A Torte of Domestic Pumpkin without a Shell or Crustless Pumpkin Cheese Torte

By Maîtresse Scholastica Joycors

This recipe comes from the famous Italian chef Bartolomeo Scappi – Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi (1570). This desert is a cross between a cheesecake and a crustless pumpkin pie it is heavily spiced and delightful to eat with some freshly whipped creme.

Bartolomeo Scappi (1500 to 1577 A.D.) was a famous Renaissance chef. He served as master cook in the kitchens of two popes and several powerful cardinals. Toward the end of his illustrious career Scappi wrote a major cookbook on meat, fish, poultry, pastries, vegetables, food for the sick, food presentation, how to choose the best foodstuffs, and how to manage the workers in a large kitchen of a royal or papal household. It was called The Opera of Bartolomeo Scappi. The word opera means “great work” in Italian and can apply to any art, not just music. This six-volume cookbook was an international best seller in its day. It’s first printing in 1570 was so successful that it was reprinted 4 years later by the same publisher, and was reprinted by other printers a total of 6 more times between 1590 and 1649.

To prepare a tourte of domestic pumpkin without a shell
Bartolomeo Scappi – Opera di Bartolomeo Scappi (1570) V. 108 (tr. by Terence Scully)

When the pumpkin is scraped, cook it in a good meat broth or else in salted water and butter. Then put it into a strainer and squeeze the broth out of it. Grind it in a mortar along with, for every two pounds of it, a pound of fresh ricotta and a pound of creamy cheese that is not too salted. When everything is ground up, put it through a colander, adding in ten well beaten eggs, a pound of ground sugar, an ounce of ground cinnamon, a pound of milk, four ounces of fresh butter and a half ounce of ginger. Have a tourte pan ready with six ounces of very hot butter in it and put the filling into it. Bake it in an oven or braise it, giving it a glazing with sugar and cinnamon. Serve it hot.

Let’s talk pumpkin as a great deal of people consider pumpkin a new world item and not available during period. Scappi’s book was published in 1570 and says that he used pumpkin (see recipe above). Which could have been any type of squash since Waverly Root talks about the many varieties of squash and that goes along with the varying opinions of whether squash existed in the Old World before the time of Columbus, yet we know that squash was grown in the hanging gardens in Babylon and was mentioned by Apicius who gave us recipes for it. Platina included a recipe for squash soup in his post-Roman book and Charlemagne’s instructions were to create a garden with a variety of “gourds” or squash. Cabez de Vaca reported finding pumpkins in Western Florida in 1528 and stated that they were “better and more flavorful than those of Spain” which would indicate that they had a different variety. He along with Columbus and other explorers sent back samples to the botanists thus bring New World foods to the Old World.

The original recipe makes about 4 -5 nine-inch pies and so the recipe has been reduced by half. Since at this time of year fresh pumpkins are not yet available I opted to use canned pumpkin to make this dessert. Having cooked pumpkin to store I find boiling pumpkin requires more prep time than roasting because it adds more moisture and does not have as robust a flavor as a roasted or steamed pumpkin. This however I think is a personal preference.

This recipe calls for ground sugar it would not have been pure white granulated sugar and so I decided to use light brown sugar, but you could also use turbinado or demerara sugar ground well to get a more accurate taste.

Scappi’s recipes were generally heavily spiced, in part because he was showing off the papal coffers and partially because the spices were transported long ways and tended to lose their potency. So, for today’s palate the spices have been dialed back a bit.


Crustless Pumpkin Cheese Torte

2 cups Pumpkin; Pureed or canned pumpkin

1 cup Ricotta cheese 

1 cup Mascarpone (or cream cheese) 

5 large eggs or 7 medium eggs 

1 1/4 cups Light brown sugar 

2 tablespoons cinnamon 

4 teaspoons ground ginger

½ teaspoon salt

½ -1 cup cream (depends on firmness desired)

4 tablespoons unsalted butter 

1/4 cup Melted butter to cover bottom of pan

Cinnamon-sugar mixture 


Preparing the Pumpkin/Squash:

  1. Choose a medium Sugar Pumpkin. Clean the outside of the pumpkin. Cut it in half and scrape out all of the seeds. 
  2. Methods of cooking.
    Steam: Place cut pieces into a roasting pan and fill the bottom with water. Then seal the pan with foil.
    Roasting: To roast the pumpkin, you can also place the pumpkin face down on a foil lined pan. I think a roasted pumpkin has a fuller flavor.

Boiling. Cut pumpkin in half and peel the pumpkin. Cut pumpkin into small pieces and place into a pot of boiling water that you have added 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon of salt. Boil until soft about 20-30 minutes or until you can stab it with a knife easily. Drain in a colander till cooled. 

  1. For steaming or roasting your pumpkin heat your oven to 400° F and bake for 1 to 1.5 hours. Carefully remove the foil avoiding getting burned by the steam. To check for doneness, poke a knife into the flesh of the pumpkin if it goes through without applying any pressure at all it is done.
  2. Regardless of whether you steamed or roasted the pumpkin, allow it to cool flesh-side down on a cooling rack over a sheet pan, so the moisture can drip out. Pumpkins are full of water.
  3. When cool, scoop out the flesh and place in your food processor and process till you get a creamy consistency. If you boiled your pumpkin simply add to your food process and puree. 
  4. If your pumpkin puree seems a bit watery you will need to strain it in a colander which is lined with cheesecloth for about an hour. It is now ready to use.

Note if you are in a hurry or if pumpkins are not available then use canned pure pumpkin puree.

Filling Instructions:

  1. In a large bowl add the 2 cups of pumpkin, the mascarpone, and ricotta cheese and mix until smooth.
  2. Whisk the eggs and then add to the pumpkin and mix well.
  3. Add brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, and ginger and mix until smooth.
  4. Pour in cream and softened unsalted butter, mix until smooth.
  5. To prepare pan place 2 tablespoons of butter in the bottom of each pie pan and place into oven to melt.
  6. Pour the mixture in carefully, leaving plenty of room for the cheesecake to expand in the oven.
  7. Cook at 350°F for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Check to see if it is done. The cheesecake will have puffed up in the middle and will be a bit wobbly in the center. When it is done sprinkle the top with a good smattering of cinnamon and sugar mixture.
  8. Turn off the oven but leave the cheesecake inside, leaving the oven door open a little to let it cool slowly for 45 minutes.
  9. Remove from oven and let cool until just warm. Serve warm.

Makes 2 – 9-inch pies

I discovered the original redaction amounts by Max Miller of Tasting History, but have completely rewritten his instructions and made a few adjustments to his amounts.

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