The Origins of This Delicious Cake
I was a child in the 1970s. There wasn’t the food culture like now. Exotic was a term leveled at garlic. Recipe books were rather unadventurous and tended to be a little dull. There were none of the food porn photographs of today’s weighty tomes extolling the delights of Middle Eastern pomegranate molasses or myriad uses of Mexican tortillas. French food was about as exotic as you’d get, and it tended to be said in the same phrase as “posh”.
My Mum is a great cook, and she loved to experiment. Still does in fact. Some of her creations nowadays are a little more adventurous than she plans, because having been in lockdown since last March, she and my father have been eating their way through their myriad frozen meals, not all of which have held on to their original packaging. The quiche and salad lunch that turned out to be Apricot Tarte Tatin with salad was a little out there even for them.
Back in the 70s, my Mum took a Cordon Bleu cookery course. Each Wednesday evening, our tea would be rushed as she came back from work, fed us and then shot out to the local secondary school to do the course. Thursday’s tea always involved what had been cooked the night before. Some were a delight (coq au vin), some were never-to-be-repeated horrors (orange mousse). But there was one that has been a lasting triumph, and became my birthday cake of choice ever since. Malakoff Torte.
Here is a scanned copy of the original recipe from that course. It was typed on a typewriter by the lady who gave the course, and duplicated by multiple layers of carbon paper, hence the blurry outlines of each letter. And annotated first by my Mum whilst on the course, and subsequently by me because such terms as “Scant half gill of water” were in a language I didn’t recognise.
When is a Malakoff Torte a Malakofftorte or a Dacquoise?
When I posted a picture of my birthday cake last week on social media I was surprised by the interest in this cake. And that got me thinking about its name. And then my husband googled “Malakoff Torte”. It turns out that Malakofftorte is an Austrian cake, and in fact bears no resemblance, not even a passing one, to my beloved Malakoff Torte. The “proper” (I prefer to think of it as an imposter) Malakofftorte is made from lady finger sponge biscuits soaked in coffee and rum and served with layers of cream. It sounds a bit like a tiramisu. There’s nothing wrong with tiramisu (it is in fact my husband’s birthday “cake” of choice), but it can’t hold a candle to my cake.
My Malakoff Torte is made with layers of almond meringue sandwiched together by a rich dark chocolate butter cream and covered liberally in toasted almond flakes. There is no flour in the recipe, which means that for those of you looking to avoid gluten but not calories, this is a winner. When we looked up almond meringue layer cake, it turns out the French do indeed have a name for this type of cake. It is a Dacquoise. And a Dacquoise has layers of almond or hazelnut meringue sandwiched by the butter cream of your choice.
So it would appear that Mum’s Cordon Bleu teacher got her dacquoise mixed up with her Malakofftorte. Easy mistake perhaps. But it will always be Malakoff Torte in my house.
So, would you like the recipe? It’s all in old imperial measurements so I have converted them to grammes. (I just Googled 7 ounces in metric and it helpfully told me that 7 ounces = 0.00019845 Metric tons – sigh)
For the almond meringue:
5 egg whites
150g ground almonds
almond essence – a splash. This is optional, and I use amaretto because I like amaretto
For the butter cream:
2 egg yolks (I hate waste, so I used 4 egg yolks and gave the last one to the dog. Poppy was happy with this arrangement although it did make her fart like a trooper)
100g very dark 70%+ plain chocolate
To begin with there is a bit of preparation which you must do in advance or it will all go to pot.
- Draw 4 20cm diameter circles onto some baking parchment. These are for your 4 layers of almond meringue. Quite a few cake tins are 20cm in diameter (8 inches in old money), so use these as a template. Don’t go larger than 20cm or your layers will break.
- Try to get 4 shelves operating in your oven if you can. If not, be prepared to bake the layers in a couple of batches.
- Sprinkle the flaked almonds onto a baking sheet in one thin layer to toast them. I put them in the oven as I turn it on to warm up to 180 degrees C/160 degrees C fan, and then set the timer every 5 minutes until they are golden. If you put them into a hot oven and forget them you end up with charred black shards of nastiness. Cool them in a single layer on a plate.
- Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff, then fold in the sugar, ground almonds and essence/amaretto (if using). Fold in very gently – you don’t want to knock the air out.
- Place your baking parchment circles on baking sheets (I find a little of that spray oil sprayed on to the baking sheet helps to hold the paper in place) and evenly distribute the meringue mixture across the four discs. Carefully smooth it out to fill the circle.
- Put your discs in the oven for 15 minutes – I tend to set the timer for 10 minutes and then keep a close eye on them. They should be light gold all over.
- Cool each meringue layer on a wire rack, and when cool remove the parchment paper.
Now for your posh butter cream. In a small pan, put the water and sugar together and bring to the boil. Gently boil this until a syrup forms – do not stir this or it will crystallise. The syrup will noticeably become thicker. Get a teaspoon and take a small amount between your thumb and forefinger. When you gently pull your thumb and finger apart, if the syrup is ready it will pull a thin thread of syrup between them.
- Add the syrup a little at a time to the egg yolks (you really don’t want sweet scrambled egg), and beat until these are pale and thick.
- Cream the butter until it is soft, and beat this into the egg mousse slowly bit by bit.
- Melt the dark chocolate and stir this into your butter cream mixture. You should now have a dark, rich shiny butter cream.
- Sandwich the four layers of meringue together with the butter cream, then put the butter cream onto the sides of the cake, and finally the top. Sprinkle the sides and top with the toasted almonds.
- Allow to cool and set completely before serving to friends and family and basking in their praise for your baking skills!!
Let me know how you get on! It sounds a bit fiddly but it really isn’t complicated, just don’t make it in a rush.
My next blog post…
…will probably not be food related, unless you want the tiramisu recipe next??