Saturday, February 28, 2015


Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts

Another blizzard howls around our house, the third in two weeks! Alpine mountains tower over our backyard, shoveling is almost futile with the drifting snow, and a curtain of dagger-like icicles hanging from the roof grows to scary dimensions.

Icicles of Terror?

What can you do to avoid succumbing to the winter blues, or getting stir crazy? After digging out from another 11 inches of "light snowfall" to make our house accessible again, there's only one answer:

Go into my cozy kitchen, enjoy the warmth of the wood stove, and bake some more!

Emergency supplies to survive the next blizzard

Fortunately I always have nuts, Nutella, cream and rum in stock - perfect for making something rich and comforting to sustain us during this bone-chilling ordeal: Bohemian Hazelnut Torte, to our rescue!

Not for nothing, Czech Bohemia, once part of the Hapsburg Empire, is famous for its truly rich cuisine. With its wealth of pastries and calories it is no doubt on par with neighboring Austria and Bavaria.

Like all cakes in pastry chef Karl Neef's wonderful book on cakes,  Sonntagskuchen und Festtagstorten, Bohemian Hazelnut Torte needs a bit of work, but is so utterly worth the effort. In other words - a cake "to die for!"

The filling requires nougat. Unlike the one available in the US, German nougat is not white, but made with chocolate. Fortunately, Nutella is a good substitute.

Tart and spicy Pflaumenmus - my favorite jam

Another typical ingredient in Bohemian/Austrian pastry is Pflaumenmus (Austrian: Powidl). This spicy plum butter is similar to apple butter, but a bit tarter and more intense in flavor. You can substitute it with apple butter. Or get the real thing from a German deli shop, or at the commissary, if you are, like me, married to a veteran. 

Or you can make a pretty good substitute from prunes, without the hours-long baking process the original requires  - see my recipe for Pflaumenmus-Ersatz.  

Even though we really love our desserts - we are only two people, so I usually downsize, and bake either medium sized or even mini-tortes. You can choose between the two versions.

This torte is really "to die for" (here the mini-version)

BÖHMISCHE NUSSTORTE - BOHEMIAN HAZELNUT TORTE   (adapted from Karl Neef's Sonntagskuchen und Festtagstorten)

75 g/2.6 oz all-purpose flour             
15 g/0.5 oz hazelnuts, toasted (toast together with the nuts for the caramel)
1 generous pinch cinnamon
1 generous pinch baking powder
3 large eggs
55 g/1.9 oz sugar
30 g/1 oz melted butter, lukewarm

60 g/2.1 oz sugar
10 g/0.4 oz butter
110 g/3.9 oz hazelnuts, toasted ((toast together with the nuts for the sponge cake)

60 ml/1/4 cup water
3/4 tsp. sugar
40 g/1.4 oz rum

5 g/0.2 oz gelatin powder (or 3 sheets gelatin)
25 g/5 tsp cold water
550 ml/18.6 oz heavy or whipping cream
40 g/1.4 oz sugar
75 g/2.6 oz Nutella
35 g rum (2 tbsp + 1 tsp)
185 g/6.5 oz plum butter*) or apple butter

*) or make it yourself: quick and easy plum butter substitute

Toast all hazelnuts (for sponge and caramel) together in a dry pan, until golden, and most of the skins can be rubbed off. Use 15 g/0.5 oz for the sponge and set aside remaining nuts for the caramel.

Preheat oven to 355ºF/180ºC. Grease a 9-inch/23-cm springform pan, and line the bottom with parchment paper. (Or, if you don't want to deal with cutting a fairly thin cake in halves, grease and line two 9-inch/23-cm round cake pans).

For the sponge, grind nuts together with flour, cinnamon and baking powder

Place flour, 15 g/0.5 oz hazelnuts, cinnamon and baking powder in food processor. Pulse, until nuts are finely ground. (Grinding nuts together with flour or sugar prevents them turning into a greasy "nut butter").

Place eggs and sugar in a double boiler over simmering water. Using a whisk, beat mixture until it reaches 120ºF/49ºC (maximum). Remove at once from the heat and transfer to bowl of an electric mixer. Beat until egg mixture has cooled, and turned pale yellow and foamy.

Fold flour mixture and melted butter in egg mixture

Fold first flour mixture in egg mixture, then melted butter, until combined. Transfer batter to springform pan, or distribute in the two cake pans, smoothing top(s) with a rubber spatula.

Bake cake in springform pan for about 20 minutes (about 10 minutes for cake pans) until top is light golden brown and still feels elastic when slightly pressed in the center.

Allow cake to cool in the pan on a rack, then remove springform ring (or loosen rim in round pans with a knife), turn sponge out onto the rack, and peel off parchment paper.

The sponge should be light golden brown, and feel elastic in the center

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Place sugar in medium sauce pan over medium heat. Melt, stirring constantly, until sugar turns golden. Add butter, stirring until blended. Add hazelnuts, stirring vigorously, until they are covered with caramel. Scrape out and spread nut caramel in one layer on prepared baking sheet.

Caramelizing hazelnuts

In small bowl, stir together sugar, water and rum, until sugar has dissolved. Set aside.

In small bowl, sprinkle powdered gelatin over cold water (or cover gelatin sheets with cold water) to soak.

Whisk heavy cream with sugar until soft peaks form (standing or handheld mixer). Microwave Nutella until softened, then stir until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Folding rum-gelatin mixture and cream in Nutella

Heat soaked gelatin together with rum mixture in microwave (or on stove top), until it has melted. Stir rum-gelatin mixture together with 1 tablespoon of the whipped cream into bowl with the softened Nutella (to temper it). Then fold in remaining whipped cream.

Cut sponge horizontally in 2-3 layers (if baked in a springform pan) Put bottom layer on a serving platter. Grease ring of springform pan or cake ring, line with a strip of parchment paper, and place it around the bottom cake layer.

This cake cutter makes horizontal cuts easy
For 3 layers: brush bottom layer with 1/3 of the rum mixture, spread 1/3 of the plum or apple butter over it, followed by 1/3 of the filling. Repeat with two remaining cake layers.

For 2 layers: use 1/2 of brushing liquid, plum (or apple) butter and filling per layer.

The torte is assembled, now it has to be chilled

Place torte for at least 4 hours in the refrigerator.

Remove cake ring from chilled torte. Using rolling pin, coarsely crush caramelized hazelnuts. Sprinkle top of the torte with nuts and caramel shards. 

Torte topped with nuts and caramel (here the mini-version)

MINI-BOHEMIAN HAZELNUT TORTE  (use diet scale or fraction weighing spoon!)

41 g all-purpose flour             
8 g whole hazelnuts
1 pinch cinnamon
1 pinch baking powder
97 g eggs*)
30 g sugar
16 g melted butter, lukewarm

*)break an egg into a cup, beat lightly, then measure the desired amount.

33 g sugar
4 g butter
62 g whole hazelnuts

33 g water
2 g sugar
21 g rum

2.9 g powdered gelatin (or 1 2/3 sheet gelatin)
1 tbsp cold water (for gelatin powder)
310 g heavy or whipping cream
25 g sugar
41 g Nutella
20 g rum
100 g plum butter (or plum butter substitute) or apple butter

Prepare like the larger torte, but cut sponge only once horizontally and use 1/2 of brushing liquid, plum or apple butter, and filling per layer.

This torte will not get old (here mini-version)

Submitted to Sugarprincess Yushka's monthly blog event "Calendar of Cakes".

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Hier geht's zur deutschen Version dieses Posts (folgt noch)

Nothing better than a slice of freshly baked bread with butter and jam, especially with Pflaumenmus - spiced German plum butter - one of my favorites. Pflaumenmus is made from Italian plums, cooked for many hours to a dark mush, and seasoned with cinnamon and a hint of cloves.

Plum butter tastes similar to apple butter, but noticeably tarter and more intense. Pflaumenmus - or Powidl in Austria - is not only a tasty spread for sandwiches, but, also, often used as sweet filling in dumplings or pastry, especially in Austria and neighboring countries of the old Hapsburg empire.

Bohemian Hazelnut Torte with plum butter (the dark layer)

Married to a Vietnam vet, I can get plum butter and other German delicacies at the commissary in Bangor. But if you have neither access to a military base, nor to a German deli shop, and don't want to go through the lengthy process of making the real thing from scratch - there is an easy way out: DIY-Pflaumenmus-Ersatz!

When I wrote my blog post for Bohemian Hazelnut Torte I was wondering what kind of substitute could be used for plum butter. The best of all husbands suggested apple butter, and it comes fairly close, but is somewhat milder. Then I thought of the dried prunes I like snacking on, looked at ingredients in some Pflaumenmus (from the scratch) recipes, and got to work.

Ingredients for Pflaumenmus-Ersatz

This is what I came up with: a combination of the mellow acidity of balsamic vinegar and the fresh zing of lemon juice for tartness, brown sugar and maple syrup (or only brown sugar) for sweetness, and cinnamon and a hint of cloves for spices.

The prunes have to be soaked for several hours (or overnight), so that they can be easily pureed, using either a food processor or an immersion blender. The plum butter substitute tastes better the day after it's made, so give it a 12-hour rest in the fridge to allow the flavors to blend.

Not only good for baking - we had Pflaumenmus-Ersatz with pancakes and maple syrup for brunch: delicious!

200 g dried prunes
3/4 cup/180 g water, boiling
40 g/5 tsp. balsamic vinegar
4 tsp. lemon juice
4 tsp. dark brown sugar (or 1 tbsp. brown sugar and 1/2 tbsp. maple syrup)
1/8-1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon (to taste)
pinch ground cloves

In a small bowl, pour boiling water over prunes. Cover, and let sit for several hours (or overnight) to soften.

Place softened prunes with soaking liquid in bowl of food processor (or blender). Add balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, brown sugar, maple syrup (if using), cinnamon and cloves, and process until mixture is smooth.

Season with more lemon juice, brown sugar (or maple syrup) and cinnamon to taste. Transfer plum butter to a jar or bowl, cover, and allow to rest for 12 hours, until flavors have blended.