A Checkerboard Cake With Slovak Roots

A punch torte: pink-glazed sponge cake with layers soaked in rum and citrus syrup. i i

hide captionA punch torte: pink-glazed sponge cake with layers soaked in rum and citrus syrup.

Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff
A punch torte: pink-glazed sponge cake with layers soaked in rum and citrus syrup.

A punch torte: pink-glazed sponge cake with layers soaked in rum and citrus syrup.

Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff

Part of an ongoing series on unique holiday dishes

To celebrate the new year, for as long as I can remember, my mom has baked a cake called punch torte, a tradition started in her family back in the former Czechoslovakia.

"At midnight, we pour champagne and had a toast to New Year's and then we hugged and kissed each other, drank our champagne, and then we ate cold cuts, potato salad, and then after that we had the cake with a little bit of coffee," my mother remembers.

It's a pink-glazed sponge cake with layers soaked in a rum and citrus syrup. It all starts out with 16 eggs. Yes, 16.

"Eight eggs for the basic dough and then 8 eggs for dough [that] we divide in half. Half of it we make pink and half we put a cocoa in it and we make it brown," my mom says.

You start by separating the yolks from the whites, mixing three different cake batters: one white, one pink, one brown.

The tradition of serving up this pink-glazed torte goes back to my great-grandmother's kitchen in the early 1900s. She ran a restaurant in the next town over, but at home she made all sorts of extravagant creations without the help of modern machinery.

"She'd make this very similar, but she would blend it and beat it all by hand," my mother says.

My mother learned to make this cake as a young girl. She was born during World War II and food was scarce, but my family was fortunate enough to have a sprawling garden. So, the 16 eggs were a luxury they could afford.

"We had chickens and we had goats for milk during the war when they were bombing the town, and so we were able to eat them and enjoy it," she remembers.

Some of the other ingredients weren't so easy to come by. The cake soaks in a citrus rum punch, which calls for the juice of one lemon and one orange. Finding citrus in this former communist country required both patience and connections.

"If we got one lemon for a tea, we had to stand in line for two, three hours, and if there was news that in a little vegetable store there would be lemons next day, somebody secretly told somebody and then everybody spread it between their friends, and then everybody lined up in front of the store and waited for the lemons," she remembers.

Once the lemons and oranges were acquired, they were squeezed into a cooked-sugar syrup. The pink and chocolate cakes were cut into concentric rings and reassembled to look like bull's-eyes. The layers were stacked on top of each other and the syrup spooned over top. Then came a 24-hour wait.

The next day, the cake was glazed with a pink lemon frosting. In the 1940s and '50s, food dyes were not available, but my great-grandmother had a stash hidden away.

"A lot of the stuff my grandmother had left from the hotel and restaurants we had, and we were so excited to see that lovely pink cake," she says.

For me, the bubblegum-colored frosting isn't the best part of this cake. It's when you cut into it. Thanks to those concentric circles, a dazzling checkerboard appears in each slice. It's best enjoyed with a glass of champagne.

New Year's Eve Punch Torte Recipe

A punch torte starts with 16 eggs. i i

hide captionA punch torte starts with 16 eggs.

Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff
A punch torte starts with 16 eggs.

A punch torte starts with 16 eggs.

Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff

Ingredients

Sponge cake

16 eggs

16 tablespoons all-purpose flour

16 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 packets of vanillin sugar (Dr. Oetker is good)

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa, sifted

5 to 10 drops red food coloring

Soaking Syrup

8 1/2 tablespoons (125 milliliters) water

2/3 cups (120 grams) granulated sugar

1 cup (320 grams) red currant or raspberry jelly

1/2 cup (120 milliliters) rum

1 lemon

1 orange

Lemon Icing

3 1/3 cups (400 grams) sifted powdered sugar

2 egg whites (an egg white is about 35 grams, about 2 tablespoons)

4 tablespoons lemon juice

10 to 20 drops red food coloring

Preparing The Cakes

Grease three 9-inch spring-form pans and line with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Separate 8 of the eggs. Put the whites in a bowl with one packet of vanillin sugar. Put the yolks in a stand mixer with 8 tablespoons of powdered sugar. Cream egg yolks with sugar until pale yellow. Beat egg whites and vanillin sugar with a hand mixer until peaks form. Gently fold the beaten egg whites into the yolk batter. Gradually sprinkle 8 tablespoons of the flour into the mixture as you fold the egg batters together. Once the two batters are incorporated, put the mixture into one of the spring-form pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes, until it's a light golden brown or a toothpick comes out clean from the center of the cake. Remove from oven, cool and remove from pan. The cake will shrink a little as it cools.

Now, repeat the previous steps with the rest of the sponge cake ingredients. Take the remaining 8 eggs and separate the yolks from the whites. Cream the 8 tablespoons of powdered sugar with the yolks and beat the whites with the remaining packet of vanillin sugar. Fold the batters together, gradually adding the remaining 8 tablespoons of flour. Now, split the batter in half into two separate mixing bowls. In one bowl, sift a tablespoon of cocoa and fold it in. In the second bowl, drop in the red food coloring and fold it in. Pour each batter into a separate spring-form pan and bake for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove cakes from oven, cool and remove cakes from pan.

Soaking Syrup

Boil the water and sugar together in a saucepan. Do not mix or stir. Cook until the mixture forms clear threads when a drop is pulled away with a spoon. The temperature will be 215 to 235 degrees. Take off stove and mix in 1/2 cup (160 grams) of the jelly. When it's cooled to room temperature, sieve in the juice of the lemon and orange and add the rum. Set aside.

The checkerboard pattern is created by cutting pink and chocolate layers into concentric rings and reassembled to look like a bull's-eye. i i

hide captionThe checkerboard pattern is created by cutting pink and chocolate layers into concentric rings and reassembled to look like a bull's-eye.

Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff
The checkerboard pattern is created by cutting pink and chocolate layers into concentric rings and reassembled to look like a bull's-eye.

The checkerboard pattern is created by cutting pink and chocolate layers into concentric rings and reassembled to look like a bull's-eye.

Courtesy of Sasa Woodruff

Assembling the Cake

Take cooled yellow cake and cut it in half, horizontally. Set it aside. Next stack the pink and brown cakes on top of each other. With a long sharp knife, with the knife vertical, cut three concentric circles through both cakes. Unstack the cakes and separate the cake rings onto a flat surface. Now, take and outer ring of one color and place the next smaller ring of the other color inside it. Continue until you have two separate cakes that look like bull's-eyes. Take the bottom part of the yellow cake and spread it with half of the remaining jelly. Stack the two bulls-eye cakes on top of each other and spread the remaining jelly on top and place the last yellow cake on top. Return the entire structure back into the spring-form pan and spoon all of the soaking syrup over the cake. Put a tray or a flat surface on top of it and weigh it down with a box of butter or something of similar weight. Put in a cool place for 12 to 24 hours.

Lemon Icing

When the cake is ready to be frosted, mix the egg whites and sifted powered sugar together in a bowl. Slowly add the lemon juice until the consistency is about like Elmer's glue. Add drops of food coloring until the icing is the desired color.

Remove the cake from the pan and smooth the icing over the cake. Place in the fridge for another hour. When the icing is set, serve and enjoy.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: