake will feel slightly squishy and underdone, but as long as the top is firm and dry you’re good to go. Let cool completely before removing from the pan and serve.
* Loaves with a light, airy crumb work best in this recipe.