Switzerland’s southernmost Italian-speaking canton of Ticino abounds in traditional recipes.  This bread-based cake is a common offering in a grotto, a type of rustic mountainside restaurant, usually outdoors, that serves only the old specialties of the region – sliced cured meats, polenta with a variety of homey toppings such as braised rabbit or a ragout of wild mushrooms, and of course, torta di pane for dessert.  My version is based one I tasted many times at my favorite grotto, Da Pierino, in Cureggia in the mountains above Lugano, where I have shared many happy meals with my friends from Ticino.

Makes one 10-inch cake, about 16 servings


1-pound loaf of French or Italian bread, firm or slightly stale, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest

1 quart milk

6 large eggs

1 1/4 cups sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon alkalized (Dutch process) cocoa powder, sifted after measuring

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 cup (about 4 ounces) whole almonds, skinned or not, finely ground in the food processor

2 cups (about 10 ounces) dark raisins

Whole blanched almonds and pine nuts for topping the cake before baking

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Confectioners’ sugar for finishing

One 10-inch round cake pan, 2 inches deep, buttered and the bottom lined with a disk of buttered parchment or wax paper

  1. Set a rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat to 400 degrees.
  2. Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl and scatter over the lemon zest.  Bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat and pour over the bread to cover it entirely.  Let the mixture stand for 10 minutes so that the bread absorbs the milk completely.
  3. In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs until they are broken up and whisk in the sugar in a stream.  Whisk in the cinnamon, cocoa, nutmeg, and vanilla.  Stir in the soaked bread mixture and then stir in the ground almonds and raisins.
  4. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.  Decorate with the almonds pine nuts in a symmetrical pattern.  Dot the top of the batter with the butter.
  5. Place the pan in the oven and immediately lower the heat to 350 degrees.  Bake the cake for about an hour, or until it is deep golden and a toothpick inserted in the center emerges dry.
  6. Cool the cake in the pan on a rack.
  7. Invert the cake to the rack and remove the pan and paper.  Place platter on the cake and invert onto the rack, firmly grasping both the rack and the platter to keep the cake from sliding out.  Remove the rack.
  8. Dust the cake with confectioners’ sugar immediately before serving.

Serving:  Cut into thin slices or even into squares – the latter way is how it is served in a grotto.

Storage:  Keep the cake loosely covered with plastic wrap and at a cool room temperature on the day you prepare it.  Wrap in plastic and refrigerate for longer storage.  Bring the cake to room temperature before serving again.