Mom and I explored a lot of Latvian cuisine while she was visiting and we were determined to tackle one of the fancy Latvian desserts from the Latvian Cooking cookbook my mom bought for me at the Latvian Canadian Centre. I have a great love for hazelnuts and was thrilled to find out that they are a Latvian staple and Mom really wanted to make the torte. She kept referring to its use of meringue and when I started making the torte asked her, “Are you sure this is the right recipe?” Turns out it wasn’t! LOL, oh well. I will make it next time I see her perhaps! We were also very confused about what a torte is so we looked it up.
A torte is always a cake but a cake is not always a torte. What makes a torte different is its use of breadcrumbs or nuts (in this case both) in the batter, there is very little flour. This gives it a dense and dry texture which we were not expecting either. In the end, we enjoyed the torte very much despite all these surprises! I hope you enjoy the visual tutorial on how to make a homemade torte. It was a very cool journey for us!
Latvian Hazelnut Torte
9 eggs, separated
9 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp salt
3 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1 tsp vanilla
3/4 cup ground hazelnuts
1 cup good fine breadcrumbs
1 tbsp flour combined with 2 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
3/4 lb unsalted butter
2 tbsp mocha essence or strong coffee
2 egg yolks
1/2 cup milk
1 tbsp flour
The hardest issue when working with hazelnuts is how to go about peeling them. I have tried the roasting method but it was too frustrating and difficult so this time I did the blanching method. I brought 2 cups of water to a boil, added 2 tbsp (slowly) of baking soda which makes it all crazy boiling and then added the nuts and blanched for a few minutes. Then I ran cold water over them and me and Mom removed the skins. I then warmed and dried them in a pan over medium heat. This may have changed their flavour though, we did not have a strong hazelnut flavour in the torte. I combined the nuts with the breadcrumbs and baking powder in a food processor.
To start the batter I beat the egg yolks with the sugar and salt until the batter turned a light banana-yellow and thickened. Then I added the lemon juice and zest. I stirred the breadcrumb mixture into the batter. I beat the egg whites with cream and tartar until stiff in a separate bowl. They were not getting stiff so I added some sugar which helped. I took a third of the egg whites and folded them into the batter. Once combined I added the rest of the eggs whites and the batter was ready!
I did not have three 10″ layer cake springform pans which I thought was going to ruin everything but Mom and I figured most of these pans were close in size and at this point we just wanted to eat the torte and get it in the oven before the egg whites deflated. I greased the pans and put parchment on the bottom and then sprayed them with a non-stick spray. I divided the batter so that the height of the cakes would be about the same and baked them at 350F for 30 minutes. I also made up some decaf espresso for the mocha cream.
The icing was the strangest part of the recipe! You cook the milk and flour together until thickened and let cool for a little while. You beat the egg yolks with coffee and add to the flour and milk mixture. I wanted more flavour in the icing so I did 1 tbsp of espresso and 1 tbsp of Kahlua. I beat the butter with sugar and then stirred in the egg/milk mixture. There is your icing, how odd is that?! I spread the icing between the layers with a palette knife and then slathered all over the top and sides. I used a vegetable peeler on some semi-sweet chocolate for the topping.
I don’t think there is a way to take a flattering picture of people eating but I tried! For days we took every opportunity to enjoy the torte. No, it was not the cake we were hoping for. It didn’t have meringues. It was dry and the texture was odd. But this is a very special cake. Every time we took a bite we could tell this was a fancy, fancy dessert people pay big bucks for. Considering it took me almost an entire day to make and photograph it, every bite is special and beautiful.
So many yummy foodie memories with my Mom, that is the greatest sweet treasure of all. I am glad she is now home safe and sound. I am so grateful she came and brightened up my life here in Nova Scotia and inspired me to explore our food and family cultural heritage. I love you Mom.