With layer upon layer of rich, dense cake and delicate buttercream subtly flavored with fruit, chocolate, or nuts, classic European tortes crown the pinnacle of Old World baking. Make them with the freshest produce of the fields and orchards of Texas—oranges, peaches, pecans, raspberries, blueberries, plums, apricots, figs, strawberries, and kiwis—and you will discover the New World's ultimate desserts.
In this cookbook, Master Baker Arthur L. Meyer presents forty-three original, kitchen-tested recipes for fruit, nut, and chocolate tortes, cassate, tarts and pies, cheesecakes, and other classic European desserts. The recipes take advantage of fresh Texas ingredients, and each recipe contains clear, easy-to-follow instructions that demystify the processes involved in creating these desserts.
In addition to the recipes, Meyer guides the home baker through the basic steps in producing tart and cheesecake crusts, fillings and icings, and other standard components of special desserts. Throughout the book, he gives tips on proper techniques and equipment drawn from many years of experience.
The image of Texas that most readily comes to mind is that of mesas and buttes, right out of Hollywood's classic portrayal of the West. While it is true that Texas has its share of desert expanse and traditional cowboy settings, it is equally true that Texans grow some of the finest oranges in the United States as well as some of the juiciest and most flavorful peaches. Pecans, raspberries, blueberries, plums, apricots, figs, kiwis, and strawberries are all grown in Texas. Countless varieties of honey are produced across the state. Citrus from the Rio Grande Valley and raisins from Gardendale make wonderful additions to desserts. Canyon, Denton, and San Antonio produce high-quality baking flours, and Austin is home to America's favorite producer of flavorings and extracts.
Fresh ingredients are a must when it comes to creating great desserts, and using locally grown produce means that the fruit can be ripened on the plant, picked at the height of flavor, and delivered to markets the same day. Owing to modern distribution systems, markets all over the United States are stocked with "fresh" produce from around the world. Always seek out those items that are grown locally and are in season.
My philosophy behind preparing foods of the highest quality is simple. Use the very best ingredients, apply basic techniques which rely on fundamental principles, and allow the ingredients to show through.
Texas tortes are adaptations of classic European desserts. Of course, you don't have to be a Texan or live in Texas to make the desserts in this book. Most of the ingredients are not unique to Texas, but—surprisingly even to some native Texans—this great state does produce many of the fruits and other ingredients necessary for such specialty cakes and other treats. I have adjusted these recipes to suit local and American tastes. Many of us, for example, perceive nut tortes made without flour as in Vienna to be too dry, with a bit too much "texture." Replacing some of the ground nuts with flour and adding additional liquid brings the Texas Tortes version more in line with American expectations. Like their European counterparts, Texas tortes are quite rich and not particularly sweet. Chocolate flavors tend to be on the bitter side; and buttercreams, dominated by their flavorings and silky texture, are never granular or sugary.
Many of the desserts in this book rely on basic recipes, which are found in the first chapter. In most instances, do not attempt to do everything on the day you want to serve the dessert. Although the recipes are sequenced as though the steps would all be completed in the same time frame, many of the components can be made ahead, reducing the stress and anxiety associated with complex recipes. In addition, many of the desserts benefit from a day or so of resting, which allows the flavors to "marry." As a matter of fact, these desserts "hold" very well, so don't be afraid of making a large cake and having leftovers for several days. If wrapped properly, any remaining cake can be frozen and enjoyed at a later date, but don't be surprised if you find your dessert all gone by morning, the result of several midnight raids on the "fridge."
Pecan candies, known as pralines, are very popular in Texas and Mexico and are found at the cashier's counter of most Tex-Mex restaurants. A popular dish in many local Chinese restaurants is crispy walnuts-nuts that have been boiled in syrup, then deep fried. I have combined the flavor of sweetened pecans with the technique of cooking crispy walnuts to garnish this cake with chopped, crispy pecans (which make a wonderful snack or treat on their own; I package them up as Christmas gifts in attractive tins... everyone loves them).
- 2 cups shelled pecans
- 1 cup Crispy Pecans (see basic recipes)
- 8 eggs
- 1 3/4 cups sugar
- 2 tablespoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 recipe Buttercream Base (see basic recipes)
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- Shell pecans if necessary, being careful to remove any bits of shell or membrane.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- Prepare three 9-inch round parchment-lined cake pans (see Appendix II -i). Grease the sides of the pans with vegetable shortening.
- Grind the 2 cups of shelled pecans to a fine texture.
- Separate the eggs and beat the whites with one cup of sugar until firm, glossy peaks form.
- Beat the yolks with the remaining sugar until thick and pale in color. Add 1 tablespoon vanilla and beat thirty seconds.
- Mix the flour with the ground nuts and add it to the egg yolk mixture. With the mixer on low speed, stir to incorporate. Scrape down the bowl and gently mix.
- Fold in the egg whites until a uniform batter forms.
- Pour batter into the parchment-lined cake pans and bake for twenty minutes or until the center is firm to the touch. Allow to cool.
- Prepare buttercream base (see basic recipes).
- Beat remaining tablespoon of vanilla, one tablespoon of pecan syrup, and the lemon juice into the buttercream base. Spread buttercream between the cake layers.
- Ice the entire cake with buttercream. When the Crispy Pecans from the basic recipe have cooled completely, chop them coarsely and press them over the surface of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
By Arthur L. Meyer
A professional cook and pastry chef in Austin, Texas, Arthur L. Meyer has supplied desserts to restaurants, hotels, and markets in Texas, New York, California, and Florida.