Chances are good you’ve never heard of an Esterhazy torte, at least if google is any indication. It’s a traditional Hungarian walnut cake, made with thin, meringue like cake layers and a rich walnut filling, which I first had at a little local place, and was absolutely blown away by. Of course, I immediately went home to find a recipe so that I could make it myself, but much to my surprise, there was a relative dearth of information and recipes (one that didn’t look great from about.com did come up). Fortunately, digging through some message boards on cooking websites unearthed a couple of recipes, which I combined into something workable. I’ve actually tried this cake a couple of times, first before thanksgiving, and then I made two of them for New Year’s parties.
I made one major change from the traditional cake. As I’ve seen it at a restaurant, and the few places I’ve found it, an Esterhazy is traditionally topped with a fondant or mirror, which then has a chocolate web made into it. The first time I tried this, my fondant (really, the recipe was just for a glaze) was apparently too loose, and within minutes it flowed off of the cake, literally leaving it sitting in a pool of frosting. I made several more attempts to no avail. I also thought this caused the cake to be overly sweet (a picture of this cake, as I finally served it, is at the bottom of this post). Consequently, the second time I made the cake, I replaced the traditional fondant with a nice chocolate buttercream, which I used to frost the whole outside of the cake. I have to say, this may not be traditional, but combined with the walnuts it was very good. The filling in this cake is also pretty unusual, sort of a cross between a butter cream and a pastry cream, but when it’s done it is to die for. This cake could also be made with almonds, or maybe even hazelnuts. One last note, as a consequence, this cake is incredibly rich, so serve small slices.
Cake Layers – makes 6 thin layers (the recipe I took from claimed it only made 5, but there was enough left for a sixth)
*vanilla sugar can be purchased at specialty stores, or made by combining a vanilla pod with sugar. If you have vanilla powder, you can also put in a little of that. I would not recommend adding vanilla extract to this part of the recipe, as the liquid may cause your whites to lose some of their stiffness.
1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Draw 6, eight inch circles on parchment paper, and lay them out on cookie sheets.
2. Combine the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a mixer, and beat until the whites reach stiff, dry peaks.
3. Fold in the nuts and orange zest. Sift the flour over the mixture and gently fold to combine.
4. Place some batter at the center of one of your parchment circles (somewhere around ¾ of a cup). Using an offset spatula, spread the batter as thinly as possible, covering the entire circle. I would say my layers ended up being about ¼ inch thick.
5. Once all your layers are made, place in the oven for 45 minutes, until crisp and golden. Be careful not to place your layers too low in the oven (if that’s where your heating element is), or they may get scorched on the bottom (learned this the hard way).
6. Remove from the oven, and transfer to cooling racks after about a minute. Promptly peel off the parchment paper. Let sit until completely cool and firm. If you leave them overnight, and they need to be re-crisped, put them in a 185 degree oven for 12 minutes.
Here is a picture of what the completed cake looks like sliced. The individual layers become a little indistinct, but it still tastes great.
1. In a double boiler, over barely simmering water, whisk together the egg yolks, milk, walnuts, cornstarch, vanilla and sugar. Switch to a spatula and continue stirring, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pan.
2. As you go, the mixture will thicken (you are making a pastry cream). At first, it will appear to separate, as parts are thick and others aren’t, just keep stirring until it becomes uniformly thick. Bring it all the way up to a boil (it will be very thick by this point). Remove from heat.
3. Just so you know, at this point the pastry cream should taste pretty unappetizing, sort of like oatmeal. That is normal (consider how little sugar went in). Whisk in the rum. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream, and let set in the refrigerator, at least 4 hours.
4. In the bowl of a mixer cream the butter until fluffy. Add 1 cup of powdered sugar, and beat until fully combined. Add ¼ of the pastry cream, along with the almond extract, and beat to combine. Keep adding it in portions until all pastry cream has been beaten in. If the mixture is too soft, add additional powdered sugar. Do remember it is a filling though, and doesn't need to be pipeable. The end result of this looks a little strange, but should taste great.
1. Melt the chocolate over barely simmering water in the bowl of a double boiler. Set aside to cool.
2. Cream the butter with 1 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Once the chocolate is cool enough that it won’t melt the butter, add in the chocolate. Beat until well combined.
4. Beat in additional powdered sugar until frosting is pipeable, and tasty. I tend not to like overly sweetened buttercreams, and so try to stay on the softer side, with less powdered sugar, but you should do what feels right to do, buttercream is incredibly flexible
1. Place a cake layer flat-side down on your work surface. Spread 1/5 of your walnut filling on it, reaching to all the corners. Try to spread it relatively thinly, as with 6 layers, this is not a cake where you want thick layers of frosting. Place the next layer on top, and gently press it into the frosting, then frost the top of it, and press another layer on. It will look sort of like a stack of pancakes. If any of your layers are misshapen, and stick out beyond the edge of the cake, gently trim them with scissors. If any of your layers crack or break while you’re working, don’t worry about it (it happened to me twice). Just stick them back together, and cover them with filling, this stuff is a little like schlak, and will hold them together without a problem.
2. Continue until you have placed your last layer on top of the cake (this time flat side up). You should not frost the top of the cake with the walnut filling).
3. Use excess frosting to patch up the sides of your cake, first any holes you have, and then just all around the make the edges of the cake even and flat if you can.
Here's one of the cakes with the filling spread around the edges, so it's more even, and the second in the process of getting its crumb coat
4. Simmer the apricot jam with the rum in a small saucepan, just until the jam is melted. Avoiding any big chunks of apricot, use a pastry brush to spread the glaze thinly over the top layer of the cake.
5. Spread a small amount of the chocolate buttercream evenly over the cake, this is your crumb coat. Refrigerate the cake for 10 minutes.
6. Spread the remainder of the chocolate buttercream evenly over the cake. Reserve some for whatever decorations and embellishments you choose.
These are the two completed cakes I made for New Year's Eve