Overdue recipe report: Luisa Weiss’s Mohntorte

Technically, mohntorte — a wheat-free sponge-type poppy seed cake — is not a Christmas specialty, but I included it along with the two actual Christmas recipes from Luisa Weiss’s Classic German Baking (Ten Speed Press, 2016; pp. 126–7) that I prepared for the holiday season last month. Of the three, I think it turned out by far the best, and it was a big hit when I brought it in to work. Here’s how I made it.

Mise en place
We start as always with the mise en place Clockwise from bottom left: 125 g granulated sugar, 50 g confectioner’s sugar, 2 tbl dark rum, 100 g redcurrant jelly, 210 g ground blue poppy seeds, 90 g each natural almonds and walnuts, 5 egg whites, 175 g unsalted “high-fat, European-style” butter (I used “Plugra” brand), 5 egg yolks, the zest of one lemon, and ⅛ tsp salt.

Chopped nut mixture
The nuts are chopped up very fine in the food processor as a part of the mise, as the ingredient list calls for them to be “as finely ground as possible without turning to paste”. Weiss’s notes to this recipe say that you can use all almonds or all walnuts rather than the 1:1 ratio indicated here; I had both in sufficient quantity so I used both.

After mixing egg yolks with creamed butter
Unusually for a sponge-type cake, this recipe starts with the creaming method. The butter and confectioner’s sugar are creamed together, and then the egg yolks are beaten in, one by one, followed by the lemon zest and rum, to form an emulsion.

Creamed mixture with poppy seeds and nuts
The ground nuts and poppy seeds are then beaten into the butter-egg mixture until just combined; this completes the egg-yolk phase of the sponge.

Meringue
The next step is to use a separate mixer in a scrupulously clean bowl to make a stiff meringue using the five egg whites, salt, and granulated sugar. I didn’t write down how long this actually took.

Stiff peaks on the ends of the beaters
Those peaks are pretty stiff.

Part way through folding in the meringue
The batter then proceeds via the usual soufflé/sponge-cake method, carefully incorporating the meringue into the yolk phase by folding a third at a time.

Egg whites fully incorporated into batter
The finished torte batter should be smooth and have no remaining streaks of meringue.

Batter in a prepared springform pan
The torte is baked in a nine-inch (23 cm) springform pan which has previously been prepared with a coating of butter along the sides and a parchment round on the bottom. The oven temperature is 350°F (180°C) and baking time is 50–55 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean.

Fully baked mohntorte
The mohntorte, like most sponge-type cakes, pulls well away from the edges of the pan by the time it’s finished baking. At this point it must cool for a short time in the pan, to allow enough of the egg protein structure to set to allow for safe depanning.

Inverted torte on cooling rack
After removing the outer ring, the torte is inverted onto the cooling rack and the parchment round removed from the bottom. The cake is allowed to cool completely in this position; the bottom surface (with a few wrinkles preserved from the parchment) becomes the top of the cake as served.

Finished Mohntorte with redcurrant filling and powdered sugar
Once fully cooled, the torte is torted — that is, split in half — and filled with the redcurrant jam, which has been heated to an even spreadable consistency. Confectioner’s sugar is sifted on top, and then the cake is set aside, tightly wrapped, for at least a day. It’s served with a dollop of what Weiss calls Schlagsahne, but most readers will know better as crème Chantilly — a simple vanilla-flavored, lightly whipped cream.

As I mentioned at the outset, this was a particularly popular cake. The poppy-seed flavor is an unusual one for the American palate, although it’s familiar to me from the Polish poppy-seed sweet bread makowiec that I’ve made a few times before. It was nice to have something to share with the gluten-free crowd at the office, although I also have a co-worker who’s allergic to almonds — can’t win ’em all. I would definitely make this cake again (although my New Year’s resolution for this year is to do all completely new recipes this year — no repeats — so that’s not going to happen soon).

Nutrition

I’m having a little trouble believing the sodium number here — unless there’s a huge amount of sodium in poppy seeds, I think think of what the other source could be. (An eighth of a teaspoon of salt is about a gram, but divide that by twelve and then adjust for the sodium content of salt, and it’s very clearly not that much.)

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/12 torte
Servings per recipe: 12
Amount per serving
Calories 405 Calories from fat 264
% Daily Value
Total Fat 30​g 45%
 Saturated Fat 10​g 48%
Trans Fat 0​g
Cholesterol 109​mg 36%
Sodium 542​mg 23%
Total Carbohydrate 28​g 9%
 Dietary fiber 5​g 19%
 Sugars 21​g
Proteins 9​g 17%
Vitamin A 17%
Vitamin C 11%
Calcium 29%
Iron 14%
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