When I was a child, my father used to tell me that my mother’s family came from Transylvania, the home of Count Dracula. I was never sure if he was just joking or if Mom’s family really were neighbors of Bela Lugosi. I loved going with Dad to the dusk ‘til dawn drive-in movies. I took it so seriously that I had a plastic garlic wreath hanging on my bedroom door to keep the vampires away, hence his tales about Transylvania!
As it turns out, he was serious. Both my parents came from Hungary and indeed, Mom’s family originated from the area known as Transylvania. According to Wikipedia, “the Kingdom of Hungary firmly established control over Transylvania in 1003”, and my Mom’s home town region was in this part of Romania. As a teenager, I was blessed to be able to tour Hungary and Romania, including the region that is the home of the legendary Count Dracula, the place where my favorite cake recipe originated.
Through the generations, this incredible dessert was handed down, one that I watched both Nagymama and Anyu make when I was growing up. Looking back, I am so grateful that I took notes on how to create this delicious torte. European ladies are known for not following a formal recipe, but rather bake by tossing in “a little of this” and “a pinch of that”. I have what is the closest thing to an actual recipe for this Hungarian torte. My Mom (Anyu) lovingly taught me how to make what is one of the most mouthwatering, moist, and “to die for” desserts. People who have tried it have actually told me it is the best cake they have ever tasted! It is with gratitude and pride that I share my family heritage through this recipe.
1 dozen large eggs, separated
12 heaping T. icing sugar
12 T. ground walnuts
1 T. finely ground plain breadcrumbs
1 T. flour
1 l/2 t. baking powder
1 T. grated lemon peel
1/3 c. cold water
The secret “ingredient” is in the method, which is very meticulous and took me awhile to perfect.
First, separate the eggs with an egg separator into two large bowls (#1 + #2); set egg whites (#2) aside.
To bowl (#1) containing the egg yolks, add the 12 T. of icing sugar and beat with an electric mixer for at least 15 -20 minutes until the mixture is a very light shade of yellow (I am truly amazed that in my great grandmother’s day, there were no electric beaters and this had to be done by hand!).
In a medium sized bowl (#3), add walnuts, flour, breadcrumbs, and baking powder; mix well with a spoon.
Add the contents of this dry ingredient mixture (approximately ¼ of the bowl at a time) to the egg mixture (#!), and beat slowly until blended. Add water. Blend slowly for about 30 seconds.
Mix in lemon peel by hand as it tends to stick to the beaters.
Beat egg whites and pinch of salt until stiff, approximately 10 minutes (#2). This next step is crucial. Slowly fold egg whites into bowl #1, l/4 of bowl #2 at a time. Do this very gently with a plastic spatula, making sure to reach the bottom of the bowl each time to mix thoroughly.
Pour evenly into 3 greased and floured spring form pans. Bake @ 350 degrees for approximately 20 minutes until lightly browned on top and toothpick comes out dry when inserted into cake. Turn oven off and leave cake in pans on wrack to cool. Don’t be alarmed if cakes “fall”; they should level out evenly with pan.
Now it’s time to make the icing while cake is cooling.
Mocha Butter Icing
1 ¼ c. icing sugar
½ lb. sweet (unsalted) butter at room temperature
3 heaping T. cocoa
1/3 c. strong coffee
3-4 T. strong run or rum flavoring
Beat icing sugar and butter for at least 15- 20 minutes in a large bowl until it is light fluffy and almost doubled in volume.
Add next three ingredients alternately and beat after each addition. This will take practice to get the exact flavor you want.
Remove cake from pans by running a wet knife around edges of pan and then pop out bottom. Slice along bottom of cake with wet knife to remove from pan bottom and place first layer of cooled cake on cake plate or platter. Mentally divide icing into four parts.
Frost first layer, place second layer on top and frost, then third layer followed by around the sides. If cake does not look even, don’t worry, the icing will camouflage this. Lastly, frost the top of cake last. Be creative by piping icing on top edges with a floret in the middle and/or sprinkle with ground walnuts.
This cake will freeze well. Some Hungarian ladies do this to create an even moister cake! Slice into quarters and then those quarters into 4 for 16 perfect slices.
Whenever you make this cake, not only are you recreating some fascinating Hungarian history and tradition, but you are also going to be the “star” of any party you give or attend with this luscious dessert. Enjoy it with passion! Csokolum!