I often get asked “what is a torte?” or “what’s the difference between a torte and a cake?”
Tortes are actually a type of cake, containing little to no flour, but involving some variety of ground nut.
Tortes are almost always meringue based, meaning that you at some point in the recipe you will have to make a meringue or whip some eggs to their full volume. They also rarely call for leavening agents, such as baking powder or baking soda, and just rely on the air from the meringue for its lift. Being absent of flour and additional leaveners, these classic cakes make for excellent Passover desserts.
Tortes are usually done in two parts: the making of the meringue and the making of the base (where the flavour profile comes from). Sometimes the base requires very straight forward mixing, and other times it calls for whipping egg yolks to full volume before adding in the flavour component. With this 2 part process and all the whipping, less experienced bakers tend to find tortes daunting or very volatile; the type of dessert you can only make if you’re in a good mood, and when all the atmospheric conditions are just right.
The truth is that with today’s appliances, you do not need to have every single variable under control- you just need to know a few key rules to meringue and torte making.
Tip 1- Try to use room temperature eggs: eggs do whip faster and to a higher volume when they are warmed.
Tip 2- Make sure that your egg white whipping bowl is clean and dry before you start: Any liquid, or fat will prevent your whites from whipping properly. Also whip them with a bit of salt- it will help stabilize your meringue.
Tip 3- Premeasure all your ingredients and make your mise-en-place. You don’t want to waste valuable time measuring out ingredients while your eggs lose their volume.
Tip 4- Start with your meringue! and don’t rush it: First off, make sure that you have at least 1 stand mixer, and then a set of electric beaters when attempting a torte. Use your stand mixer for your egg whites, and the beaters for your base. Start with your meringue, because it takes a good 8 minutes to get the proper peak, whereas the base will not take more than 5 minutes. Begin whipping your egg whites on medium-high speed with a little salt( this helps stabilize the meringue), wait until they get very foamy, then slowly add your sugar. Turn the speed to high and just let them go. The egg whites are ready when they have doubled in volume, are glossy and of course stand at a stiff peak.
As long as your stuff is set up, and you have patience with your meringue you should have no problem making your torte.
Because of the ground nuts taking the place of flour, people sometimes find tortes dry. If you want to make a torte that will please everyone, you should look for one that has some added moisture, like fruit or chocolate, and like this lemon ricotta almond torte. The ricotta makes this cake reminiscent of a cheesecake or cheese pie. It is moist and nutty and not at all dry.
Here is how to make the Lemon Ricotta Almond Torte:
1/2 cup butter
1 1/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
4 eggs, separated
1/2 tsp. salt
2 1/2 cups almond flour (ground almonds)
300 grams ricotta cheese
Preheat your oven to 375 Fahrenheit. Grease and line the bottom of a 9” spring form pan with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, whip your egg whites and salt on high until very foamy.
Gradually add the sugar and continue whipping on high until stiff glossy peaks form.
While the egg whites are whipping, in a bowl with an electric hand mixer, whip the butter, 2/3 cup sugar and lemon zest until pale and fluffy. Add egg yolks one at a time and mix until fully incorporated, pale yellow and fluffy.
Add the almond meal and mix until blended. Then with a spatula, blend in the ricotta.
Using a clean rubber spatula, fold in the whipped egg whites to the almond batter 1/3 at a time.
Smooth the top with an offset spatula and cover the top with sliced almonds.
Bake for 25 minutes. Do not open the oven. Rotate and bake for an additional 10-15 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Dust with icing sugar and that’s it!
This cake will last up to a week in the fridge with no discernible loss of flavour or change in texture, so you can make it in advance from when you need it.
I have gnawing away at mine sliver by sliver every day and I am loving it. Hope you will too.