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