When my friend Ursula Reshoft-Hegewisch offers to bring dessert, my answer is always yes.
Over the years, she’s arrived at my door with all manner of elaborate confections — a Sacher torte, a chocolate-hazelnut cake, assortments of Viennese Christmas cookies, and a billowing almond dacquoise filled with mocha buttercream, each carefully made in the kitchen of her nearby brownstone.
Her most recent offering was something I’d never even heard of.
“Blitz torte,” she said as she pulled two very unusual-looking golden rounds from an oversized shopping bag. The bottoms were made of yellow cake, rich with egg yolks and buttery. And on top of each was a baked-on swath of meringue — swirled, browned and covered in chopped pecans. Just before serving, she put the rounds together, sandwiching the layers with whipped cream and fresh berries, which oozed delectably when she cut in. The torte was a bit like strawberry shortcake — the kind made with cake rather than biscuits — but it had the added appeal of crunchy meringue and plenty of toasted nuts. And it was easily one of the best sweets I’d eaten all year.
The recipe, which I begged for before Ursula even left the house that night, came from her grandmother Genevieve Lehmont. Ursula doesn’t know where her grandmother originally got it, but I found a blitz torte recipe in my copy of ‘The Settlement Cookbook’ that was almost identical. The only difference was that it called for almonds instead of pecans. Compared with other tortes, a blitz torte is relatively quick to put together (the word “blitz” means “lightning” in German, and was often used historically to name speedy baked goods). The meringue, which browns on top but stays soft inside, takes the place of icing and gives the cake an elegant look.
When Ursula’s mother, Patricia O’Neal, started making the cake in the 1960s, she used fresh berries. But in the 1930s and ’40s, Genevieve preferred canned pineapple.
“Canned pineapple was a lot fancier back then,” Ursula told me. “Georgia O’Keeffe went to Hawaii to paint pineapples for Dole ads, which my grandmother saw in Vogue magazine. To her, canned pineapple was chic.”
I went with raspberries when I made the torte. And my only other change was to add dashes of nutmeg, vanilla and salt to the batter to heighten the flavours. But otherwise, I left things alone. Because blitz torte has that delightful, old-fashioned charm that never goes out of style.
Berry Blitz Torte
Total time: 1 hour, plus cooling
Yield: 8 servings
For the cake:
1/2 cup (115 grams) unsalted butter (1 stick), softened, plus more for greasing the pans
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (80 grams) cake flour, plus more for dusting the pans
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
4 egg yolks, at room temperature
1/4 cup (60 millilitres) whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
For the meringue topping:
4 egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Pinch of fine sea salt
6 tablespoons (75 grams) sugar
1 cup (120 grams) chopped pecans
For the filling:
1 1/2 cups (360 millilitres) heavy cream
1 to 3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar, to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 pints (490 grams) fresh raspberries or other berries
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two round 8-inch cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper. Grease the paper, then lightly flour the pans.
2. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together cake flour, baking powder and salt.
3. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or electric beaters, beat 1/2 cup softened butter and sugar until fluffy and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Add egg yolks one at a time, beating, until well combined. Add half the cake flour mixture, then half the milk to the butter mixture, beating until smooth. Repeat with remaining flour mixture and milk, then beat in vanilla and nutmeg. Scrape batter evenly into prepared pans and smooth the tops.
4. To make meringue topping, whip egg whites with cream of tartar and salt in an electric mixer until cloudlike and very foamy. Continue whipping while adding sugar 1 tablespoon at a time. Whip until meringue is smooth and glossy, and stiff peaks form.
5. Cover cake batter with meringue, dividing it evenly between pans. Swirl the tops, and sprinkle with pecans. Bake until meringue is golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the Centre all the way down to the cake emerges clean, about 25 minutes. Remove from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack. Cool for 30 minutes; turn cake out of pan and place on rack right-side up. Let cakes cool completely.
6. To assemble, whip the cream with as much of the sugar as you like, and vanilla. Place one cake layer on a serving plate with the meringue side down. Spoon whipped cream on top, then cover with berries. Place second cake layer on top of whipped cream with meringue side up. Serve cake as soon as possible after filling, preferably within 3 hours, and use a serrated knife to cut.