I remember the day I first made this cake like it was yesterday. I was at work, doing research for a series of three-ingredient dessert recipes. Flipping through The River Cafe Cookbook Easy—a cookbook inspired by Italian farmhouse cooking—I found a recipe for a walnut and brandy cake that caught my attention. A little digging online led me to the recipe this cake was likely based on called Torta di Noci, a Calabrian walnut cake with just three ingredients.
I’ll admit I was skeptical as I mixed the simple batter, but when I felt the knife slice into the crackled crust and moist center, I knew this recipe was special.
It’s magical—you only need eggs, ground walnuts, and sugar to make this delicate and delicious cake. It not only works with walnuts but almonds and hazelnuts, too—I’ve tested them.
Over the years, as I’ve grown as a home baker, this remains one of my favorite cake recipes. It’s great for beginner bakers and though simple, it’s elegant. Try it once and you’ll keep coming back to it, like I did.
How To Make This Italian 3-Ingredient Cake
Here are the ingredients you’ll need for one of the most magical cakes you’ll ever make:
- 12 ounces (340 grams) walnuts, blanched almonds, or blanched hazelnuts
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- Powdered sugar for serving
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line an 8×8-inch baking pan with parchment paper, letting it hang over two sides so that you can use it to lift the cake out of the pan after it’s baked. (See this easy guide for how to line the pan.)
Blitz the nuts in a food processor until they’re coarsely ground and set them aside.
Separate the egg whites and yolks. This is how I do it: Crack the eggs into a large mixing bowl and use a clean hand to gently scoop the egg yolks out and into a separate mixing bowl. Add about half the sugar (1/2 cup) to the egg whites and beat to stiff peaks with an electric mixer.
Add the remaining sugar (1/2 cup) to the yolks and use the same electric mixer to beat until pale and doubled in size. When you lift the beaters, the mixture should drizzle down slowly and hold its shape for a few seconds.
Use a rubber spatula to gently fold the ground nuts into the egg yolk mixture until fully combined. Then gently fold in half the egg whites until you can’t see any white streaks. Gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Try not to mix it for too long—just until you no longer see the egg whites.
Transfer the batter to the prepared baking pan and bake for 35 minutes, until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 15 minutes before running a knife around the edges to release it from the pan. Use the parchment to lift the cake out of the pan and onto a wire rack.
Let the cake cool completely before dusting it with powdered sugar to serve. Wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, this cake will keep at room temperature for up to five days.
Tips for Making This 3-Ingredient Cake
This is a simple cake recipe, but it’s not necessarily easy. Here are some tips that will help you get the perfect cake you deserve:
- Don’t overprocess the nuts. They should not start to form a paste but be ground just long enough to produce a coarse texture, like wet sand. Once the sound from the food processor softens as it’s processing the nuts—this only takes about 10 seconds—it’s ready.
- Use blanched nuts—without their peel. The skin tends to get bitter when exposed to heat. I’ve made this recipe with unblanched, unpeeled nuts, and sometimes you can taste some bitterness in the cake. To avoid this, use blanched nuts.
- Separate the eggs properly. The key is to avoid breaking the yolks. You want absolutely no egg yolks in the egg whites—you’ll have to start your egg whites over because they won’t become stiff. I prefer cracking all of the eggs whole into a bowl, then using clean hands to quickly and gently scoop out the yolks. Here’s a great guide for how to separate eggs.
- Make the batter airy. The air that’s whipped into the egg whites and yolks is the key to getting a light cake. The egg whites are beaten until stiff—they should hold their shape when you lift the mixture up with the mixer. And the egg yolks should be thick, glossy, yet airy.