Thursday, January 23, 2014

If no one minds

I have always been rather proud of this complex cake. When was the last time anyone made "Pecan torte with mocha filling and Sauce Jose" (a rum-infused whipped egg cream)? It's a convoluted 1930s-era set of recipes, coming from one Edith Key Haines' Cookbook. I ask you.

If no one minds, I think I'll do my baking here. Since last spring, I have enjoyed writing as the Chicago Baking Examiner for However, as of this month the good people at Examiner will more thoroughly insist -- as they have always strongly encouraged -- that we Examiners "write locally," and will impose sanctions, good and bad, for writing less than locally. The positive sanction is, we get an extra dollar per locally relevant article.

Naturally there has never been much that is newsy or local about baking. A cookie recipe is a cookie recipe. We Food and Drink Examiners prattle happily on, writing down recipes that work equally as well in Boise as in Chicago. "Most of what you guys are writing is not local," the hard-worked Channel manager tells us forthrightly. And lays out the new policy and the sanctions.

Faced with a sort of new Prime Directive, I have decided I don't care to really get into the job of volunteer journalist on the local baking industry, interviewing pastry chefs, keeping track of special sales, announcing where unique ingredients for a really local cookie recipe may be found, and so on. I'd rather just bake. So I'm retiring, and wish everybody in the Denver headquarters, and elsewhere, Godspeed.

But I've done some rather nice things at Examiner, and I feel like sharing. One of my proudest achievements so far, if no one minds my saying so, was this: Pecan torte with mocha filling and sauce Jose. As per guidelines, I broke the epic up into four installments. Trusting that my dear AFG readers have the requisite attention spans, here it all is.

And don't worry. This is still a wine blog. It's just a wine blog where, if no one minds, we also save room for dessert.

Pecan torte with mocha filling and Sauce Jose (a rum-infused whipped egg cream), is a convoluted 1930s-era set of recipes, coming from Edith Key Haines' Cookbook -- that's the whole title -- published in 1937 and sitting on the shelves of the Chicago Public Library's main branch on State Street (fourth floor).

Getting ready for the recipes means making a shopping list. By the way, you'll also need a nice, long, free Saturday or Sunday afternoon, and a willingness to dive in and have some fun with a cake that -- who knows? -- maybe not ten people have made since Mrs. Haines published her book seventy-three years ago. That, to me, is one of the mysterious, almost spiritual thrills of retro cooking. Who else has ever made this, who exactly? And when?

For the torte:
  • 6 eggs, separated (you will beat and use the egg whites)
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup ground pecans
  • 1/2 cup zwieback crumbs
  • the zest of 1/2 lemon, grated
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons rum

For the mocha filling:
  • 4 Tablespoons ground coffee
  • 4 and 1/2 Tablespoons flour
  • pinch salt
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 egg yolks (you will not need these 2 egg whites)
  • 1 Tablespoon butter

For Sauce Jose:
  • 1 egg, separated (you will beat and use the white)
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter
  • 3 Tablespoons rum
  • 1 cup cream

Assuming you have kitchen staples like flour, sugar, powdered sugar, and butter on hand, the somewhat unusual ingredients you might need to run out and buy are pecans, zwieback, lemons, rum, cream, and more eggs. You'll need 9 in all.

The Torte

  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 cup pecans, ground
  • 1/2 cup zwieback crumbs (graham cracker crumbs will serve)
  • the grated rind of 1/2 a lemon
  • 2 teaspoons lemon juice
  • 2 Tablespoons rum
  • 6 egg whites, beaten stiff (save this step for last)
Butter and flour 2 cake pans -- Mrs. Edith Key Haines says 7 inch, I used 9 inch (and reduced the baking time, of course). Preheat the oven to 325 F.
Beat the egg yolks with the powdered sugar until thick and pale colored. Add the pecans, zwieback crumbs, lemon rind, juice, and rum, mixing after each addition. Beat the whites until stiff, and fold them in to the yolk mixture. Pour into the pans, and bake 30 minutes for 7 inch pans, 20 minutes for 9 inch pans. Remove from pans and cool on racks.

The mocha filling

In her Cookbook, Edith Key Haines also recommended an orange filling, but mocha seemed a better choice to me. She also advised, even insisted upon, the use of a double boiler here. For the sake of full disclosure, I'll admit -- well, let me just echo her advice. The experienced baker may think he can dispense with the slow-simmering bain-marie and use a heavy-bottomed saucepan instead, but Mrs. Haines was right. Use a double boiler. The alternative is having to strain out the lumps in your mocha filling, when all along you might have saved yourself the trouble.
  • 4 Tablespoons ground coffee
  • 4 and 1/2 Tablespoons flour
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 2 egg yolks, beaten
  • 1 Tablespoon butter
In a small saucepan, bring 1 and 3/4 cups water to a boil. Add the coffee, stir, turn off the heat, and let steep 5 minutes. Strain out the grounds and reserve the coffee.

In the top of a double boiler over simmering water, heat 1/4 cup of the coffee, plus the flour, sugar, and salt. Mix and stir until smooth. Add the remaining coffee and simmer, covered, 15 minutes.

Pour a little of the hot mixture into the beaten egg yolks to temper them. Then add the yolks to the rest of the coffee mix in the double boiler and continue heating for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from the heat, and beat in the butter in small pieces.

When the filling cools, spread it between the pecan torte layers. The recipe does not make enough to fill and frost the torte as you would a conventional butter cake. For a topping, you'll make and serve the Sauce Jose.

The sauce Jose
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 3/4 cup confectioner's sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon melted butter
  • 3 Tablespoons rum (or a mix of 2 Tablespoons brandy and 1 Tablespoon kirsch)
  • 1 egg white, beaten stiff
  • 1 cup heavy cream, whipped

Beat the egg yolk until thick and light colored. Gradually add the powdered sugar, beating to make a shiny thick paste. Beat in the melted butter. Add the rum and stir. Fold in the egg white gently, and then fold in the whipped cream. The sauce will be light, thick, and rather loose.

Spoon it at once over the torte, one slice at a time. Refrigerate the remaining sauce.
Whipped heavy cream breaks down in 24 hours, so you should plan to eat up all this sauce soon. It is very good ladled over fresh summer berries as well as the cake. Sauce Jose is gluten free, although of course the torte and filling are not.

And congratulate yourself on your achievement. What wine will you have with this? People don't pair wine with desserts enough. A charming, sweet riesling? A gentle, companionable malbec? Your choice, no sanctions.

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