Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Mimosa Cake for the Festa della Donna

Tomorrow’s a day many Italians dread… or, put another way, tomorrow’s the day many Italian men dread. That’s because it’s the festa dellla donna – or Woman’s Day which means tomorrow is the day many women put on their best frock and take to the restaurants to celebrate their womanhood – leaving the men folk at home to fend for themselves. For many Italian men, that means either starve or retreat to the bar for a humble panino.

For me it’s not so much a problem as I consider myself a fairly deft hand in the kitchen. But for a lot of my friends at the bar, I know it’s a day they have come to dread. They can’t even resort to their mother’s house for dinner because even Mamma takes the day off on the 8th of March!

Joking aside, International Women’s Day (IWD) is a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future. It has its roots in early twentieth century socialist political movements in Eastern Europe with the first IWD having been observed in Germany in 1911. It became popular in the West in the 1970s.

In Italy, whilst the Festa della Donna isn’t exactly an official holiday, it is widely recognized and observed. It was first held in 1946, organized by the feminist UDI (Union of Italian Women) and its popularity is such today that it’s become something of a de facto unofficial public holiday for women only!  Unlike local festivals, it’s one of those rare national events that are celebrated throughout the country. So, if you are a woman travelling in Italy on the 8th of March, whether you’re in Viareggio in Tuscany or Casino in Lazio, or anywhere in the country for that matter, as luck would have it, there’s going to be a party happening nearby. (The only downside - if you consider it such - you’ll have to leave your husband or boyfriend behind in the hotel.)

The only consolation for us men is we don’t have to remember to buy flowers. Yellow mimosa is the flower of choice and women exchange bouquets among themselves – which is fine by me. There is no hidden or ideological reasoning behind the mimosa. Story has it that it was chosen as a symbol by Roman women at the time because it was sweet smelling, one of the few flowers available in March and, perhaps more importantly, it did not cost much. But the tradition took hold and the yellow mimosa has become an Italian symbol of Women’s Day.

The other tradition that comes with the day is eating out. Go anywhere in Italy on the 8th of March and the restaurants will be filled with women. You’ll be hard pushed to see a man unless he’s carrying a serving platter or another bottle of wine. Tables are filled with friends, sisters, aunts, cousins, daughters, mothers, grandmothers… even great grandmothers! 

The dish of the day is Torta Mimosa. Although regional preferences still dictate menus across the country, the Mimosa cake is the one exception and is served everywhere. It is a cake covered with pieces of sponge cake, reminisent of the flowers of the mimosa. Almost certainly it was made around the same time that mimosa was chosen as the symbol of Women's Day in Italy. Being a poisonous flower, mimosa cannot be sued as an ingredient and therefore the sponge is chopped to give the appearance of mimosa.

I’m not having Mimosa cake, obviously, because I haven’t been invited to the party. I’m going to have to settle for something more humble. Most likely I’ll go around to the bar, join the disgruntled and drown our sorrows. Besides, it’s only one day in the year and then it wll be back to business as usual!

Mimosa cake
Torta Mimosa

Makes one 22cm cake
Preparation time: 20 minutes + chilling time for the cream
Cooking time: 20 minutes
For the cake
4 free-range eggs
200g caster sugar
200g self raising flour

For the cream
300ml whole milk
2 egg yolks
1 heaped tablespoon plain flour
2 tablespoons caster sugar
250ml cream
Icing sugar to serve

Separate the eggs.  Add the sugar to the yolks and whisk until thick and foamy.  To this add the sifted flour and fold in gently. Whisk the whites to stiff peaks and fold into the mix.  Divide the cake mixture equally into two 22cm greased and lined cake tins and place into a preheated oven at 180ºC for 20 minutes. 

Whilst the cakes are cooking make the cream. Gently heat the milk, but do not boil.  Whilst heating the milk, whisk the egg yolks together with flour and sugar in a bowl.  Add a little of the warm milk to the egg mixture and stir well.  Then add the egg mixture to the rest of the milk and heat until gently boiling, stirring all the time. Cook for a few minutes until the cream thickens.  Set aside to cool completely.  Once cold, whip the cream until stiff and fold into the patisserie cream

When both the cream and cake are cool you can start assembling the cake.  Slice each cake in half (so you have 4 layers in total).  Chop one layer into 1cm dice.  Fill the other layers with the cream and place the cream all over the top and sides of the cake.  Decorate the top of the cake with the small cubes of cake and dust with icing sugar.


  1. Veramente simpatico il tuo racconto sui festeggiamenti tipicamente italiani di questa giornata. Per curiosità hai delle fonti certe sulla nascita della torta mimosa?

  2. Grazie per le tue simpatici commenti. Si dice che la torta mimosa è nata nel 1951, frutto della creatività di un pasticciere romano. Ma sulla nascita della torta circolano molte storie, delle leggende metropolitane, e alla fine non c’è nessun certezza sulla sua origine.