One of the great lessons I learned from my father is that it’s perfectly all right to love every season and everything that happens in the natural world. One does not have to choose between spring and fall, between cherry blossoms and chrysanthemums; one can celebrate them all. He applied the same principle to the world of art. He liked every painting he ever looked at and appreciated the work of every artist. We visited museums often and everywhere, and he would guide us from room to room with equal enthusiasm for da Vinci, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, Hopper, Orozco and Picasso. Patrick had no time for fussy artistic judgmentalism. Though he was vastly knowledgeable about art history, his mission was to feast on the glory of nature and the exquisite gift of art.
Easter is on April 21 this year, relatively late, as Easter often takes place in March. If you live in a cold climate, hopefully by April 21, you will be surrounded by chirping birds, flowers and greenery, even if the morning air remains chilly. We invite you to review our Easter Tea menu in the April section of “A Calendar of Tea Parties.” We hope you will find inspiration for your own Easter and springtime festivities.
I will be remembering my father on April 29, as I do each year. This year our family will recall the 104th anniversary of his birth. Although he was only seventy-seven when he left us, Patrick lives on in the thousands of memories he left behind and in his gorgeous, energetic springtime paintings that hang on my walls.
As a memorial gift, I would like to share with you a recipe that uses copious amounts of my father’s favorite ingredient: chocolate. Although chocolate is not really associated with spring, and in fact is welcome in any season of the year (see our “Winter Tea” menu,) I have added a springtime touch by including a garnish of fresh strawberries to this recipe for Chocolate Almond Torte. Feel free to serve this grand, dense and rich version of the humble chocolate cake at any of your springtime festivities. I baked it recently to celebrate the second birthday of my little friend Willa (see my April 2018 blog, “The Baby Luau” which describes Willa’s first birthday party.) Willa’s second birthday cake was devoured rather quickly, before I thought to take a proper photograph, so you will have to settle for a picture of the last remaining piece, accompanied by a chocolate dipped strawberry and a little pile of whipped cream on the side.
I adapted this recipe from the Chocolate Hazelnut Torte recipe in Alice Medrich’s 1990 classic, Cocolat. My parents, Betty and Patrick, gave me this beautiful book for my birthday, shortly after it was published, and they even had it signed, “To Rose Anna Higashi With best wishes—Alice Medrich,” so I assume that they attended a local book signing event with the author herself. The book is a treasure trove of outstanding recipes for fabulous chocolate desserts in every category, and I have used it many times over the years, thinking of my parents every time I open it. I chose to substitute almonds for the hazelnuts in the original recipe because everyone in my family prefers the lovely taste and texture of California almonds.
This recipe produces a classic European style one-layer torte containing ground nuts and no baking powder or yeast for leavening. The batter rises due to the inclusion of stiffly beaten egg whites. Once baked, the top will fall slightly creating a concave surface. This gave me the idea of sprinkling fresh blueberries over the top of the Torte and pouring warm chocolate icing over, creating an interesting pebbly surface. I then surrounded the Torte with a ring of Chocolate Dipped Strawberries and served freshly whipped cream on the side. When preparing your grocery list, note that you will need a pound of semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, or a combination of the two.
- 6 ounces of semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate, broken into small pieces
- (I used Ghirardelli’s semisweet chocolate)
- 12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 4 large eggs, separated
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup almonds, toasted and ground
- ¼ cup flour
- 1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
- Cooking spray for preparing the pan
For the Chocolate Icing:
- 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
- ½ stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
- 3 tablespoons milk or cream
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup powdered sugar, firmly packed
For the Berry Garnish and Whipped Cream:
- 1 (6ounce) container fresh blueberries, washed and dried
- 12 large ripe strawberries, washed and cored
- 5 ounces semisweet chocolate, broken into pieces
- 1 pint (2 cups) heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
Special equipment: large foil-covered cookie sheet, food processor or grinder, 9” round springform pan, parchment, scissors, hand held electric mixer, measuring spoons, rubber spatula, 1-quart glass measuring cup, 2 large mixing bowls, wire rack, wooden skewer, thin knife, paper towels or clean kitchen towel, small long-handled fork, large round 12”-13”decorative serving platter, medium sized bowl, preferably cut glass, for serving the whipped cream, large serving spoon
Makes: 8-16 small servings
Preheat oven to 375°
- Make the Torte: Preheat the oven. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9” round springform pan with cooking spray. Cut a 9” round of parchment and place it firmly in the bottom of the pan. Spray the top of the parchment. Place a generous ½ cup of whole almonds on a foil-lined cookie sheet and toast in the oven, stirring to prevent burning for 8-10 minutes. Remove to cool completely; then process in a food processor or grinder until no chunks remain.
- Melt the chocolate and butter in a 1-quart glass measuring cup or similar microwave proof container and microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring in between, for about 1 ½ minutes. Stir until completely melted and smooth and set aside.
- Separate the eggs into the 2 large mixing bowls. With an electric mixer, beat the egg yolks with ½ cup of sugar until pale and thick, about 4 minutes. Stir in the warm chocolate mixture, flour and ground almonds. Set aside.
- With clean beaters, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar at medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually add the remaining ¼ cup sugar, beating at high speed until stiff but not dry peaks form. Fold one fourth of the egg whites into the chocolate batter with a rubber spatula. Quickly and gently fold in the remaining egg whites with an under and over motion until no whites remain visible.
- Gently pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top with the spatula. Bake for about 30 minutes until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs. Place on a wire rack to cool. Wash and dry the mixing bowls, beaters, spatula and glass measuring cup. Place the beaters and one of the mixing bowls in the freezer to chill. Run a thin knife around the inside of the springform pan to loosen the Torte. Release the spring and remove the parchment from the bottom of the Torte. Place the Torte on a decorative serving platter.
- Make the Icing and Berry Garnish: Wash the blueberries and place them on paper towels or a clean kitchen towel to dry. Wash and core the strawberries and place them, cut side down, on the towels to dry. When the Torte has cooled and the berries are dry, scatter the blueberries evenly over the top of the Torte.
- To make the icing, place 5 ounces of broken chocolate, 4 tablespoons of butter, cut into pieces, and 3 tablespoons of milk into the glass measuring cup and microwave at 30-second intervals, stirring until melted and smooth. Add ¼ teaspoon of almond extract and stir. With the electric mixer, beat the mixture, quickly adding the powdered sugar until completely incorporated and the icing starts to thicken. This process should only take a few seconds. Quickly pour the icing over the berry-topped Torte, covering all the blueberries if possible, and allowing some of the icing to drip over the sides of the Torte. Do not try for a perfect effect. The surface of the Torte should be bumpy.
- To make the Chocolate Strawberries, melt the remaining 5 ounces of broken chocolate in the microwave at 30-second intervals and stir until smooth. Place a large piece of parchment near the melted chocolate. Using a long-handled fork, skewer the cored strawberries, one at a time through the core end and dip them into the melted chocolate, swirling quickly until the uncut end of each strawberry is covered with chocolate. It is not necessary to cover each strawberry entirely; leave some of the red berry showing. Place each berry, cored side down, on the parchment until the chocolate coating dries.
- To make the whipped cream, remove the chilled bowl and beaters from the freezer and pour 1 pint of cream into the bowl. Beat at medium speed until the cream starts to form soft peaks. Add the powered sugar and vanilla and continue beating for a few more seconds at high speed until the peaks are slightly firmer. Do not overbeat to stiff peaks. Whipped cream should be soft and pillowy. Refrigerate the whipped cream immediately.
- To serve, place the Chocolate Strawberries evenly spaced in a ring around the outside of the iced Torte. Transfer the whipped cream into a decorative serving bowl with a large spoon and place these next to the Torte. Cut the Torte into small wedges, place a strawberry next to each piece and place a large dollop of whipped cream on each plate. Refrigerate any leftovers.