February 18, 2010
Today I bring you a wonderful guest post from my friend Katie Alley, a fellow blogger who followed her Argentine sweetheart home to Necochea, Argentina, where she now works as a translator and authors Seashells & Sunflowers, the fabulous and often hilarious blog about her life as an expat. Find more of her photos, including her 365 series on flickr, katiealley.
Although the impact of Spanish and Italian immigration on Argentina’s customs, language and foods is often cited, German immigrants have also contributed in a significant way to Argentine culture. Armed with a strong baking tradition, new German arrivals introduced a number of cakes and pastries to the Argentine culinary repertoire, one of which is Torta de Ochenta Golpes.
The cake’s Spanish name, Torta de Ochenta Golpes, results from a direct translation of the original name in German: Achtzig Schlag. Meaning “eighty blows” or “eighty punches,” the cake’s moniker stems from the fact that the dough is kneaded rather violently by pummeling it or throwing it against the counter eighty times.
While the typical recipe for Torta de Ochenta Golpes contains raisins and nuts (usually walnuts, almonds or a combination of the two), variations on the classic include a version with dulce de membrillo (quince paste) and a plain version that omits the raisins and nuts altogether.
Admittedly, I was a bit hesitant to try my hand at this recipe because it involves a yeast dough (yeast and I are casual acquaintances at best) and also because my boyfriend Daniel had hyped his mother’s Torta de Ochenta Golpes to no end. Sadly, she lost the recipe, so Daniel hadn’t eaten the cake in nearly ten years.
Whenever he mentioned this cake to me, a wistful expression came over his face, and I could see him mentally savoring its yeasty goodness as he described it. It’s hard to equal an enshrined taste memory that’s been elevated to mythic proportions – especially when it relates to Mom’s cooking – but I was determined to give it my best shot.
So, on a day that wasn't too blazingly hot to fire up the oven, I finally worked up the gumption to prepare the Torta de Ochenta Golpes here in my modest kitchen in Argentina. I unwrapped the cube of fresh yeast, and the aroma of ten loaves of freshly-baked bread hit me right in the nose. I set about preparing the sponge, dissolving the crumbly, grayish-brown yeast into a thick paste.
Right on cue, the much-feared sponge bubbled and foamed like a mysterious swamp creature. After mixing together all of the ingredients for the dough, I relentlessly slammed the dough ball against the counter, releasing my pent-up anxiety over the possibility of being bested by a handful of unicellular fungi. The dough came together beautifully, and I was feeling confident.
I had a slight complication during the rolling stage, but I eventually wrangled the dough into the desired rectangle. After that it was smooth sailing, and the product of my efforts was looking mighty delicious as it rose in the pan. I snapped away photos in the late afternoon light, admiring the dough studded with raisins and nuts. The self-congratulation began early, as I was sure that this was going to turn out spectacular; after all, the final hurdle was simply to bake the darn thing (although in my wonky oven without a thermostat, even that stage can be hit or miss).
Forty minutes passed, and the cake emerged from the oven looking golden brown and highly edible. I don’t know how I managed it, but I waited another thirty minutes or so for the cake to cool. I sliced into the torta, revealing a dough with the familiar texture of a cinnamon bun. Moments from claiming victory, there remained one all-important test: the boyfriend’s opinion.
Daniel took a slice of cake, and he surveyed it momentarily before breaking off a piece and popping it into his mouth. He closed his eyes and smiled as he chewed. Much to his satisfaction – and mine as well – he declared, “Just like Mom’s.”
I think yeast and I may have just taken our relationship to the next level. Don’t tell Daniel.
Torta de 'Ochenta Golpes'
'80 Punches' Cake
Adapted from a recipe on Utilisima.com
Yields two 9” cakes
1 oz. fresh yeast [also called compressed or cake yeast]
3 Tbsp. warm water [100ºF to 110ºF]
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
1/3 c. flour
7 Tbsp. [just under 1 stick] butter, softened
scant 1/2 c. sugar
1 c. warm milk
4 1/3 c. all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp. butter [reserve remaining butter to prepare cake pan]
1/3 c. sugar
1 c. chopped walnuts or almonds, toasted
¼ tsp. cinnamon
2 generous pinches of freshly grated nutmeg
1/3 c. raisins
1/3 c. chopped walnuts or almonds, toasted
2 – 9” springform pans or round cake pans
To make the sponge, in a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm water, and then add the sugar and flour to create a thick paste. Leave the mixture to rise and bubble for 10 to 15 minutes.
Next, whisk together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Add the milk and continue to beat the mixture briefly. [Note: Do not be concerned about the chunks of butter floating in the milk. They will disappear as you continue to work with the dough.] Add the yeast sponge and the egg, and stir to combine with a wooden spoon. Slowly incorporate the flour, stirring until the dough comes together into a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Turn out the dough onto a clean work surface, and work in any stray bits of dough or flour with your hands. Pick up and slam the dough against the work surface 80 times or until the dough feels smooth and elastic. Place the dough in a bowl and allow it to rise in a warm place, covered with a kitchen towel, for about 45 minutes.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly-floured work surface. Roll the dough into a rectangle to a thickness of about 1/4". Brush the dough with melted butter, and then sprinkle it with the sugar, nuts, spices, and raisins. Roll up the dough into a log, starting from the long side, and cut it with a serrated knife into 3/4"-thick pieces.
Brush the bottom of the cake pan with the remainder of the melted butter. Place the rolls in the cake pan, leaving a bit of space between them for expansion as they rise. Allow the dough to rise, covered, for about an hour or until doubled in volume. Sprinkle the top with a few pinches of sugar and the remaining nuts.
Bake in an oven preheated to 350° F for approximately 40 minutes or until the cake is golden brown. Cover with aluminum foil if the top is browning too quickly. Remove the cake from the pan while still hot, and allow it to cool before serving.