Engadiner Nusstorte (Nut tart from Engadine)

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baking / Swiss food / Switzerland

I have always liked this nut tart, the Engadiner Nusstorte, or Bündner Nusstorte. The Nusstorte (NOOSE-tore-ta) is a round, flat torte with a sweet shortcrust pastry, and a caramelized honey-walnut filling. Normally regional foods become ingrained in a culture because of one of more local ingredients, but the Engadiner Nusstorte has a more interesting heritage. The Engadine is the upper valley of the river Inn, in the Canton of Graubünden – nuts trees don’t really grow in the Engadine, likely because of the cold climate.

Its creation is in many ways a tale of emigration. Overcrowding of farmland, and food shortages likely spurned Engadiners to emigrate to the region south of the Alps in the late middle-ages. Young bakers and confectioners emigrated to Venice until many were expelled in 1766, after which they emigrated to other regions of Italy and France. Graubünden historian Dolf Kaiser traced this migration in his book “Fast ein Volk von Zuckerbäckern”, or “Almost a people of confectioners”. One of the first pastry shops was opened in Marseille around 1734 by the Tratschin and Sütt families from Samedan. Some of these Zuckerbäcker (confectioners) emigrated to the Perigord region of France, which is well known for its varieties of walnuts.

In France there were already regional tarts made with walnuts – Tarte aux noix de Grenoble (Walnut tart from Grenoble), which is an open tart made with pâte sucrée, but uses a similar filling: a deep caramel to which is added walnuts, honey, cream, and eggs. Another similar tart is Tarte aux noix Périgord. People from the Engadine had to preserve foods for longer period in the pantry, so the tart had to be adapted. The solution was to change the dough to one that provided a longer shelf life, and add a top to the tart. The solution already existed in the form of “fuatscha grassa”, a classic Engadine shortcrust pastry. Dominik Flammer who authored “Kulinarisches Erbe der Alpen” (Culinary Heritage of the Alps) suggests that the Engadine nusstorte is nothing more than a “fuatscha grassa” filled with caramelized sugar, nuts and cream.

The origins of how the Nusstorte travelled back to Engadine have become murkier over the years. The first shop to commercialize the Nusstorte was the Pâtisserie Heinz & Tester in Toulouse. It was founded in 1881 by the Engadiner Bernhard Heinz. Their company logo included the phrase “Spécialité de gateaux aux noix” or “Specializing in walnut cakes”. In 1968 Kaiser published “Cumpatriots in terras estras”, suggesting that the recipe was known to the Moggi-Tester family in Samedan around 1900 and was known as “Tuorta da Roseg”. Another version of the Engadine Nusstorte called the Pultorte, was first commercialized under the Romansh name “Tuorta da nusch Engiadinaisa” in Samedan in 1926, in a Confiserie owned by Fausto Pult. Their website says the recipe comes from Pult’s mother, Malgiaretta Pult-Klainguti born in Genoa, Italy in 1862, however Fausto Pult is said to have apprenticed in Pâtisserie Heinz & Tester from 1920-1926.

In 2009 another origin story surfaced suggesting that the recipe for the Nusstorte reached the Engadine via Chur. Adolf Ribi who came from Thurgau had trained in Paris, before opening a Confiserie in Chur in 1901 (the family ran it until 1968) where the Nusstorte was being sold. It is thought that some of Engadin’s confectioners did their training in the shop and took the recipe with them. Regardless of where the Nusstorte originated from, one thing can be certain, the Engadiner’s made in their own.

This recipe is adapted from Die Kochkunst Graubündens traditionelle Rezepte – neu kreiert by Roland Jöhri (1989).

I N G R E D I E N T S

DOUGH
150g butter, room temp.
150g sugar
1 egg
1 egg yolk
Zest of a lemon
375g plain flour

FILLING
250g sugar
50ml water
250ml cream
25g honey
300g walnuts, halved

Make a dough by creaming together the butter and sugar until soft and pale. Add the egg, and egg yolk and mix well, then the zest and flour. Form into a ball and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 30-60 minutes. This torte is about 1” (25mm) in height, with a diameter of 9”. It’s hard to find springform pans with a height of 1”, so its easier to use a flan pan, or a pastry ring.

For the filling, heat the cream and honey in a pan. In another heavy bottom pan, add the sugar and water and cook to a light brown caramel. Take the pan off the heat and add the warm honey-cream mixture, and walnuts. Continue to simmer for 1-2 minutes until the mixture thickens. Take off the heat and allow to cool.

The caramel
The walnuts

Cover the base of the baking tin with parchment paper. Split the dough into two pieces in a 2:1 ratio. Take the large piece, roll it out to about 3mm thick, and form it into the tin, bending the pastry slightly over the rim. Pour the semi-warm filling into the pan. Roll out the lid from the remaining small piece of dough, and pierce all over with a fork. Brush the edge of the torte walls with egg wash and place the lid on. Crimp the edges of the torte.


Bake at 200C (390F) for about 40 minutes. Don’t let the top get too dark, so cover with foil towards the end of the baking time.

Further Reading:

  • Dolf Kaiser: Cumpatriots in terras estras. Stamparia engiadinaisa SA, Samedan p.144 f. (1968)
  • Kaiser, Dolf, Fast ein Volk von Zuckerbäckern? Bündner Konditoren, Cafetiers und Hoteliers in europäischen Landen bis zum Ersten Weltkrieg, Verlag Neue Zürcher Zeitung, Zürich (1985)


Blueberry pie

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baking / pie

I don’t really make a lot of pies. Generally I like to make pies when fruit is in season, frozen fruit just doesn’t produce the same results. Such is the case with blueberries, one does not really want a pie where the fruit has disintegrated. Choosing a dough is tricky as well, as there are many different types, both sweet and savoury. When making a fruit pie, a sweet dough is nice, but if it’s being served with ice-cream, its sweetness needs to be balanced – a shortcrust pastry.

Pastry

250g unsalted butter, cold
500g plain flour
1 tsp salt
2 egg yolks
100ml ice-cold water

Cut the cold butter into thin sheets (or cubes if you like). Place the flour and salt into a bowl. Add the butter and work it into the flour with your fingertips, or a pastry cutter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre of the mixture, and add in the egg yolks and water.

Start mixing the dry and wet components, bringing the dough together into a smooth ball. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rest in the refrigerator for a minimum of 30 minutes. This makes about 800g of dough, which is enough to cover the base and top of a pie.

Filling

2-2½ pints fresh blueberries
⅓ cup sugar
¼ cup plain flour
1 tbsp lemon juice

Combine the blueberries, sugar, flour, and lemon juice in a bowl. Preheat the oven to 425°F (220°C).

Roll out half the dough into a 1/8-inch (3mm) thickness, large enough to fit into a 9-inch pie plate. Trim the dough to leave a ¾” overhang. Add filling. Brush the edge of the pie with water or egg-wash, and cover with a similarly rolled out top, or lattice-work. Brush the top with egg-wash.

Bake in for 20 minutes at 425°F (220°C), then reduce the heat to 350°F (180°C), and bake until the filling is bubbling, 50-60 minutes. If the top becomes too dark, cover with foil. Allow to cool on a rack.

A no-bake lemon cheesecake

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baking / dessert

When I was growing up we didn’t eat a lot of dessert, usually only on special occasions. One of my favourite desserts was a no-bake cheesecake my mom made with cream cheese and evaporated milk. Before I came to Canada, I had never had a baked cheesecake – I actually find them too heavy, and a bit too fussy to make sometimes. This is a super-light cheesecake that is easy to make, delicious to eat. I haven’t had one of these cheesecakes in nearly 20 years and only decided to try the recipe recently.

Lemon cheesecake with strawberry-cheery compote.

This recipe traditionally use Nice biscuits, although Social Tea or any plain biscuits work just as well. The original recipe my mother sent me had sugar in the base, which is hardly necessary. The evaporated milk (Carnation) should be (super) chilled before whipping (put it in the fridge the night before using)

B I S C U I T – B A S E

220g plain biscuits (sweet)
115g butter

Melt the butter in a dish. Crush the plain biscuits, and combine with the melted butter. Line a 9″ spring-form type pan with parchment paper and press the crumb mixture into the bottom of the pan. Chill for 1-2 hours, or overnight.

The biscuit base

F I L L I N G

6 sheets leaf gelatin (10g) (or 1 tbsp powdered gelatin)
60ml hot water
zest of 1 lemon
1/4 cup lemon juice
250g cream cheese
1 cup sugar
1 tin evaporated milk (354ml), chilled
1 tsp vanilla


Put the gelatin leaves in cold water and allow to soften. Cream the cream cheese and sugar together until soft and creamy. Add the softened gelatin sheets to the 60ml of hot water, and allow them to dissolve. Add the gelatin, lemon zest, and juice to the cream cheese mixture, mix briefly. Chill for 30 minutes.

Cream cheese + gelatin
Whipped evaporated milk

Whip the icy cold evaporated milk in a mixer until soft peaks form (2-3 minutes). Beat in the gelatin mixture and vanilla. Pour the cheesecake mixture into the pan, and allow to chill in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

The finished cheesecake

This is likelier a healthier choice than baked cheesecake. Many baked cheesecakes have anywhere from 750-1000g of cream cheese in them, and 3-6 eggs. Cream cheese is typically around 83 grams of fat per 250g block. The evaporated milk on the other hand has 23.6g of fat. So a baked cheesecake may have 249g of fat (assuming 750g cream cheese) for dairy versus 107g for this cheesecake.

Löwenzahnhonig – Dandelion flower honey

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cooking / edible flower / recipe / Swiss food / Switzerland

In North America, dandelions are considered weeds, but they are actually one of the more interesting foraged plants, with every part of the plant able to be eaten. In Europe dandelion flowers are often turned into Löwenzahnhonig, or dandelion honey. The name dandelion comes from the French, dent de lion, or lion’s tooth, and the same goes for the German Löwenzahn.

Dandelion honey has an amber-like colour, and a consistency like maple syrup.

Of course this is not really a honey, but more of an infusion of dandelion flowers in water, to which sugar is added and the mixture is simmered until it has the consistency of honey. Although there are few old recipes for Löwenzahnhonig, it has likely been made for generations, possibly appearing during the 19th century. Prior to the 1800s, most sugar came from sugar cane in the West Indies, making it prohibitively expensive for the average European. With the English blockade of Europe during the Napoleonic Wars, Napoleon encouraged the planting of sugar beets. By 1850 sugar beets had become an established source of sugar, making it accessible to the masses.

In many recipes honey began to be replaced with sugar, and as sugar became cheaper, honey became more expensive. In order to obtain a cheap spread, thickened sugar syrups were flavoured with various plants. There aren’t too many historic recipes for dandelion honey, probably because it was cooked most commonly by peasants. My mother remembers growing up in Switzerland during the 1940s, and eating Kunsthonig, or artificial honey, likely because it was cheap. This was not of course made of dandelions, but rather a solid made of inverted sugar. This artificial honey was already available in Switzerland in 1880, but more of a glucose syrup or a mixture of syrup and honey. Golden syrup has a similar composition, but does not taste like honey.

I N G R E D I E N T S

40g dandelion petals
400ml water
2-3 slices of lemon
sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice

Making dandelion honey is a little bit time consuming – from harvesting the flowers, to extracting the petals, and simmering down the final product. Rinse the flowers with cold water. The best time to make dandelion honey is early spring. The flowers are most aromatic when they are open on a sunny morning. The real trick is collecting dandelions – avoid areas that could be sprayed, and opt instead for low traffic areas, where you can guarantee the flowers are somewhat organic. Some people use the whole flowers, but the green parts can sometimes add a level of bitterness to the honey. Instead remove just the petals. This can seem hard, but the easiest way is to pinch the base of the flower (the green part), and literally squeeze out the petals.

The extracted flower petals.

Put the plucked flower petals in a saucepan with the water, and lemon slices. Bring the mixture to a boil, and allowed to simmer for 10 minutes. Remove the mixture from the stove, and allow to steep for 10-12 hours. The next day filter the mixture through a very fine mesh, or cheesecloth.

The steeping phase.

Pour liquid into a saucepan and add the same weight in sugar, and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Simmer on low heat for 90-120 minutes, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon. The liquid will reduce over time, and its colour will gradually change – from pale yellow to a dark wildflower honey colour.

The liquid after straining.

Use sterilized jars to fill the “honey”. Be careful not to pour the dandelion honey into glasses that are wet or too cool. Otherwise the “honey” crystallizes. So use well-dried glasses. Protect the “honey” from too much light, heat and cold. Store it in the pantry or pantry. It can be kept there for about a year.

The bottled fake honey!

Swiss Kirschsuppe – Cherry soup

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dessert / soup / Swiss food / Switzerland

This seems like a strange thing to make, but actually it is very tasty. Some would question why you would make a cherry soup, but in reality it is not much different to a chilled rhubarb soup. There are a number of these described in Marianne Kaltenbach’s book Aus Schweizer Küchen – Chriesibrägel and Lozärner Chriesisoppe. Chriesibrägel is very similar to the recipe shown below, except that it cooks the cherries in apple juice (instead of cream) and a cinnamon stick, eating it with pan-fried bread cubes. The second is a cherry soup from Luzern which uses milk instead of cream, and a large amount of flour. The recipe below is a simple one melding two things that were in season in late June the Swiss alps – cherries and fresh cream.

I N G R E D I E N T S

500g cherries
50g sugar
1 tbsp corn starch
200ml fresh cream

① Wash and pit the cherries. Leave them in a bowl for 30 minutes to allow them to weep, and some juice to form. Place them in a pan with the sugar, and slowly bring to a boil. Mix the corn starch with a little cold water, pour in and allow to simmer.

② Turn off the stove, pour in the cold cream and stir. Serve cold or at room temperature.

A Swiss cherry cake (Kirschkuchen)

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baking / cake / Swiss food / Switzerland

Cherries come but once a year, and it’s a very short season, so we should make the most of it. You don’t often see then in recipes except for things like Black Forest cake. In Switzerland cherries (Kirschen) are used to make Kirsch, a colourless fruit brandy which is likely its most well-known spirit and is used in everything from biscuits to fondue. This cake is an easy one to make, and is rich in butter, forming a crispy crust.

It’s good to use cherries that have dried out a little in the refrigerator. This helps to reduce their liquid content, preventing them from sinking, or making the cake too wet.

I N G R E D I E N T S

200g unsalted butter
180g sugar
4 eggs, separated
120g ground hazelnuts/almonds
2 tbsp kirsch/rum
100g dark chocolate, grated
1 tsp ground cinnamon
180g plain flour
16g baking powder
300g fresh cherries, pitted

① Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Cream the butter and sugar until pale in colour. Gradually add in the eggs yolks, mixing thoroughly after each yolk. Mix in the ground nuts, chocolate, kirsch, and cinnamon.

② Sift the flour and baking powder. Beat the egg whites until stiff. Alternatively fold the flour and beaten egg whites into the batter.

③ Spread the batter in an 8″×8″ baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover with the pitted cherries. Bake for 30-40 minutes until golden brown.

A Swiss pancake: Cholermüs

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Swiss food / Switzerland

There are very few pancake or omelette-like dishes in traditional Swiss culture. One of them is Cholermüs, or Cholermues, which is a rather thick, fluffy alpine pancake. It is found in the old forest canton of Unterwalden in central Switzerland, now divided into the small cantons of Nidwalden, and Obwalden. There is another pancake from canton Graubünden called Tatsch, the main difference being that Cholermues uses cream in the recipe.

Strangely enough this dish does have a weird contemporary reference. It made an appearance in The Big Bang Theory, S3/E15 when Sheldon says “Cholermues. It’s a traditional Swiss breakfast dish. I’m preparing my gastrointestinal system for the exotic cuisine of Switzerland.”. However as surprising as it sounds Cholermüs is not a breakfast dish, but rather Z’Nacht (the Swiss-German word for supper or dinner). The recipe below makes about 2 pancakes.

Cholermüs with cinnamon sugar.

I N G R E D I E N T S

100g plain flour
3 eggs
175ml milk
175ml cream
pinch salt
1-2 tbsp butter

① Mix together the first five ingredients to form a thick batter. You can use 350ml cream instead of the half milk half cream. Allow to rest for 15 minutes.

Frying the Cholermüs batter

② Heat a steel frying pan on medium heat, and add the butter, allowing it to start sizzling. Add half the batter and cook for 2-3 minutes, until the underside is golden brown. It doesn’t matter if the top of the pancake is not quite set. Turn the pancake and immediately cut it into small pieces with the spatula. Cook until all the pieces are golden brown.

Flipping the pancake (it likely won’t be cooked through)
Chopped up pancake = Cholermüs

The Cholermüs is served with cinnamon sugar, and/or some sort of fruit like applesauce, or even rhubarb compote.

A simple tart rhubarb cake

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baking / cake / recipe

Rhubarb is not exactly a sweet fruit, well I mean it’s not even a fruit really, its a vegetable. But unless you add a lot of sugar, it remains very tart – but is tart bad? This cake uses a very simple base, one that could be used with numerous types of summer fruit. The cake doesn’t end up too thick, and therefore is somewhat easier to bake than in loaf pans. Rhubarb can contain quite a bit of moisture, so pushing the pieces into the cake batter as this recipe does has the added effect of the oven heat evaporating some of this moisture into the oven rather than into the surrounding batter. The same recipe could be used with other summer fruit as well, such as gooseberries, raspberries, or even blueberries.

Baked, dusted and ready to eat!

INGREDIENTS

180 g butter (@ room temp)
180 g sugar
180 g plain flour
4 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1½ tsp baking powder
2-3 stalks of rhubarb

① Line a 10″ (25cm) spring-form pan with parchment paper. Wash the rhubarb and cut into pieces, approx. 0.75″ (2cm) in length. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).

② Cream butter and sugar, until pale in colour. Add one egg at a time, making sure it is properly incorporated before adding the next one. Add the vanilla extract.

Ready to bake.

③ Sift the flour, and baking powder into a bowl. Slowly add the flour mixture to the mixing bowl, until it becomes a smooth batter. Pour the batter into the spring-form pan, and spread uniformly. Push pieces of rhubarb into the batter (don’t be tempted to add too much fruit, because this might cause excessive moisture in the cake).

④ Sprinkle the top with sugar. Bake for 40-50 minutes. Check to see if it is baked through with a cake tester. Remove from oven and allow to cool, removing the side of the spring-form. When cool, dust with icing sugar.

A light crumb, and tart rhubarb chunks.

This cake is light and airy, and has a nice crumb. Some of the rhubarb chunks do tend to sink in the batter, but they do not compromise the cake by producing a wet centre. There is a nice level of tartness, counterbalanced by the sugar in the cake, and the icing sugar dusting on top. You could serve with a dollop of cream and fresh berries if you wanted!

The allure of online farmers markets

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food / food market

There was once a time when the notion of a farmers market was somewhat far-fetched. In the past decade there has been quite a resurgence in their popularity. Farmer’s Markets Ontario has some 180 members across Ontario, and that doesn’t even cover all of the markets in Toronto. However, even though I have always enjoyed farmers markets, there are some aspects which I find not so appealing. Firstly markets can have different vendors, so it may be necessary to visit 2-3 markets in order to get the things I truly want, or visit on alternate weeks. You also have to make it to the market early to avoid missing out on in-season produce.

The pandemic has made it more challenging, because many markets were closed for a good amount of time. This has had a weird side-effect though – the emergence of digital farmers markets. At the start of the lock-downs there were some farmers markets who decided to try an online shopping model. I tried a few of them, one of which was The Leslieville Farmer’s Market who offered The Market Depot. Their model was a collective portal where you bought items from individual vendors, and picked-up from the market. It seemed interesting, but there was a specific window when the digital market was open, and it was easy to forget (this year they are not offering the online market). I have had a good experiences with three digital markets, all of which offer direct-delivery.

*Fresh* strawberries that taste like strawberries.

The first of these is the Graze & Gather (formerly Virtual Farmer’s Market) by Green Circle Food Hub, from which I have purchased produce for over a year. It evolved from a small venture delivering once a week, to a fully fledged collective food hub serving numerous farms, like Foragers Farm, Littleleaf Farms, Pinehaven Farm, Kendall Hill Farms, and Ferguson Farms. A novel way of purchasing a number of different things, from produce, to mushrooms, and meat, in a real sort of farm-to-table scenario. Over the year they have expanded to include new vendors, more flexible delivery, obviously aiming for a sustainable model. You know exactly where the bacon you are buying comes from, and the products are exceptional. I find this model of farm-to-table almost preferable over farmers markets as I am able to buy things like 5-10lb bags of potatoes, and exceptional cartons of apple cider. And not just any old potatoes, here you will find a myriad of differing types, from Sebago, to Irish Cobbler, to Nicola, each perfect for differing preparations.

Graze and Gather

The next one is a Muddy Crops, an online produce market which began in 2012 in a tent in Roncesvalles Village. Their produce is more seasonal, closing down for the winter months, but what you can expect is expertly seasonal farm-to-table produce. Fresh peas available only in June from a farm in Fenwick, ON. Wild morel mushrooms from Northern Ontario, Gem Lettuce from Jordan Station, and asparagus from Cookstown. The asparagus are thin and snappy, the soil-grown strawberries, OHH so delicious. The cucumbers, dainty and perfect for pickling.

Muddy Crops

Finally we have 100km Foods. This company provides locally sources foods, including grocery items for both restaurants and consumers. They provide a good range of products from produce to proteins, charcuterie, eggs/dairy, and flours from K2 Milling. There are others which specialize more, like Field Sparrow Farms, and Linc Farm, which specialize in protein, Forbes Wild Foods for wild foods like mushrooms, birch syrup, and Caribou lichen. There are also farms which opt for a more traditional (+customizable) share box of produce, such as Plan B Organic Farms, and Cooper’s Farm. There are also farmer’s markets like Differing Grove Farmer’s Market, that have pivoted to a delivery model for those interested.

100km Foods

The thing is, we have forgotten what seasonal food is. Would you prefer to eat mediocre strawberries from a place far away in January, or wait until the sweet morsels appear at the start of summer? Would you prefer to eat potatoes that haven’t been sprayed with chemical to stop sprouting? We need to move beyond the grocery store, and back to a place where we become more attune with what we eat. Will the new model disappear when things get back to normal? Hopefully not, because this new model seems better for everyone. Not that I’m advocating for farmers markets to disappear completely, but a new way of doing things offers benefits to all. For the consumer it provides a good selection of food items delivered directly to their door. For the farmers it allows the formation of collectives, and the ability to reach new customers.

This mobile farmers market is new, but is a concept which is well thought out, and timely. Why? Because it provides us with a direct link to farmers, providing a true farm-to-table model. You know exactly where your lettuce comes from, and you are supporting local farmers.

Swiss rhubarb cake

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cake / Swiss food / Switzerland

Europeans love rhubarb, especially in the northern climes. There are many differing types of rhubarb, but I like to use the early spring forced rhubarb variety for this basic Swiss Rhubarb cake or Rhabarberkuchen. It is thin, pink and soft, ideal for cakes.

The rhubarb cake.

I N G R E D I E N T S

200g rhubarb
150g butter, soft
150g sugar
1 lemon, zested
3 eggs
2 tbsp sour cream
160g flour
1½ tsp baking powder
3 tbsp flaked almonds

① Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a loaf pan with parchment paper. Cut the rhubarb into pieces ¼” (5mm) in thickness.

Fresh, spring, forced rhubarb.

② Cream the butter and sugar until light in colour. Add the lemon zest. Add the eggs one at a time mixing each completely. Stir in the sour cream (or crème fraîche).

③ Set aside 1 tbsp of the flour. Mix together the remaining flour and the baking powder. Add to the batter one tablespoon at a time until fully incorporated. Mix the reserved flour with the rhubarb, and fold the rhubarb into the batter. The flour will help stop the rhubarb from sinking to the bottom of the cake.

The cake batter.

④ Pour the batter into the loaf pan and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. Bake for 50-55 minutes until a cake skewer comes out clean.

The baked cake.