Friday, November 2, 2012

Linzer Torte: a Symphony of Flavors!

Linzer torte, a delicate elegant Austrian sweet
Austria is the homeland of great musical geniuses like Mozart, Strauss, Hayden, to extremely talented painters like Klimt, to prominent scientists, physicians and psychiatrists like the very famous Freud. The country boasts amazing architecture and marvelous landscapes, but what's more interesting is what Austria had offered to the world of cakes and pastry. It´s where the Sacher torte was created and Vienna is considered as the cradle of danish pastry or Viennoiserie and also the star of the post, the Linzer torte.

Linz, a beautiful Danubian city, and also supposedly the birth place of the Linzer torte (torte meaning cake in German). This cake is considered to be one the oldest cake recipes known in Europe, going back to 1696, but it seems that another author found an older recipe from Verona dating back to 1653.

It is a rich cake, full of spicy enticing flavors, all topped with a sweet tangy raspberry jam. The use of spices in sweet recipes is quite interesting in many parts of Europe, especially in colder European countries. Spices are widely used in Middle-Eastern and Asian countries, but their use is predominant in savory dishes, so it's always interesting to see how each culture values and uses spices differently. I would think that using spices in sweets provides warmth, at least on a psychological level, in long dark and cold nights. Either way, I love spices and welcome their use whenever possible.

There are unlimited recipes of the torte, ones with sugar, others without sugar, some with different type of sugars and some with just cinnamon as the main spice. Eventually, I ended up using a recipe that combines elements from different recipes.

For the dough you need (enough for an 18 cm pan):

  • 1 cup of toasted ground almonds, or hazelnuts (about 140 g, depends on how fine grounded they are)
  • 1 cup of flour (160 g)
  • 1/4 cup of powdered, granulated or even brown sugar (45 g), if you want the dough to be sweeter you can double the amount
  • 1/2 cup of cold butter (112 g)
  • Zest of half a lime or lemon
  • 1/4 tsp of cinnamon
  • 1/8 tsp of ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp ground star anise
  • A dash of salt
  • Half an egg whisked with some vanilla
  • Raspberry jam (recipe will follow)
Easy to make pie crust
In a food processor combine almonds and sugar, pulse until blended. Add the flour, the spices and the zest, pulse again until well mixed.

Now you can add the butter to the rest of the ingredients in the food processor and pulse until combined or put the mixture into a big bowl and incorporate the butter with the dry ingredients with your hands or a dough blender. When well mixed add the half egg and mix until you have a firm non sticky dough.
Wrap it in plastic and leave it in the fridge for about 3 to 4 hours (or even over night).

Take the dough out, cut it into 2 parts, 2/3 to be used as the base and 1/3 for the topping. On a floured surface roll it out for about a cm thick, move it to the tart pan with a removable bottom. Trim the edges and put about a cup of raspberry jam. You can remove the excess dough from the edges then push it down until it is almost the same level with the jam.
Divide the dough, line the tart pan and fill with jam

On the top you can add strips of the dough, as it is a very delicate dough you can cut the strips, then leave them in the fridge for about half an hour then arrange them as you like, or you can cut shapes and decorate your tart as I did with the small torte I got from the remaining dough.

Brush the dough with some cream and sprinkle with shaved or slivered almonds. Leave it in the fridge for half an hour before you bake it in a preheated oven (180 C) for about 40 to 50 min or until the dough has a nice golden brown color.
Decorate with pastry strips and flaked almond, bake until golden

The jam I used fro the recipe was made the same day as the torte. I did not want to use store-bought jam, not that there is something wrong with that and by all means do buy one already prepared if you don't have time, but I wanted the recipe to be special so I decided to make my own, very easy to make and tasty jam.

For the jam I used:
  • 170 g raspberry (fresh or frozen)
  • 100 g of sugar (or 170 if you want it sweeter)
  • The seeds of a half vanilla bean
  • Squeeze of a lemon juice (just few drops)
Home made jam, bright color and sweet result

Combine all ingredients in a heavy bottom pan, when they start to boil and the raspberry starts falling apart, sieve the mixture (it is easier doing it at this stage) then put the jam back to the pan and leave it to simmer for about 10 minutes until it gets thicker. I didn´t let it get too thick cause it will go back to the oven and it might get too thick and dry during the backing. 
Flaky, spicy and sweet pie

When the torte is cooled just dust it with some powdered sugar and enjoy a crumbly, sweet and flavor rich dessert.
Cute small Linzer torte perfect for individual servings

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