Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Serves

    16

    (2 Cakes, 8 slices Each)

Appears in

Charleston’s most famous dessert is its misbegotten “Huguenot Torte,” an apple and nut cake that first appeared in print in Charleston Receipts. In researching the recipe I finally tracked down the author, Evelyn Florance, who confirmed my suspicions that the cake was not local. She told me that it was adapted from a recipe for Ozark pudding from the Mississippi River delta (where pecans are indigenous). Mrs. Florance used to make the dessert for the Huguenot Tavern in the 1940s in the heart of old Charleston, one of the last public dining places where you could eat Lowcountry food.

The recipe is neither a torte nor Huguenot. Leavened with five (!) teaspoons of baking powder, it is a 20th-century conceit with no French antecedent. Pecans or walnuts are specified. I prefer a combination of two or even three nuts for flavor. Black walnuts, the South’s other native nut, are too unctuous, overpowering, and expensive by themselves—however delicious.

In the version that follows, the baking powder, salt, and vanilla have been eliminated from the original recipe. All of the favorable and most familiar characteristics of this “modern classic” have been retained—that is, the lightness of the sponge cake, the richness of the nuts, the crunchy exterior, and the presentation with whipped cream.

Ozark pudding, the real antecedent of this dish, is one of those regional specialties that have gone the way of cooter pie and rice bread. It rarely appears in Arkansas cookbooks, though it seems to have originated in northwest Arkansas and southwest Missouri, according to John Egerton. The oldest recipe we have found is Mrs. S. R. Dull’s “apple pudding” in her 1928 Southern Cooking.

Ozark pudding was purportedly a favorite dish of President Truman. It was served to Winston Churchill when he visited the Trumans in Fulton, Missouri, and made his famous “Iron Curtain” speech. Clementine Pad-dleford, hailing Mrs. Florance’s Huguenot Torte in the New York Herald Tribune in the 1950s, might have recognized it as a dish fit for a president, but she did not know any more than we do about the reclusive inhabitants of the Ozarks. Recipes for the two dishes are identical. This recipe is a real torte.

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Ingredients

For the Cake

  • 2 cups nut mix
  • about 2 good-size apples, peeled 4 large eggs at room temperature
  • 1 large egg yolk at room temperature
  • cups sugar
  • ¾ cup unbleached (all-purpose) flour

To Serve the Cake

  • 16 perfect pecan halves
  • sugar
  • cup cream

Method

Prepare two 9-inch cake pans by lightly greasing them, lining them with wax paper or parchment, greasing the paper, and lightly dusting with flour.

Preheat the oven to 375° and put a pan of water in the bottom of the oven.

Finely grind the nuts in a nut grinder, blender, or food processor, proceeding in small batches. (Blending too long will render the nuts oily.)

Very finely chop the apples with a knife or in a series of quick bursts in a food processor. You should have cups.

In a warmed electric mixer bowl, beat the eggs and egg yolk on high speed until doubled in volume. It may take 10 minutes or more. Slowly add the sugar while beating and continue beating until the volume is tripled. The eggs should be very thick and light in color. Don’t be afraid of over-beating.

Sift the flour over the egg mixture. Sprinkle the ground nuts over all, followed by the apples. With a large spatula, fold the mixture together rapidly but gently, being certain to bring all the elements from the bottom of the bowl up into the mixture.

Divide the batter between 2 cake pans and bake in the middle of the oven for about 25 to 30 minutes, until the top is golden brown and the sides have begun to pull away. Do not push on the meringuelike top, or it may cave in.

Place on a rack in a draft-free place and let cool completely.

Lightly toast the pecan halves while the cakes are in the oven. While the pecans are hot, quickly dip them in water and then roll them in granulated sugar until they are lightly coated. Let them dry on a rack.

The cakes must be perfectly cool, or the heat will melt the cream. Invert the pans to remove the cakes, discarding the paper liners, and turn the cakes back over again so that the crusty top surface is in its original position. Place each cake on a serving platter.

Whip the cream until stiff and pipe 8 rosettes or place 8 dollops of the cream evenly around each cake. Garnish each bit of cream with a sugared pecan and serve immediately or chilled. Serve with a shot glass of bourbon neat.

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