The Pleasures of December
by VivianLea Doubt
the dark of winter approaches. Short days in which we try to fit in the myriad of tasks best suited to daylight. While nature draws herself inward for the long sleep, we humans plan feasting, and gifting, and all manner of activities in celebration of the season. Bright lights to lift our spirits, friends and family to cheer our world, rituals, tradition, and love to warm our hearts – and food, oh yes, food, glorious food everywhere and anywhere and in every variation.
Our ancestors celebrated the abundance of food,
while we moderns have a more conflicted attitude. Where abundance was once a sign of a cheerful winter of good health, it has become a source of anxiety for many. Auntie has decided to go gluten-free, the teenager has become a vegan, and niece will only eat raw food, oh my. Which is not to say that these are not perfectly good food choices, though planning and preparation become a tad more complicated when these and traditionalists sit at the same table. What we eat, when we eat it, and why we eat it – not to mention where and how – food is, and always has been at the centre of cultural life for humans. If feasting has become more multicultural, that can certainly be honoured, as is the recognition that the joys and pleasures of the table are the beating heart of family and community life. In that spirit, I offer up the following recipe.
Florentine Torte, adapted from “The Advanced Professional Pastry Chef”, Bo Friberg
This is a torte in the European tradition.
Because the cake should sit for at least a day or two, it is perfect as a make-ahead item. It is simple, unusual, and not achingly sweet. Read through the recipe a couple of times to make yourself familiar with the steps. Gather your ingredients, preheat the oven, and prepare the pan before beginning, and please, don’t be intimidated. A little time to enjoy the process of making the torte is a requisite for its true success.
Melted butter and finely ground hazelnuts for coating pan
285 grams (10ounces) hazelnuts, almonds, walnuts, and pecans *see note
1 cup granulated sugar
200 grams (7 ounces) dark sweet chocolate, grated
45 grams (1.5 ounces) candied citron or orange peel
8 eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Powdered sugar, for decorating
Heat the oven to 350. Prepare a 10-inch springform pan by lining the bottom with parchment paper, brushing melted butter over the sides and bottom, and coating the entire pan with finely ground hazelnuts. (Roughly ¼ cup hazelnuts, in addition to those in the torte.) Separate the eggs.
Grind the assorted nuts to a fine consistency with half of the sugar, ½ cup.
Mix the grated chocolate, citron, egg yolks, and vanilla with the ground nuts.
Whip the egg whites to a foam, and add the remaining ½ cup of sugar. Continue whipping to stiff peaks.
Add a small amount of the egg whites to the nut mixture to loosen it, then gently (gently so as to not lose the volume of the egg whites) fold the nut mixture into the remaining egg whites.
Pour into the prepared pan, bake at 350 for 30 minutes, and let cool completely.
Unmold the torte, peel off the paper, and decorate the top by sifting powdered sugar over a template laid on the cake top. You can make your own template using thin cardboard, a star is particularly striking.
Store the cake in the fridge for up to three days before serving, as the flavour and texture both improve.
*note, you can use nuts in any combination, but for the sake of convenience I will give these approximate amounts:
½ cup almonds
¾ cup walnuts
¾ cup pecans
½ cup hazelnuts
This torte is a tradition in my Swedish family, and maybe it will become a tradition in yours. Whether or not you make the cake, this is really a recipe for slowing down, to enjoy the preparation for the festive season, and for joy in the sharing of it with family and friends. That is the hallmark of the pleasures of December, I believe.