Walnut Torte and Easter
Easter is always something of a bittersweet occasion for me. My beloved mother was in hospital in 1997 and slipped away from us two days after her 75th birthday on Easter Saturday that year. Two years later, the younger of my two (older) brothers passed, also in hospital and on an Easter Saturday. This snippet is dedicated with much love to my mum, Irén (Irene) and my brother, Sándor (Alex).
Mum was a passionate cook and an artisan baker. She was always baking, and if she wasn't baking, she was crocheting (another of her fine talents)! Her strudel dough was second to none, and her yeast cakes, doughnuts, tortes and slices were quite simply amazing. Looking back, I wish I had taken rolls of photos as she cooked, and scribed more of her recipes. Shortly after I was married, my parents retired to the seaside several hours away. So, while they were enjoying a peaceful life of whale watching, fishing and lawn bowls, I was busy working and raising a family, and opportunities for catch ups were relatively few and far between.
A lifetime can pass by in the blink of an eye, you know. Mum loved it when I cooked for her and I regret that we didn't have more time together in her latter years to cook together and share recipes. But the images of her standing in the kitchen wearing her apron and a polka dot bandana are etched in my memory. And I am fortunate to have as keepsakes a small but treasured pile of her handwritten recipes; as well as those that she dictated to me as I typed on my little red Olivetti.
Walnuts (or dió as they are known in Hungarian) were a favourite in my mother's kitchen and she would while away time shelling and grinding them by hand for use in her baking. Walnut filled beigli, walnut cake or torta, little walnut kifli, and a magnificent walnut and chocolate Zserbó slice were among the walnut recipes on her repertoire.
The recipe I am sharing with you here is for a Walnut Torte (Diós Torta) that my mother (and my aunts) would bake on very special occasions, such as Easter, birthdays and other anniversaries. It's a big, delicious, European cake. Like Dobos, one bite will have you fantasising about it for life! An aunt of mine would use a dozen eggs for the cake alone. While I watched mum bake this cake on numerous occasions as I was growing up, I didn't manage to jot down the recipe. Therefore, I have referred to the encyclopaedic Culinaria Hungary as a guide and adapted my recipe accordingly.
The cake itself is similar to a whipped sponge and, to my huge delight, I recently baked it successfully using gluten free flour. The rich, buttery walnut filling is unusual, in that it is based on a mixture of flour and milk (I used arrowroot) which is cooked to a custard-like consistency in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. (I have very distinct memories of watching my mother make this and all types of similar cooked custard fillings for cakes). Creamed cultured butter and sugar are added to the custard, along with walnuts and rum. The filling is a little 'gloopy' at first, but after beating well with the butter mixture, the consistency improves to a smooth creamy texture. The filled cake improves with age and is better in terms of texture and flavour on days two and three. Here is the receipt:
250g ground walnuts, the fresher, the better
a few whole walnut pieces extra to decorate
good quality dark chocolate, grated, to decorate
For the sponge cake:
6 free range eggs
1 cup vanilla infused caster sugar
1 cup flour (plain or gluten free)
4 tablespoons rum or brandy
For the cream filling:
6 tablespoons plain flour or arrowroot
150g icing sugar, sifted
300g unsalted cultured butter, chopped, at room temperature
4 tablespoons rum or brandy
2 teaspoons fine vanilla sugar
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees C/350 degrees F. Prepare a 22cm/9 inch springform cake pan by greasing it and lining it with baking paper.
Separate the eggs. Whisk the yolks with a 1/3 cup of the caster sugar until creamy. In a separate bowl, whisk the egg whites with the remaining caster sugar, until soft peaks form. Gently fold the flour and rum into the egg yolk mixture, then fold in 40g of the ground walnuts (note: the rest of the ground walnuts are used for the cream filling).
Next, fold about a third of the whipped egg white mixture into the egg yolk mixture. This will make it easier to incorporate the rest of the whipped egg whites. Pour the mixture into the prepared springform pan and bake in the preheated oven for about 30-35 minutes or until the cake springs back gently when touched. Leave the cake to cool in the pan. When the cake is cool, slice it into two or three layers.
While the cake is baking make the cream filling. Combine the milk and flour or arrowroot in a bowl and mix until smooth. Pop the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir constantly until the mixture thickens to a custard like consistency. Set the custard aside and allow it to cool. Note: it may appear really 'gloopy', but this will improve. Cream the icing sugar and butter until smooth. Whip this mixture into the custard and beat well, then add the remaining ground walnuts, rum and vanilla sugar. Beat until this cream mixture is smooth, then pop it into the refrigerator to chill. You will be able to tell when it's ready to spread onto the cake, as it will have 'set' a little. Spread the cream filling over the layer/s of the cake and then over the top and sides. Sprinkle with grated dark chocolate and the extra ground walnuts. Decorate with whole walnuts.
Store, covered, in the refrigerator. Like many good Hungarian things, the cake will improve with age. *Wink*.
Easter Wishes and Love xox
Boldog húsvétot kivánok! Wishing you and yours a happy Easter. Thanks so much for your kind words and regular visits. I sincerely appreciate your friendship and support.
Incidentally, if you would like a taste of how the Magyars celebrate Easter, The Hungarian Girl has on her blog some lovely images taken at an Easter festival in a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Hollókö in north eastern Hungary.
In closing, I have decided to dedicate this snippet to my mum, my dad and both of my brothers, all wonderful cooks and none of whom are with us any longer. I miss them all so dearly. I look forward to spending Easter with Peter, and breaking bread with my daughter, my son and some of our dear friends. What are your plans?
Step by Step process for Walnut Torte:
Hello. I'm Liz, a writer, cook and traveller based in Canberra, Australia.
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NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.