At a table near the window we drank tea with lemon, scalding through the thick cups, and ate our way through sardines on buttered white bread and even a few slices of torta.
-The Historian, Elizabeth Kostova
If a book was to combine some of my favourite things, The Historian nailed it. History, travel sprinkled with food from other cultures, mystery and a little bit of gothic (Dracula!). I’ve never tired of the novel (having read it several times), which takes you through Amsterdam, Istanbul, France, Budapest, Romania, and Bulgaria. It’s incredibly descriptive and you can almost imagine being there yourself, walking along the cobbled stones next to the narrator.
I’m not sure when the next book I read will mention plenty of Ottoman cuisine, so over time I’ll be making the majority of the foods mentioned.
There’s several types of tortas out there. However in this scene the narrator (as a young girl) and her father are eating this in Slovenia, so I’ve gone with the recipe for Torta Plava Laguna from Celtnet. This is apparently ‘traditional’ and eaten for special occasions. The ‘Blue Lagoon’ part of the recipe comes from the blue coloured house the cook lived/lives in, and really it’s just a normal chocolate torta. But having that extra bit to the name makes it sound so much more exotic.
I altered the recipe to be smaller (and I’m glad I did!) It’s rich and I’ve ended up freezing half of it for later, since there’s not enough people around at the moment to eat it fast enough. If you’ve got four+ people around, by all means double it back up.
- 5 eggs , separated
- pinch of salt
- 4.5 tbsp sugar
- 100g ground roasted hazelnuts
- 50g ground almonds
- 2 tsp plain flour (or 1 tsp plain flour and 1 tsp breadcrumbs)
- 150g butter, room temp
- 150g / ¾ cup white sugar
- 150g chocolate (dark preferably or milk)
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp of instant coffee
- Preheat oven to 200oC.
- Start by whisking in your mixer the egg whites and the salt until stiff. Scoop it into a bowl for later. In the mixer whisk together the egg yolks, then add in the ground almonds and ground hazelnuts, breadcrumbs and/ or flour. When it's been mixed well, carefully fold in the egg whites.
- Grease and flour a 13cm springform cake pan. Scoop the batter in, smooth the top with a wet spatula and place in the oven. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn down the temperature tp 160oC and bake for another 30 minutes. A skewer pushed into the middle should come out clean.
- Remove from the oven, let sit for 10 minutes, then place on a wire rack to cool completely.
- With either a cake cutter or a bread knife, cut the cake across (horizontally). If you've made a larger cake, you'll cut it so you have four layers. Because this is smaller, you just need to cut it once.
- Wash your mixer bowl, then cream together the butter and sugar. Add in the eggs. Microwave the chocolate (medium power, stir every 40 secs) until melted, then pour into the mixer. Stir well until combined. The original recipe says to sprinkle the coffee onto the cake itself, but here I just whisked it into the buttercream. End of the day it gets mushed together...
- Place your cake on the platter you're going to serve it on. Spread a thick layer of the buttercream on the layer of cake, place the top layer of cake on, and completely cover the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the buttercream.
- Place in the fridge to chill and harden for half an hour before serving.