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Learning to Tell a Tarte From a Torte

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Long, long ago, before I seriously thought of staking a claim at the stove, I had a problem of acute culinary semantics. One that stayed with me for years. I never knew the difference between a tarte and a torte.

How I first came to know the distinction between these two pastries I cannot exactly recall, but it was certainly a way back. Paula Peck in “The Art of Fine Baking” (Simon & Schuster: 1961) helped to define the characteristics. “A tart is not a pie,” she reported. “It is a delicate shell filled with fruit and sometimes custard. But never, as most pies are, covered by a complete top crust.” She also unequivocally stated, “Beautiful cakes, rich with butter cream icings and liqueurs, (are known) in Vienna and Warsaw as torten .”

It took my first cooking teacher, Dione Lucas, to dispel the variances. “Tarts are usually containers while tortes are absolute containments,” Lucas declared. From that day forward, I never had a problem distinguishing either again, for Lucas’ formula became printed on my brain and taste buds.

“You see,” she demonstrated to the class, “a torte may be made of grated nuts or ground bread crumbs but the essential ingredients never vary: butter, sugar and eggs. Many, many eggs. Whipped to a fare-thee-well.

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The following tortes, devised of nuts, sugar and eggs, compound the culinary confusion by being baked in tender crusts. EXTRAORDINARY LINZER TORTE

Blanched almonds

1 1/2 cups flour

Sugar

Finely grated peel of 2 lemons

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into bits

4 egg yolks

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 1/4 cups raspberry preserves

1 tablespoon orange liqueur

1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel

Place 6 3/4 ounces almonds in container of food processor fitted with steel blade. Process until finely ground. Add 1 1/2 cups flour, 3/4 cup sugar, lemon peel, cinnamon and allspice. Process briefly. Add butter. Process until mixed. Add 3 egg yolks and 2 teaspoons water. Process until soft dough is formed, adding more water, if necessary.

Knead dough briefly on floured pastry board. Remove slightly more than half of dough. Place remaining dough in freezer. Line 9-inch loose-bottom tart pan with unchilled dough, pressing dough over sides and bottom with fingers.

Clean processor and return steel blade to container. To make almond paste, combine 5 ounces almonds and 1/2 cup sugar in processor. Process until finely ground. Add beaten egg. Process until smooth paste is formed. Carefully spread mixture over bottom of torte shell.

Combine raspberry preserves with liqueur and orange peel in medium bowl. Spoon evenly over almond paste in shell. Remove chilled dough from freezer. Roll out dough between layers of wax paper until thin. Remove top layer of wax paper. With scissors cut into 1-inch-wide strips, cutting through paper with scissors. Pick up pastry strips, 1 at a time, and flip over on top of torte to form lattice pattern. Peel off wax paper as you place each strip on torte. Arrange strips diagonally to form diamond patterns. Press edges into shell.

Combine remaining 1 egg yolk with 2 teaspoons water in small bowl. Brush over top of pastry. Bake at 375 degrees 10 minutes. Reduce oven heat to 350 degrees and bake 20 minutes longer. Cool on wire rack. Remove outside ring from pan before completely cooled. Makes 8 to 10 servings. MACADAMIA NUT TORTE

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1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour

1 egg yolk

1 1/2 tablespoons cold water

2 eggs

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon finely grated orange peel

1 cup finely chopped macadamia nuts

Blend butter, flour and egg yolk with pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add water, small amount at a time, to form dough. (May not need all of water.) Knead briefly. Refrigerate.

Stir eggs and sugar together in medium bowl 20 minutes. Do not beat. Add vanilla, orange peel and nuts.

Lightly grease 9-inch quiche pan. Roll out slightly more than half of dough. Line bottom and sides of pan. Trim edges. Fill with almond mixture. Roll out remaining dough. Place over filling. Press edges into sides of pan. Cut small hole in center of pastry. Bake at 350 degrees 30 minutes. Makes 10 servings.

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