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Historical recipe: Torta Margherita – a 19th-century gluten-free cake

In every issue of BBC History Magazine, picture editor Sam Nott brings you a recipe from the past. In this article, Sam recreates Torta Margherita – a 19th-century cake from Italy that is both gluten and dairy-free.

Published: November 3, 2021 at 5:06 pm
  • Preparation and cooking time
    • Total time
  • Difficulty 2/10

This recipe comes from Pellegrino Artusi’s 1891 cookbook La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiare Bene (The Science of Cooking and the Art of Fine Dining), and is a cake that has been enjoyed in many Italian households.

Artusi’s introduction to his cookbook gives an insight into the origins of the cake. He originally made it for a friend of his, Antonio Mattei, who took the recipe and, after making a few changes, sold it in his restaurant.

The cake was such a success that it soon became the norm to finish a meal with Torta Margherita. The moral of the story, according to Artusi, is that if you grab opportunities when they arise (as Mattei did) fortune will favour you above someone who merely sits back and waits.

When I found this recipe I was intrigued: a gluten and dairy-free cake that tastes nice? And with only three ingredients? But the picture in the recipe book looked very enticing so I gave it a try.

The cake is incredibly light, goes well with tea or coffee, and takes just an hour to make.


  • 120g Potato starch, sifted
  • 120g Caster sugar
  • 4 Eggs
  • Juice or zest of a lemon (optional)


  • STEP 1

    Separate the egg yolks from the whites. Beat the yolks with the sugar until pale and creamy. Add the lemon (optional) and the potato starch and beat.

  • STEP 2

    In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form, then delicately fold the whites through the batter.

  • STEP 3

    Place the mixture into a round cake tin (buttered and lined with baking paper). Bake at a moderate heat for about an hour or until golden on top and firm to the touch.

Recipe courtesy of Emiko Davies

This article was first published in the August 2015 issue of BBC History Magazine

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