Spongata is a typical Christmas cake whose preparation evokes sweet memories of family gatherings around the kitchen table and that is part of the Advent calendar of the Italian Food Blogger Association, which gives us a typical family recipe in every box.
For years, ever since diabetes and celiac disease have joined our family, I haven’t prepared it because of the challenge the traditional recipe poses in terms of sugar: so here is my gluten free and ‘sugar light’ Spongata.
Spongata: a sugary challenge
This year, for the first time, my daughter Gaia asked me: “Mum, what does Spongata taste like?” I was speechless, not because I couldn’t describe the taste of this sort of tart filled with nuts and spices, but because I had never thought of preparing it in a gluten free and, above all, low-sugar version… probably too busy trying to make a Panettone and Pandoro worthy of the name!
Well, since we can finally find gluten free Panettone and Pandoro on the market today that are much better than a few years ago, the focus has shifted to this humble, but fantastic Christmas preparation (as an alternative idea for the holiday season, try my Celebration Sacher).
My family tradition
When I was a child, the preparation of Spongata was a kind of ritual because these cakes were cooked in large quantities to enrich the baskets of food products to give as gifts to employees, collaborators, relatives and friends.
Spongatas were prepared long before Christmas. Once cooked and perfectly cooled, they were first wrapped in a sheet of parchment paper to protect them, then in an airtight bag (and maybe even in gift wrap to give them prestige) to allow all the flavours to mix well and achieve the perfect dough texture for consumption.
The preparation of the filling started a few days before the planned date of the big bake because ‘the longer the filling is left to macerate, the better the taste’. However, this filling is generally very rich in simple carbohydrates due to the presence of plenty of honey and sugar, even icing sugar to cover the surface once cooked.
So here is my ‘sugar light’ version, which remains however very high in calories!
My ‘sugar light’ recipe
The pastry I used is a gluten free adaptation of my friend and course assistant Lucia’s family recipe because in her version the sugar was really already reduced to a minimum. The filling, on the other hand, is an adaptation of my family’s recipe where 150g of honey and 2 heaped tablespoons of brown sugar in the filling have been replaced by 150g of jam: in this way, the filling manages to stay together a little despite the absence of the definitely stickier honey.
Another small note concerns breadcrumbs: in many recipes from the province of Parma they are added in the filling, but this ingredient has never appeared in my home version, so you won’t find it in this Spongata!
Finally, the surface. It is traditional to sprinkle the baked cake with a lot of icing sugar because the surface is hardly homogeneous: the name Spongata derives from the Latin word ‘spongia’, meaning sponge, precisely because of the irregular appearance reminiscent of a sponge. In keeping with tradition, I wanted to top one of my Spongatas with icing sugar to take the photo, but I kept the second one ‘au naturel’ and, I confess, I like it even better.
38.11g carbohydrates per 100g
Ingredients for the crust for 2 Spongatas of 18cm in diameter
- 250g flour mix for bread, brand BiAglut**
- 125g butter
- 50g sugar
- 40g white wine
- 1 tsp baking powder*
- a pinch of salt
- water as needed
- Ingredients for the filling
- 150g fruit Mostarda*
- 150g coarsely chopped walnuts
- 150g jam without added sugar (your favourite flavour)*
- 100g coarsely chopped almonds
- 25g pine nuts
- 25g raisins
- a small glass of liqueur*
- cinnamon powder*, cloves and nutmeg
**Ingredients specific for celiacs
*Ingredients whose labels must read “gluten-free” (or, in Italy, present on Prontuario AIC)
- Soak the raisins in liqueur.
- In a bowl, place the chopped fruit Mostarda with the aid of a rocking chopper or knife, then add all the other ingredients, including the soaked raisins and liqueur. Adjust the flavouring to your liking, cover the bowl with cling film and let the filling rest for at least a day.
- The next day, prepare the crust. Combine all the ingredients for the crust and knead adding the necessary water to obtain a smooth, homogeneous and rather soft dough. Cover the dough with cling film and place it in the refrigerator to rest for about 15 minutes.
- Divide the dough into 4 parts and roll them out with a rolling pin. Line a mould with one part and fill it with half of the filling, distributing it evenly. Then close with a second disc. Prick the surface with a fork and bake in a convection oven preheated to 200°C for about 30 minutes. Bake and allow to cool completely, then dust with icing sugar if desired.
- At this point, seal your Spongatas tightly with a sheet of parchment paper and place them in a closed bag or cake tin until ready to use… which could be several days later!
Version with gluten of Spongata
Replace the gluten-free flour with equal amounts of wheat flour, adjusting the amount of water.