Wednesday, April 3, 2013

The Tale of a Torte and a Recipe for Eggs

Now that I have obtained a culinary degree, internal and external expectations run high when it comes to me and food. I worry about how people will react when I bring something to a potluck. Friends regularly apologize for the food they serve me. And even though my kids would not be interested in many of the techniques I learned in cooking school, they set the bar high for me as well. For example, they have been clear that never again will frozen gnocchi be consumed in this house. Recently my son announced that we needed to provide a dish for a school celebration, and the dish must be typical of a country where our family comes from. He chose Hungary, and after some research, he rejected my suggestion of goulash for an overly complicated dessert called Dobos Torte.

Dobos Torte, a multi-layered concoction of cake, chocolate, and caramel, was invented by a famous pastry maker in Budapest in the late 1800s. There have been festivals held in honor of it. I am almost positive that my great-grandmother, who arrived in this country in 1903, never cooked or ate a Dobos Torte. But no matter—that’s what my son wanted, hands down.

So I did my research. I googled, I looked through my cooking school recipes, I took out books on Hungarian cuisine from the library. Before I even began, I was hopping between at least ten recipes. I was clearly overfunctioning on this one.

In the end, what I made bore little relationship to what most Hungarians would identify as a Dobos Torte. I didn’t use a traditional shape, since I didn’t have the right pans or adequate oven space. I didn’t use the traditional icing, since I thought I’d better not feed uncooked eggs to 2nd graders. And in the end, I used a sponge cake for all the layers instead of baking a separate butter-based cake for the top layer.

The results were….well….mixed. I was frustrated with the buttercream, the cake listed a little to the right, and I simply ran out of time to smooth out every wrinkle in the frosting. But it all came down to this — my son loved it, and my efforts worth the hug I got from my son after he saw the finished cake.

Food is emotion. Food is love. And because of that, perfect execution really is beside the point.

I’m not going to even bother sharing my recipe with you — if you want to make a Dobos Torte, there are many versions out there for you to consult. Instead, I’ll give you a ridiculously simple recipe that also signifies family to me. Because of the Passover holiday, you can currently find matzo on the end of the “ethnic foods” aisle in many supermarkets. Matzo Brei is a simple combination of matzos and eggs that my father frequently made for me as a kid. My kids have recently discovered it too. It’s easy to make, although I don’t have photographic evidence because I couldn’t find a photo that made it look appetizing (even though it is delicious). There are many variations, but I think the original is best.

Matzo Brei

Serves 2

2 matzos
4 eggs
pinch of salt

In a bowl, break up the matzos into several pieces and cover with cold water. Let stand 10-15 minutes, then drain.

In another bowl, crack the eggs, add the salt, and beat them with a fork until combined.

In a skillet, melt about 1/2 T. of butter on medium high heat. When foamy, put matzo pieces in and move around with a spatula for about one minute. Add eggs on top, and continue stirring until the eggs are cooked through.

Serve, topped with a sprinkle of turbinado sugar.

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