October 07, 2022
By Ania Drimer
I am not good at changing tires, ice skating, or mending socks. What I am good at is baking, especially my signature dish, which is a walnut torte. Since I was a young girl, I was helping my mother with the torte: chopping the walnuts, watching how she mixed the eggs with sugar until they became almost white, and marveling at the egg whites when they became white and frothy and almost doubled in size. Then we would mix everything together, bake it, and after an hour, a beautiful, wonderfully smelling cake would come out from the oven. I felt a great closeness with my mother at that moment and appreciated that she introduced me to a wonderful world of baking.
My mom was a “no-nonsense” type of a cook. She provided us with good, healthy food, but her motto was: “we eat to live, not live to eat.” She did like to bake, though, and the walnut torte was her favorite. It was usually baked for special occasions like birthdays, holidays, and getting together with friends. The cake was especially fitting for Passover because it did not call for flour. The connection between the holidays and the cake added to its appeal for me.
The basic torte, the recipe for which I will include below, was made with just walnuts, eggs, sugar, and a little matzo meal. For adults it included frosting made of whipping cream with coffee.
Fifty-six years ago I came to America and was a newly married, inexperienced cook. Since my English was almost nonexistent, I had to rely on my clueless, in this respect, husband. This led to many funny situations like exchanging the words “seasoning” for “shortening,” which resulted in using two tablespoons of salt and pepper in a recipe for pancakes, rendering them inedible. To repair my reputation, I started baking the walnut torte.
Every time I baked it, I remembered my dear mother who finally joined me in the United States in 1968. By then I had new members of the family, good friends, and many special occasions to bake this cake. There were high school and college graduations, our birthdays, and anniversary milestones. My mom passed away 12 years ago, but I continue to bake this walnut cake to express my love, to honor her, and maintain the tradition.
8 large eggs, separated
6 oz. sugar
2 tbsp. orange or lemon juice
8 oz. finely chopped walnuts
3 tbsp. matzo meal or bread crumbs, not flavored
12 oz. heavy whipping cream
3 tbsp. instant coffee
3 tbsp. sugar
- Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
- Use a 9-inch springform pan that has been well greased and lightly dusted with matzo meal or bread crumbs.
- In a large bowl, beat egg yolks, adding sugar and juice until almost white.
- In a second bowl, combine nuts and matzo meal. Add to egg yolk mixture.
- Beat egg whites until stiff and shiny.
- Gently fold egg whites into the egg and nut mixture.
- Pour the batter into a springform pan.
- Bake for about 50 minutes to an hour, or until an inserted toothpick comes out dry.
- Cool on a rack.
- Remove sides of the form, cut horizontally, and fill with half of the frosting made by whipping the cream with coffee and sugar.
- Frost the top of the cake, decorate with whole walnuts.
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