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Sbrisolona

This Sbrisolona is a giant cookie that tastes like the butteriest shortbread crossed with a crunchy streusel.

It’s a perfect finish to a meal but also delicious with a coffee or tea.

Italian Sbrisolona on white plate and extra cake in the background on wooden board.

My family hosted a student from Mantova, Italy, a few years ago. It didn’t take long to realize that our families loved food and cooking. Soon, we were exchanging recipes. She loved my Jelly Cakes, and I learned to bake her mamma’s classic torta Sbrisolona – a traditional crumbly cake from Mantova.

Sbrisolona isn’t a cake, as you would know it. It’s more like a large shortbread cookie but the tastiest shortbread you’ll probably ever try. 

Almonds take center stage in this sbrisolona, offering a delightful crunch alongside the unique texture of cornmeal. A hint of anise oil adds a subtle complexity, though some prefer the bright citrus notes of finely grated lemon zest.

Why you’ll love this recipe

  • Texture: The name sbrisolona translates to crumbly in Italian. This authentic Italian treat crumbles and melts in your mouth, making you return for more!
  • Simple: Based on simple ingredients of flour, butter, sugar, and nuts, this recipe is known for being relatively simple. But despite its basic ingredients, the magic lies in how they combine to create a rich and satisfying taste.
  • Unique tradition: Sbrisolona isn’t your typical cake that’s sliced and served. It’s meant to be broken by hand to share, making it perfect for parties and family gatherings.

For complete ingredient quantities and full instructions, please scroll to the printable recipe card at the bottom of the page.

Ingredients

Ingredients for this recipe as in the recipe card.

This cherished family recipe uses only a handful of classic ingredients, like flour, sugar, and butter, alongside a few special extras for that perfect crumbly texture.

  • Almonds – Use whole, natural, raw almonds. Blanched almonds will also work if that’s what you have.
  • Yellow Cornmeal – or polenta cornmeal, which is slightly different from USA yellow cornmeal. If you can find Italian cornmeal for making polenta, this is the best choice. However, yellow cornmeal will also work.
  • Oil – A flavorless oil like sunflower is good. This is one of the few recipes that doesn’t use olive oil.
  • Anise oil – For the traditional sbrisolona from Mantova, anise oil is required. However, finely grated lemon zest is a great flavoring alternative.

Instructions

Sbrisolona has been made in Italian homes for centuries, and while you could make it with an electric mixer there it’s not necessary.

Collage of process images showing how to make this crumbly Italian cake.

Preheat the oven to 320ºF/160ºC and butter two springform pans. Use a sharp knife to chop the almonds finely. A blender or food processor can be used.

  1. Rub the softened butter into the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl.
  2. The mixture will be crumbly and look like coarse breadcrumbs.
  3. Stir in the sugar, chopped almonds, oil, and anise oil.
  4. Spoon into two springform pans and press with your fingertips lightly before baking.

Substitutions

  • Yellow cornmeal – substitute semolina for the polenta or yellow cornmeal.
  • Anise oil – Instead of anise oil or finely grated lemon zest, try a teaspoon of cinnamon or 1/2 teaspoon of almond extract.

Variations

This traditional Sbrisolona recipe, courtesy of a Mantovan baker, is authentic yet open to variations. Feel free to personalize it for your family’s tastes!

  • Egg yolk – an egg yolk can be added to create a sturdier sbrisolona.
  • Nutty – swap almonds for other nuts like hazelnuts or macadamias.
  • Chocolate – add chopped dark chocolate or mini chocolate chips.

Storage

As with all baked goods, this is best on the day of baking. However, this classic Italian cake keeps very well. Store in a sealed container at room temperature for a week.

Sbrisolona can be frozen. Be sure to wrap it well in plastic and pop it into a zip lock bag or sealed container. Defrost, still sealed so that it doesn’t sweat and soften. Refresh and revive in the oven if necessary.

Tips for Success

Whole crumbly cake on wooden board and white paper doily.
  • First, it is important to note that torta sbrisolona is not a cake in the traditional sense. Think of it as a giant cookie, not a cake. Don’t expect this cake to rise – it should not be much more than 12mm or 1/2 inch high.
  • Avoid overworking the dough.
  • Don’t press the dough down too firmly in the pan. The crumblier the better! This reflects the traditional method of making the cake by hand and creates that delightful textural contrast.
  • The original recipe didn’t use egg yolk, and that’s what my family prefers. This crumble cake is really crumbly and has a wonderful melt-in-the-mouth texture. If you prefer the cake to hold together better, add an egg yolk. This results in larger crumbs, but the sbrisolona will not be as crumbly. Sbrisolona containing egg yolk browns more in the oven.

FAQ

Where is sbrisolona from?

Sbrisolona originated in Mantova, in the region of Lombardy, Italy. Sbrisolona’s reach has extended beyond Mantova, now enjoyed in other parts of Lombardy, Emilia Romagna, and even around Verona.

How to pronounce sbrisolona

Sbrisolona is pronounced zbriz-a-LO-na. It’s not too difficult if you say it slowly at first.

Serving suggestions

Uneven pieces of crumbly cake stack up on wooden board and white paper doily.

According to my Italian friend who shared this recipe, the perfect accompaniment for sbrisolona is grappa or nocino, a walnut liqueur. The idea is to drizzle a little over your piece of crumbly cake.

During a visit to Parma with my cousin, I discovered a delightful twist on sbrisolona – it was served with an alcohol-infused zabaglione! I can think of nothing more delicious to end a wonderful Italian meal. If you want a good zabaglione recipe, check out my Tiramisu.

Whether drizzled with grappa, dunked in zabaglione, or snacked on with a cup of tea, this Torta Sbrisolona, an Italian Crumble cake, is bound to become a firm favorite!

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Uneven pieces of sbrisolona stacked up on wooden board and white paper doily.

Sbrisolona Recipe

Sbrisolona is a traditional cake or giant cookie from Mantova in the Lombardy region of Italy. It buttery, nutty and irristible!
5 from 6 votes
Print Pin Review
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 45 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour 5 minutes
Servings:12 servings
Author: Marcellina

Ingredients

  • ¾ cup almonds See note 1 plus more for decorating
  • 2⅓ cup all purpose flour
  • cup yellow cornmeal See Note 2
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon fine salt
  • 5 oz (1¼ sticks/150 grams) unsalted butter room temperature
  • ¾ cup granulated white sugar
  • 5 teaspoons sunflower oil
  • ¼ teaspoon anise oil OR 1 lemon zest grated

Instructions

  • Preheat the oven to 320ºF/160ºC. Grease two 8inch (20cm) spring form pans.
  • Chop almonds coarsely, uneven pieces are fine. Set aside.
  • Combine flour, cornmeal, baking powder and salt.
  • Rub in the soft butter until the mixture is crumbly.
  • Stir through sugar and almonds then add the oil and anise oil (or lemon zest, if using)
  • Spoon the mixture evenly into the two prepared pans and press down with your fingertips – just a little but not too much. It is meant to be rough and crumbly not pressed flat and too firmly.
  • Scatter extra almonds over and press in slightly.
  • Bake at 320ºF/160ºC for 45 minutes.

Notes

  1. Whole, unblanched almonds add more flavor; however, unblanched almonds are fine.
  2. Cornmeal for polenta is preferred, but regular yellow cornmeal will also work.
Tips for Success
  • Sbrisolona is a giant cookie, not a cake! Don’t expect it to rise much (think 1/2 inch).
  • Don’t overwork the dough!
  • Crumbly is key! Resist pressing the dough down for the best texture.
  • Add an optional egg yolk to create larger crumbs and a slightly denser (but still delicious) sbrisolona.
Tried this recipe? Give it a star rating and leave a comment below!

Nutritional Estimate Per Serving

Calories: 313kcal | Carbohydrates: 36g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 17g | Saturated Fat: 7g | Cholesterol: 27mg | Sodium: 3mg | Potassium: 140mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 13g | Vitamin A: 312IU | Calcium: 45mg | Iron: 2mg

Nutritional Disclaimer

Nutritional information is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. For accurate results, it is recommended that the nutritional information be calculated based on the ingredients and brands you use.

This updated recipe was first published 17 August 2010

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17 Comments

  1. Marcellina,
    Thank you for the post. I thought I would have to ask my friend from Parma, proprietor of a local northern Italian restaurant, to once again write down the recipe that she had given me many times before. This is it!

    1. I’m glad you found this recipe! It’s so good and got the thumbs up by a group of Montovani students who told me that it was just like their mammas! Enjoy!

  2. 5 stars
    This is authentic and delicious! I used zest from a mandarin orange instead of lemon and it was lovely.

  3. I really like the sound of this dessert…it has to have a great texture.

  4. Yes, indeed. Get two (or more) Italians together and the topic soon turns to food…. lol!

    This looks like a lovely dish, simple but tasty. If I still have some polenta around I’ll definitely be giving it a try!

  5. now this cake sounds incredible….I am definitely copying this recipe to make later.thanks so much for sharing it with us, I bet you had as much fun as your exchange student did!

  6. It sounds wonderful, and the story that accompanies it is even better! I used to teach international students and we talked about food a lot, and also ate and cooked together.:)

  7. This sounds wonderful, and I love the way it's meant to be shared around the table. Great to hear the exchange of recipes brought so much joy to the evening.

  8. That looks absolutely lovely! Isn't it nice when you meet people that love and adore food as much as you do! 😀

  9. I love sbrisolona and have eaten it in Mantova. Yours looks just as good. It's also a specialty of the town my mom is from, also in Emilia Romagna.

  10. Trissa, I will certainly ask! That's a great idea! I'm sure they will have a wonderful recipe!

  11. Thank you for sharing Marcellina! I was wondering – would you be able to get that pumpkin ravioli dish from them? I heard that the best comes from that region… is that true?