“You nailed it,” exclaimed Jill Irvan a mom, wife of a paramedic, and executive assistant during the family’s latest birthday celebration.
“Oh my gosh, this is good,” her cousin Jennifer Hall a medical assistant at Lenscrafters in Amherst, Ohio remarked.
The cake the two young women were referring to is an adaptation to a recipe created for centuries and passed down to generations such as theirs’. Dios Torta, the Hungarian Nut Torte has been tantalizing taste buds since its debut in the old country of Southeast Europe. History traces this heavenly creation right back to the kitchens that neighbored the Gothic castles in Transylvania, Romania. The country of Hungary, is a nation which isn’t any bigger than Indiana and its influence spills over into Romania. You can count, that Hungarian actor Bela Ferenc Dezso Blasko, better known as Bela Lugosi who starred as Bram Stoker’s Count Dracula, feverishly sank his fangs into this last course.
Even with the modernization of the kitchen, this concoction of confection can certainly haunt even the most accomplished baker. You’re about to find out why. This one in particular was for the private celebration of Irvan and Hall’s 70-year old uncle following a casual dinner at Amherst Pitt BBQ & PUB, now a catering and take out establishment on Jefferson Street.
“I’ll make the nut torte!”
“No, I’ll make the nut torte!”
“I can make it. Let me try. I’ve never made one and this is the time to learn,” all of the family members shouted back to one another over undertaking the production.
Celebrations in the communities of Ohio’s North Coast are still made excitedly decadent for descendants of Hungarian immigrants with a Dios Torta. Or, as in this family’s case, those who are Hungarian-Romanian.
Northeast Ohio, was at one time, home to the nation’s second largest populations of Hungarians and the culture still exists according to Joe Esterhas who wrote the introduction to Hungarian Americans and Their Communities of Cleveland. The majority of them came because land was scarce in their homeland and cheap labor was plentiful in Cleveland during the Industrial Revolution. Cleveland’s Hungarian immigrant population rose from 10,000 to 45,000 by 1920 according to the Encyclopedia of Cleveland History. As they Americanized their ways, they held strong to their roots.
Ready for the recipe. The one used to wow the crowd is from Taste of Home.
6 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
5 tablespoons water
1/2 cup ground walnuts
Let the eggs stand at room temperature for 30 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. This gives you plenty of time to become best friends with either your food processor or coffee grinder. Start grinding the walnuts. They become wet-like and you have to continually move the ground pieces out of the blades and place the still existing chunks back into whichever contraption you are using. You can not successfully create this cake with chopped walnuts.
Hungary became famous for cakes and pastries while under Austrian rule starting in the seventeenth century.
Beat the egg yolks and sugar for 10 minutes. Beat in the vanilla. Combine cake flour and baking powder; add to the egg mixture alternately with water, beating well. This was done using the KitchenAid 6-Speed Hand Mixer in pink from Bed Bath and Beyond. When baking, might as well bask in the glory of glorious gadgets. This one is only $49.99.
Next grab a spatula and start folding in the walnuts. Bakers here turned to the Silicone Spatulas from Bed Bath and Beyond sold in a set of four. When hailing from a large family and busy household you’ll use them. Bakers found them ultra-sturdy. Plus, they’re only $4.99.
Clean your beaters and beat the egg whites on high until stiff peaks form. This takes about three and a half minutes. Fold the egg whites by quarters into the batter. Grease two, nine-inch round bake pans and pour the batter in. Bake for twenty to twenty-five minutes.
Test with a toothpick and cool.
Here’s why this version edged out Irvan and Hall’s family Hungarian habit. The original recipe has a butter cream frosting and is topped with more ground walnuts. Interestingly, as in many modern day families, even if the dessert is sweet, the children often bespeak of a bummer situation if the concoction lacks copious amounts of cocoa no matter what pleased the palate of The Count’s nearby neighbors in wine country.
No one wants to hear a child exclaim, “I don’t like this,” after slaving for hours over the oven.
Plus, this Cleveland family’s recipe uses five tablespoons of coffee, which here, again to satisfy the palates of the little party-goers, was toned down simply with tap water.
Irvan’s seven-year-old son raved and ran his fork through his slice, “I love this,” after his grandma noted he wouldn’t eat the Nut Torte. She had even rolled out a back up pistachio sheet cake onto the dining room table to account for the distaste.
ICING and FILLING
1 – 1/4 cups milk
1 package cook-and-serve chocolate pudding
1/2 cup of butter
1 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Optional chocolate curls or shavings
In a non-stick pan whisk the milk and pudding mix together on the stove. Bakers used a giant deep-dish pan similar to the Calphalon Elite sold at Williams Sonoma. The wide edges and depth make cooking everything evenly a breeze. Stir constantly and bring to a boil. Remove (use another one of those four Silicon Spatulas) and pour into a bowl, like this one from Pier One, and refrigerate.
Grab yet another mixing bowl and cream together the butter, shortening, and confectioners’ sugar until light and fluffy.
A baker will never be frustrated when equipped with all the correct gear. Venturing into the kitchen attempting a variation of a centuries old family recipe takes talent. Rely on this three-piece set stainless steel set from Target. They’re inexpensive, vary in size and will stand the test of time.
Beat in the vanilla and the pudding finally stacking each layer of cake on top of each other spreading the frosting in between the layers.
Guess what? We doubled the recipe. Meaning we started the entire process AGAIN to produce two more round cakes. You’ll need more icing to compensate. Then top with organic chocolate. We grabbed all of our ingredients from the Downtown Heinen’s, making two trips to account for the double-batch, to create the sinful sensation you see pictured.
Pop onto a serving tray, like this one from Pier One, to set in front of the birthday boy or girl once the candles are added and serve with a favorite Cabernet Sauvignon or a ruby port. Any choice with dark-berry fruit notes will mesh with the mocha. If this is a dessert following a Chicken Paprikash dinner you and your guests have passed into Hungarian heaven!
Boldog Szuletesnapot to you!
You can message Josie on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, or email her to send her ideas you’d like to see about your Coastal Ohio and Florida Keys lifestyles. Why pick one zip code when you can showcase two 😉