Ollie’s Birthday Torte
ONCE IN A BLUE MOON
In my latest novel, Once in a Blue Moon, café barista Ollie has a deft touch with baked goods. This is a version of the birthday torte he made for Kerrie Ann’s 30th, using walnuts instead of hazelnuts. It’s a bit labor-intensive, but the end result is so scrumptious it’s well worth the effort. It’s for those extra-special occasions when an ordinary cake won’t do.
Ollie’s Birthday Torte
For the cake:
3 ¼ cups walnut pieces, divided
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon baking powder
12 large eggs, separated
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar
For the frosting:
1 tablespoon instant coffee granules or espresso powder
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
¾ cup (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, softened but still cool
6 ¼ cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla extract
1 ½ teaspoons coffee liqueur (such as Kahlua)
For the filling:
2 cups heavy cream
1½ teaspoons instant coffee granules or espresso powder
2 tablespoons vanilla instant pudding mix
2 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease two 9-inch round pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease the paper and set aside.
- To make the cake: Place the nuts on an ungreased baking sheet. Toast in the oven for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Let cool slightly, and set aside ¼ cup of the nuts for later use. Place the flour, cornstarch, baking powder and remaining nuts in a food processor. Pulse until the nuts are finely ground but not sticking together.
- In a large bowl, beat the egg yolks with an electric mixer until blended. Add the sugar a little at a time, beating until thickened and pale yellow, about 2 minutes. Blend in the vanilla. Set aside. Place the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar in another large bowl of standing mixer. Whip with an electric mixer or whisk attachment (if you’re using a standing mixer) on medium speed until soft peaks form, then increase the speed to high and whip until stiff peaks form. Fold the nut mixture into the egg yolk mixture along with ¾ cup or so of the egg whites. Add the remaining egg whites and carefully fold until no white streaks are visible. Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake in the oven for 30 to 35 minutes, until the cake springs back when lightly pressed in the center. Run the tip of a sharp knife around the pan rims to loosen before turning the layers onto wire racks to cool.
- To make the frosting: When the cake layers are thoroughly cooled, make the frosting and filling. Dissolve the instant coffee for the frosting in a small bowl or measuring cup with ½ cup of boiling water. Set aside to cool. Melt the chocolate by placing it in small heat-proof bowl and nesting it over a 1-quart saucepan containing an inch or so of water that’s been brought to a full boil. Lower the heat to simmer, stirring the chocolate occasionally until melted. (Alternate method: place the chocolate, covered, in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second increments, stirring after each one, for a total of 1 to 1 ½ minutes.) Set aside to cool slightly.
- In a large bowl, place the softened butter, 1½ cups of the confectioner’s sugar, the cooled chocolate and vanilla extract. Beat with an electric mixer until blended. Add half of the remaining sugar, the liqueur, and half of the cooled coffee. Beat until blended. Add the remaining sugar and remaining coffee, and beat until fluffy, about 2 minutes.
- To make the filling: Make a coffee sludge by dribbling a small amount of boiling water (1/2 teaspoon or so) into the instant coffee for the filling. Chill the coffee sludge while you whip the cream: In a chilled bowl beat the heavy cream with an electric mixer until soft peaks form. Add the coffee sludge, the instant pudding mix (it will help stabilize the cream once it’s whipped), the 2 tablespoons of confectioner’s sugar for the filling, and beat until firm peaks form.
- To assemble the torte: Split the cake layers with a serrated bread knife (for a total of four layers). Place one split layer on a cake plate with four strips of waxed paper carefully aligned around the edges (to catch frosting drips). Spread with ½ cup or so of the frosting. Follow with a third of the whipped cream filling. Repeat process with each of the layers. Frost the sides and top of torte with the remaining frosting. Chop the remaining walnuts that were set aside and carefully sprinkle around the bottom sides of the cake in a band about 2 inches wide.
- Remove waxed paper and discard. Chill torte until ready to serve. Remove from the refrigerator 30 minutes or so before serving.
Yield: 12 – 14 servings