Friday, September 23, 2005

Torte Reform

Last month I came up with an idea for a lavish, luscious pumpkin cake that rocked my socks off. My first round of efforts resulted in a moist, spice and nut-laden dark cake that was very satisfying, but not quite as elegant as I wanted.

So, I searched on Epicurious for something similar to the walnut torte I love so well at the local Hungarian pastry shop, finally finding a Hungarian hazelnut torte recipe that looked tempting.

I pondered and I pondered, and last weekend I finally headed into the kitchen to test my planned modifications: replacing some of the eggs with cooked pumpkin, changing the hazelnuts to walnuts, and adding a bit of fresh orange peel to the frosting.

The cake itself turned out soft and light, though rich, even with using whole wheat pastry flour and unrefined sweeteners. And though it wasn't quite as dry as the traditional torte (and this is one time when a dry cake is not a bad thing!), it retained the good flavor and understated sweetness.

Thr frosting, however, was far too buttery and rich for my tastes, and I had added just a little too much orange (and it was only about 1/2 tsp!). So I turned to my faithful old Big Red (Betty Crocker) for a more basic buttercream recipe that used half the butter and offered an alternate version using maple syrup. (Part of the problem also lies in the fact that my electric mixer is having problems, and I can't use it to beat the frosting into a creamy mixture without having gobs of flavored butter spattered around the room.)

Since the first version of this torte lacked a definite pumpkin flavor, I knew I needed to enhance that, too, by adding just a smidgen of spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves) to the cake batter and by using more cooked pumpkin (and a hint of cinnamon) in the frosting.

And if those changes weren't enough, I decided that I wanted to make a four-layer torte the second time around.

Last night I finally had an evening free in which to test out all these changes, and though I'm still not entirely satisfied (the buttercream still isn't quite right, and I'm wondering if a variation on the apricot preserve filling from the original recipe might not be a bad idea... say, a thin spread of spiced pumpkin butter between layers?), overall I'm very pleased with how the torte turned out. The cake is still on the moist side, but retains that traditional torte flavor along with a deeper spiced pumpkin note that doesn't overpower you, and the combination of flavors and textures makes for a sumptuous dessert that will have you sinking back into the sofa in blissful delight.

(And four layers of it! I have to say, I am really impressed with myself for doing that... it's so cool!)

I've really been thrilled to see so many of my recipe ideas come to flavorful fruition this year.

But this one... dare I say it?... takes the cake.

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