Monday, March 2, 2015

Reprise of my Valentine Cake

Almond Pistachio Torte with Baklava Flavors
Ever since Valentine's Day, when I made an Almond Pistachio Torte with Baklava Flavors, I have been itching to remake the torte, with some changes. Don't get me wrong - there was absolutely nothing wrong with the flavors. There was nothing wrong with the cake at all, except that if someone with less experience tries that recipe, it will yield a lot of frustration and possibly some heartbreak along with it. 

My Reasons for Making Changes

For starters, when I get going on the creation of a recipe, I am of the "more is better" school. It is really hard for me to scale back on ingredients. I also usually look for what will be the most rich, unless I am absolutely working on a recipe for paring back in some way, due to someone's dietary restrictions. Going on that theme, I used 5 eggs, 1 2/3 cup sugar, 2 sticks of butter and a half cup of heavy cream, on top of the 3+ cups of ground nuts. As I said; rich. My goal was to have the flavors of Baklava, in a cake. That much was pretty good. The actual layers of the torte were too fragile, too wet, too sunken in the middle. 

I used possibly more glaze than needed, but oh my, was that cake moist. I think part of the sinking-in-the-middle problem was too much meringue in the batter and way too much butter mixed in. When attempting to trim the very high edges, the pieces were wet enough to pack into the middle, where the layer was sunken. All this was okay, ultimately. The cake held together, but trying to move the layers onto the cake to ice them was a real trick. The flavors were wonderful. Still, I wanted something less friable. 
"New and Improved": Nut Torte with Baklava Flavors

Creating a New Version

I got thinking it has been a while since I made a dessert. Desserts are generally my specialty. And my mind once again turned to that Almond Pistachio Torte. I got out my Grandma's recipe for a Nut Torta, alongside my recipe for the Almond Pistachio Torte. The vast differences were almost funny. Grandma's cake was mostly eggs with a little sugar and 1 cup of nuts. I wanted to keep the 3 cups of ground nuts I used originally, but felt that I needed more eggs in the mix. Less as meringue, perhaps, but more overall. I thought I needed less sugar, so I lowered that quantity. I eliminated both the 2 sticks of butter (Grandma's cake has no oil or butter at all), keeping only the 1/4 cup of olive oil, which I absolutely had intended using from the get-go. 

The flavors in the original Almond Pistachio Torte were of Baklava: cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, rose water. I kept these, but used slightly more: a teaspoon apiece of cinnamon and cardamom, and I kept the rosewater at 1 teaspoon. The glaze I used on the original cake was upwards of 8 tablespoons of liquid. The cake layers were too moist to begin with. Not knowing how this second attempt would fare, I chose to lower the liquids to 4 tablespoons. As it turned out, this cake could easily have taken the amount I used in the first one. While the torte layers were in no way dry, the extra glaze would not have hurt at all either.

Nice soft crumb when fresh

In the first cake, I wanted pistachios, as my husband loves pistachios. I was going for the love, being Valentine's Day! This time I used 1 cup each of ground almonds, pecans and walnuts. Any nuts preferred will work. It can be made with all of one particular kind of nut meal, or half and half of two kinds. 

The Results

Freshly made, the torte was lovely. The layers  came out of the pans easily and were exceptionally easy to handle. Immediately sliced, the torte was nowhere near the "wet" consistency of the first torte. Obviously I could have used more of the glaze this time, rather than cutting the mixture in half. Once the cake set for a while, cut, it started to dry very quickly. Inside, it was still nice and moist as a cake should be, but the outside was not holding up. If it is meant to go quickly, this should be no problem. Another option to help it stay more moist: put less icing between the layers and stretch it to cover the sides also. I have not tasted it yet this second day, but if it was drying that quickly on the day it was made, I think I need more of something to keep it moist. More olive oil in the batter, and more glaze after baking, probably. Also this time I used all purpose flour in the batter, rather than the rice flour in the first mixture. I may go back to the rice flour concept. I have a feeling I am going to have a round 3 on this recipe before too long!

Nut Torte with Baklava Flavors

Nut Torte with Baklava Flavors

makes one 4-layer 8-inch torte

8 eggs, divided, room temperature
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon rosewater, optional
1 tablespoon fresh lemon zest
3 cups finely ground nuts of choice
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground true cinnamon, 
     (sometimes called Ceylon cinnamon)
1 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon sugar

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease four 8-inch round pans. Cut parchment to fit the bottoms of the pans and set the parchment inside, then grease the parchment. Grind the nuts, measure out three cups worth and set aside. Sift or whisk together the flour, cinnamon, cardamom, salt, baking powder and cloves and set aside. Mix together the olive oil, vanilla extract and rosewater and set aside.

In a mixer bowl, crack in 5 of the eggs. Separate the remaining 3 eggs and put the yolks with the 5 eggs and the 3 whites in another clean bowl. Set the whole egg mixture in a stand mixer with the 1 1/4 cups sugar and beat on medium or medium high speed until the mixture is very light and fluffy and will drop slowly, ribbon-like, dissolving back into the mixture, taking a few seconds to disappear. Mix in the olive oil mixture and the lemon zest, then stir in the nuts.

With a mixer and very clean beaters, beat the 3 egg whites until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add in the tablespoon of sugar and beat to stiff peaks. Fold this mixture into the batter until no white remains. Divide the mixture evenly between the 4 pans. Bake the layers for about 15 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. 

Let the layers cool for a few minutes in the pans, then turn them out onto cooling racks. Brush on the Glaze, dividing evenly between the 4 layers.

1 tablespoon water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon honey
1 strip (about 1 x 2 1/2-inches) lemon peel
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1-inch true cinnamon stick, crumbled
3 whole cloves

Set all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan over very low heat and let them steep while the cake is baking. Strain the mixture and brush onto the cake layers.
Frost the layers with Honey Butter Icing (found here).

My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. I would love to hear from you, to help me continue my journey to explore diverse culinary experiences and hopefully to start you on a journey of your own. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website and Marketplace, Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.