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Esurientes - The Comfort Zone

Friday, January 07, 2005

SHF #4 Going Nuts: Engadiner Nusstorte

The theme for this month's SHF is particularly apt for my entry. I nearly went bonkers trying to make this damn thing! This is a cake I have been wanting to make for quite a while, ever since A. commented that he had a friend who spent some time on exchange in the Engadine province of Switzerland, where they have an abnormally high number of pastry chefs, and came back with this in her repertoire to make for her friends. He said it was so fabulous that I was keen to try it. When this month's theme was announced I knew the time had come. I didn't have any recipe at hand for it so spent some time searching on the internet. Many dozens of recipes were found, and I spent quite a bit of time emailing A. at work with samples. Usually he respond "naaah. That's not it. Hers had a lid on it" or something. It didn't help me that he was calling it an ERDINGER nusstorte...no wonder I was having trouble, and could only find beer recipes! Eventually my research skills won out and I found something that met his approval.

Well, what follows would quite possibly make a good Mr Bean episode.
I had the whole afternoon to make it, and I spent the whole afternoon making it...with a not particularly successful or photogenic result.
Firstly I had trouble with the translated-from-German recipe. What is a "ds of salt"? A dessertspoon sounds too much for a sweet cake, and being a Swiss recipe I thought it must be a precise metrical measurement. I went for a pinch. Then I struck trouble with the pastry ingredients. It called for 1 egg, but in the method it told me to "add egg and egg yolk". Huh? Is that some translation issue? Do German recipes usually separate the ideas of egg into egg white and egg yolk? Do I need another egg? I don't have another egg! Damn!

Anyway, pastry made. Into the fridge. Now to crack nuts. I know I don't need to crack nuts, but we had a big bowl of them left from Christmas and I really couldn't justify going out to buy pre-shelled walnuts, when I had a bowl of unshelled mixed nuts. As I've said before, thrift is my friend! But these nuts were the Superhero of nuts. The term "a tough nut to crack" could easily have been based on my own personal bowl of nuts. I spent over an hour cracking nuts and cracking my fingers. I had nutshells flying around the kitchen like heat seeking missiles, shooting off at angles, hitting the dog, hiding under benches. They nearly took an eye out! When I'd eventually get a nut open I'd most usually have it fly out of my hand, across the room and land behind the television or under the fridge or some such useful place, and I'd be there hot and aggravated at another useless effort. The hazelnuts were huge buggers to crack, and as for Macadamias….well…..you would have been in hysterics at my sweaty, grunting efforts. I decided to put them in a really hot oven for a while and see if that worked. What I got were blackened macadamias, burnt fingers, a total of two nuts cracked, and one bashed, very sore thumb from when I got impatient and attacked it with a meat hammer…. So, thrift now being dismissed as a moral notion only for people with unlimited time and patience, I jumped in the car and bought two packets of chopped! shelled! walnuts.
Incidentally, did you know that adding lots of nuts to hot caramel just succeeds in making the caramel seize and create big lumps of sugary nuts, leaving you to work frantically to unlump the whole mixture? Well. Now you do.

Then I had a complete failure with the pastry. Usually pastry is equal parts flour to butter. Not here it wasn't. I had no chance. Two hours in the fridge, and it was still like hmmm…..….soft, squishy shortbread dough. I was trying to line a cake tin with, extremely tasty, extremely useless-for-rolling soft shortbread dough!
There was certainly no chance I was lifting my circle of soft dough and lining the tin. Ooooh no. I tried. I ended up with soft, smooshy mush. I resorted to grabbing lumps of soft dough and smooshing it around the tin with my fingers. It stuck, so I judged it a success. It'll be fine, I thought!
Then I noticed there was no pre baking involved – just tipping the nuts, swimming in all their creamy, caramelly sauce (which tastes awesome!!) into the soft (are you picking up a theme here) uncooked dough. So, I decided to bung it in the oven for a while to try and crisp up the bottom. You know, baking blind and all that. But of course, a logical action like that wouldn't work for this recipe! Noooo....this recipe was determined to make me a failure. I looked in the oven to see my carefully smooshed, lined sides of the tin happily sliding down the sides to the bottom! Arghhhh!!
I grabbed it out of the oven (remember potholders in your haste!) and picking up a conveniently nearby teaspoon start to stick it back to the sides, holding the tin on its side while turning it tin around, which meant….of course…. while I was smooshing in one side….the other side fell off! Now I had a cake tin full of half cooked, slimy, sugary mushy base!!!
Swear copiously. Curse the world, your life, and the dog who I was sure was watching with a smirk on her face. Attempt fixture of the dough. Decide to hell with the whole damn thing and just pour in the sloppy filling into the sloppy dough. At least it'll taste fine, you think. Attempt a pastry lid to place on top…..naturally with limited success. I managed to roll something out that was circle shaped and managed to get *most* of it on top of the filling intact….
Into the oven and try to forget about it for an hour. When it had finished cooking it didn't look too bad at all. Problems struck again when I tried to take the sides off the springform tin and the sides of the cake decided they had made better friends than I thought and wanted to join it, attempting separation from the sticky base. Aaaarghhh again!

But, the damn thing is, after all that strife and effort, this cake is possibly one of the best things I have ever tasted. Imagine a pecan pie, but even better - stickier, gooier, with crisper, sweeter, crumblier pastry and you have this. If you could possibly put up with such a palaver to make this, then I'd recommend it, but you know, to be honest, I'd recommend you find a different recipe, modify the one below or send nasty emails to Mr Rene Gagnaux, whoever he is (a prankster?) from whose account this recipe sprang! :-)

Engadiner Nusstorte
From: r.gagnaux@chnet.ch (Rene Gagnaux)
Servings: 6
180 g Butter (6.5 oz)
1 x Egg
150 g Granulated sugar (5.5 oz)
1 ds Salt
300 g Sifted flour (10.75 oz)
200 g Granulated sugar (7 oz)
2 1/2 dl Whipping cream (1/2 pint)
225 g Walnuts, coarsley chopped - (8 oz)
2 tb Honey
Butter, flour 1 x Egg yolk

Place the flour in a mixing bowl, cut the butter into small pieces, rub the flour and butter rapidly between the tips of your fingers.
Add egg and egg yolk, salt and sugar, blend quickly into a smooth dough.
Cool in the refrigerator for 1 - 2 hours.

In a small saucepan caramelize the sugar until a light brown. Stir in all the nuts, mix well, add cream and honey, bring to the boil.
Preheat the oven to 180 oC (356 oF).
Roll out 2/3 the dough to a thickness of 3 mm (1/8 in).
Butter a false-bottomed cake pan (21 cm, 8 1/4 in) in diameter, dust with flour and line with the dough leaving a 3.5 cm ( 1 3/8 in) edge.
Prick the dough with a fork and pour the nut-mixture into the pan. Spread out evenly.
Roll out the remaining dough, cut into a circle the size of the baking pan and cover the nut-mixture. Press edges together and baste the top with egg yolk.
Bake for 50-55 minutes. Take the cake out of the pan when it is lukewarm and leave it on a cake rack to cool.


  • Well at least you made me laugh! Great post and nice torte!

    By Blogger Zarah Maria, at 1/08/2005 03:02:00 am  

  • At least now I know I'm not the only one who had some difficulty with this edition of SHF...I almost threw my tart across the room when I pulled it out of the fridge last night, only to realize that it had sealed itself to the tart pan, making removal almost impossible...!

    Thanks for sharing and keeping me company in going nuts baking with nuts!

    Jennifer - http://www.domesticgoddess.ca

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/09/2005 12:14:00 pm  

  • lol! yes, your post did make me laugh.. and left me craving this cake! a little too scared to make it now... i know how you feel about that crust though. had the same experience with a cheesecake crust once. enjoying your blog!

    By Blogger Emily, at 1/10/2005 04:19:00 pm  

  • Thank you, thank you. I take a bow (I feel I deserve one!). Yes, it was a complete disaster to make, and I couldn't believe the long list of things that just kept going wrong, and stretched a simple-looking recipe into something that took a whole afternoon to make!
    But I do recommend you try it - there are many other recipes available on the internet. You really can't go wrong with nuts swimming in caramel. Luckily I've left it all at A's house, otherwise I'd be snacking on it all day - it's *that* good!

    By Blogger Niki, at 1/10/2005 04:30:00 pm  

  • I just have to say that this post is one of the funniest I've ever read. I enjoyed it from beginning to end. Thanks again for participating in this SHF and already looking forward to your next entry. Wishing I had a piece of your cake for dessert, Viv

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/10/2005 05:01:00 pm  

  • ah, niki, you're evoking pictures of my childhood here - not with the description of disaster cakes, but the straw stars on your picture, which we used to make with my Mum and in Kindergarten to hand on our christmas trees. Do you have the same in Australia or did you buy them on your trip to Austria recently? johanna (www.thepassionatecook.com)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1/14/2005 01:06:00 am  

  • We might have the same straw stars in Australia, but I've never seen them in shops. The ones in the picture I actually bought in Rothenburg, Germany in one of their many, many Christmas shops. I really loved the simplicity and homeliness of them, and also the fact that they were the most affordable things to buy in those overly priced Christmas shops! Alex has memories of them from the Christmas he spent in Munich, and said that his host family had hand-made theirs.
    I hung them over some Japanese willow branches at Christmas, and they looked so good that my mother has requested that they stay there all year!
    I'm very interested though how you would make them. They look very fiddly, especially for kindergarten-sized fingers. Are they fairly simple to make? I'd love to have more!

    By Blogger Niki, at 1/14/2005 01:28:00 am  

  • Just for the record, I personally act as if René Gagnaux is not a prankster.

    The opposite, in fact.

    If I google for a recipe and find one that he has recorded, this will be the one that I try.

    BTW, you probably did rather fine ;-)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/22/2005 07:42:00 am  

  • Ach, Engadiner Nusstorte ranks right up there with wild blackberry pie and rhubarb pie in my pie and pastry world. I've never made it though. During my 31 years in Germany I would sweet-talk a German woman friend into making it, and sharing it with me. She only made it once every couple years or so, as it's hard work, as you found out.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/11/2007 04:16:00 pm  

  • Dear Rene, I am German and therefore your Engadiner Nusstorte recipe makes perfect sense to me - but I know exactly how you feel, because this is what happens to me all the time trying out English recipes! Your dough recipe sounds like a standard 'Mürbeteig' and should autmatically come out more or less 'play doh' consistency - unless you maybe melted the butter? The butter should be soft enough to knead into the dough with your hands easily, not so hard that it's difficult to blend in, but never runny, either. For dough that stays smooth and doesn't rip while baking, try this little trick: rub the butter into the flour between the palms of your hands (almost as if you were trying to clean them) until you can see abslutely no more fatty bits. Don't add the egg until the butter has been totally 'rubbed in' and you'll save yourself a lot of sticky mess.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11/27/2007 07:13:00 pm  

  • it was nice to see that you translated the ingredients into imperial measurements, as I am having a problem making the muerbeteig with my mother's german weight of 250 grams of flour. What is that in terms of cups? Does anyone know? Yes, I am aware that a cup is 250 grams, but is not equal in dry weight. Anybody out there

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4/01/2008 07:48:00 am  

  • You guys are just not SWISS!
    It is totally easy if you have the gene!
    I make some of the best!!:)
    Stick with your cup measurements and make pecan pie! [ just kidding...]

    1 cup of four [not sifted] = 150g

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/07/2009 07:05:00 am  

  • You guys are just not SWISS!
    It is totally easy if you have the gene!
    I make some of the best!!:)
    Stick with your cup measurements and make pecan pie! [ just kidding...]

    1 cup of four [not sifted] = 150g

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 6/07/2009 07:08:00 am  

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