March 13th, Coconut Torte Day, begs the question: What is a torte? Is it just a pretentious word for cake, something to make you think the torte is more special than an everyday cake?
Nein, mein freund. While torte is the German word for what the British (and Americans) call cake and the French call gâteau, they don’t refer to identical confections.
Different cooking traditions led to different styles of baking.
British cakes, German tortes and Italian tortas are generally hardier creations than delicate French gâteaux.
The French, those keen culinarians, went for light, rich, layered affairs stuffed with custard, whipped cream or butter cream, frosted, and decorated with fresh fruit—oh la la, but very perishable.
While British culinary tradition created sturdier, longer-lasting pound cakes and fruit cakes, tortes are rich, dense cakes made with many eggs and little or no flour, using ground nuts (and sometimes breadcrumbs) for texture.
A torte is thus easily recognizable because it’s one layer that’s shorter than a typical cake layer, often no more than 2-1/2 inches high because there’s not much, if any, flour to rise. Flourless cakes are tortes. The crumb is denser than the airy crumb of a layer cake; it’s similar to the density of a Bundt cake.
And a torte is wider than a cake—usually 10 to 12 inches in diameter compared to the typical 8-to-9-inch cake. That’s to compensate for the shorter height, so each short wedge will be a good portion.
KNOW YOUR TORTES
Alas, many people, including some bakers, use terms incorrectly. The following may be called “torte” by their makers and/or sellers, but are not tortes:
Remember these words: one short, dense, round layer.
A torte can be plain or iced. Top: Plain coconut torte from SweetSmarts.com; it’s also sugar-free. Center: Key Lime Coconut Torte from Pixilated Crumb. Bottom: Flourless almond and coconut torte from Food52.com.