For many Italians of my generation, la mattonella (or “Lu mattò,” in my dialect) is a treasured childhood memory. And if you’ve never heard of it, I’ll take care of it today.
There are many things to love about it. For starters, it’s super easy. You can make it even if you’ve never picked up whips.
Also, it is a very inexpensive no-bake cake. So you can make it even if you’re on a budget or trying to save money on your bills. Here in Italy, you can make a 9-inch one for as little as €5. And in the US, you can find all the ingredients at Walmart for less than $10.
But most of all, it’s wicked good.
Its name means “the brick,” and if you’ve ever seen one, you know that’s pretty self-explanatory. This cake is often made inside a baking dish, which gives it a compact, rectangular appearance. Like a brick, in fact. But I suspect the name is also a metaphor for its simplicity.
A bit of background
After tarts, I think this recipe is one of the purest expressions of local homemade cake-making. At least as far as homemakers who grew up before the economic boom like my grandmother or great-aunt are concerned.
They know how to get the best out of little, and this recipe reflects their simple, no-fuss style.
When I was growing up, my great-aunt would make this cake for every birthday or special family event. Normally lu mattò is made with custard, but she preferred to use whipping cream. I think the reason was that she realized she could make something just as good with even less effort.
She would put the cream in her decades-old electric whisk and leave it to whip while she played a solitaire by the light of her desk lamp.
I have eaten his tile so many times, it is unthinkable for me to use custard now. So, below I will show you the variant with cream.
Here’s what you need to do to make it at home.
What you’ll need
Heavy whipping cream: As I was saying, many people like to make this cake with custard. My aunt, however, has always made it with heavy whipping cream. Childhood memories apart, I prefer her solution because it’s delicious while also being cheaper and less time consuming than custard.
Butter cookies: as you can see from the pictures below, I used Oro Saiwa Cookies. They’re very common here in Italy, and you can get a big pack for just a couple euros. However, I’ve seen that they cost about 5 times more at Walmart, so feel free to use any flat butter cookies of your choice.
Coffee: the process is similar to the one used for tiramisu. You’ll use the coffee to soak the biscuits and make layers in your cake. This cake is usually made with espresso, but if you don’t have a mocha at home you can use whatever kind of coffee you like best.
Remember, the point of this cake is to keep it simple and homey. There’s no need to buy an extra tool to make it.
Sugar: for the same reason, either brown or caster sugar will do.
Chocolate chips: for the topping. If you want to save more money, buy a simple chocolate table and chop it with a knife until you get small pieces.
Sometimes my aunt likes to soak the second layer of biscuits in Alchermes liqueur. You can do it too, but it will increase the price of this recipe over the $10 limit.
Here in the rural areas of central Italy, using Alchermes for cakes is so common that it has become stereotypical of local homemakers. But outside of here, it’s mostly unknown and prices range around $38 per bottle. So, unless you already have it or are planning to use it for other recipes, my advice is to skip it. This cake is already delicious with just coffee.
As I was saying, this cake is usually made inside a baking dish. However, you can use whatever you prefer. This time, I used a 9-inch springform pan.
Step 1: Make the coffee and let it cool.
Step 2: Take the whipping cream out of the refrigerator. It is important to keep it in a cold place for at least an hour before you start, otherwise it will not whip well.
Step 3: In a large bowl, whip the cream until stiff, gradually adding the sugar. The stiffer the better.
Step 4: Soak half the cookies in coffee, and use them to create a first layer in the bottom of a baking dish or cake mold.
Step 5: Add half of the whipped cream, and spread it on top of the cookies.
Step 6: Make a second layer of soaked cookies, and add the rest of the cream, spreading it evenly.
Step 7: Add the chocolate chips on top, and let chill in the refrigerator for at least half an hour before serving.
This is probably one of the easiest cake recipes in the world. But that doesn’t make it any less good than the others. In fact, I prefer it over many more complex recipes.
For less than $10, you can make a delicious cake in minutes and without turning on the oven. You just have to let it cool in the refrigerator, and that’s it.
It tastes wicked good, and its simplicity makes it perfect for any occasion. Whether it’s a party among friends, a Sunday gathering or a family birthday, this cake will be a perfect conclusion to every meal.
If you want to try the more popular version with custard, you just have to replace the whipping cream with it. You can use the same amounts shown in the recipe card below. Whatever version you decide to try, let me know what you think in the comments.Print