Chef Guevara: Holiday Chocolate Nut Torte, and Backstory

​​To preface this recipe, I wrote a deep and profound treatise on home cooking as it relates to the fabric of reality. I worked late to finish it, in fact putting off the aforementioned home cooking until close to bedtime.

Then I realized the recipe already had a backstory long enough to preface just about anything, or kill wildlife. It contains history, sex, foreign travel, love betrayed and the enduring power of friendship; and no artificial flavors or gluten.

Anyway, since this is a holiday recipe and we are in December, I had better go ahead and give you the recipe and the backstory and save the fabric of reality for another time. See you next week?

I will say, though, that part of the fabric of home cooking is that it is eat up with backstory.

Chocolate Walnut Torte

This recipe has a strange and convoluted history. Watch out! Here it comes!

It all started in Europe in 1980 with a chocolate almond torte made by my Swedish ex-almost-father-outlaw. By which I mean my brother was engaged to marry this man’s daughter, whom he had met when she was a foreign exchange student at our Smyrna, Ga., high school. That would have made him my brother’s father-in-law; which I reckon would have made him my father-outlaw, right?

Whether it would have or not makes no difference anyway, because my brother never married the beautiful Swedish girl though he later had a child with her younger sister. (These two factoids are not unrelated.)

But none of this had yet come to pass in 1980, when, fresh from having flunked out as an au pair nanny in Paris, I went to visit my brother and his fiancée in Sweden, where they were both attending the university at Uppsala. During that visit, I accompanied them to the fiancee’s parents’ skiing cabin for the weekend.

The papa Swede was a small, charming man who was taking a course in gourmet cooking, and a torte was his project that weekend. This kind of torte has no flour in it; it is composed of ground nuts, making it insanely rich and filling. My ex-almost-father-outlaw was making his of chocolate and almonds.

I was a Southern redneck raised on MoonPies and I had never tasted anything so delicious in my life! We all had a piece after dinner, and then I’m afraid I got left in a room alone with the torte and it was a case of the lion lying down with the lamb. (As Woody Allen put it, it is occasionally necessary to replace the lamb.)

My brother wore out his welcome with that delightful Swedish family because of the thing with the sisters. I don’t think they’d have wanted me back, either, because of the thing with the torte.

Before things fell apart on the European front, the fiancée did procure me Papa’s recipe for the almond torte. I carried it around with me for years—I still remember it was handwritten on ruled paper with odd-colored rules—but I never managed to make it. It was all in European measurements and besides, I was young then, knew squat about cooking and had never heard of most of the ingredients.

Fast-forward several years to when I was older and more settled down, housewifing sedately along in a rented house in Atlanta and working in the library at Georgia State. I was cooking up a storm by then, and when Christmas came around I simply ached to make that chocolate almond torte. By that point, though, my ex-almost-sister-in-law’s handwritten recipe had long since been buried by the sands of time. What to do? The internet didn’t exist yet, at least not as a recipe source for home cooking. But hey! I worked in a research library.

Which didn’t help me with the chocolate almond torte! In fact even now, in the days of Google, I have never found a satisfactory chocolate almond torte recipe. But I searched and I searched and I did, somewhere in the stacks, in something called The Dessert Lover’s Cookbook, finally find this similar chocolate walnut torte, also flourless and also rich, dark and decadent; and I began making it on special occasions and “eating holidays” like Christmas or Thanksgiving.

Then I moved up here, more temporal sandstorms blew through my kitchen, and maybe 20 years ago when somebody asked, So! Why don’t you ever make that chocolate walnut torte anymore, I realized I’d lost that recipe, too.

Lucky for me, my old friend Mary Hart still lived in Atlanta. She went to the Georgia State library and crawled through the stacks and damned if she didn’t crawl out with that cookbook. She Xeroxed the two pages the chocolate walnut torte was on and mailed me a copy, and I resumed making the torte again on certain special occasions.

Now I am going to sound like the most awful ditz, because you would think by now I’d know the recipe by heart. But you must bear in mind that I was an all-American fat girl who had been on or off a diet more or less continually since the age of 14. And even if I hadn’t been, that chocolate walnut torte is not something you make more than once a year max.

All of this is leading up to my confession that several years ago I realized I had lost the damn recipe once again. But I knew Mary Hart and I knew perfectly well she had her copy of those two pages stuck in the back of a cookbook somewhere and would know exactly where they were. So I swallowed my pride and asked and sure enough she found the recipe and got some computer-literate member of her family to scan it and email it me. This time, though, I’m pretty sure she only sent me the first page because that’s all I have.

I printed it off and I’ve been making my yearly torte from it ever since. I made one last year at Thanksgiving and another last week for my husband’s birthday. That’s when I noticed the printed page was looking rough, with a rip down the middle and little brown flecks from me dropping melted chocolate on it as I cooked. At first I thought, well! I’ll copy it again so I’ll have it for next year. But that sounded awfully low-tech even for me, and that’s when I had the bright idea to put it online in the Chef Guevara column.

This way I’ll know where it is as long as there’s a Dade Planet. And if the newspaper dies and goes offline, well, hell, maybe one of the readers will have copied it and can send it back to me next time I need it, saving me the humiliation of crawling back to Mary Hart and admitting I’ve lost it...again!

Chocolate Nut Torte

(From The Dessert Lover’s Cookbook)

4 squares (4 ounces) semisweet chocolate

1 3/4 cups shelled walnuts or pecans (about 7 ounces)

2 tablespoons plus ½ cup sugar

¼ pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

3 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon Grand Marnier OR rum

Chocolate Glaze and Garnish

6 squares (6 ounces) semisweet chocolate, chopped

6 tablespoons unsalted butter

20 to 22 walnut or pecan laves, for garnish

Baking pan: 8 x 1 1/2 –inch oblong or 8 x 2-inch round cake pan

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease cake pan. Cut circle of parchment or wax paper to fit in bottom and grease paper.

Melt chocolate in top of double boiler over hot water. Cool slightly. Place nuts and 2 tablespoons of the sugar in food processor fitted with a metal blade. Pulse on and off until nuts are ground. Remove to bowl. Place butter and ½ cup sugar in food processor. Mix until well blended. Pour in melted chocolate and process until smooth. Add eggs and Grand Marnier or rum and mix until incorporated. Scrape down sides of bowl and add nuts. Pulse on and off once or twice until nuts are incorporated.

Pour chocolate mixture into prepared cake pan. Bake in the 375-degree oven for 25 minutes. Thje cake will be soft, but will firm up as it cools. Remove from oven and cool 20 minutes on wire rack. Invert cake onto rack. Remove paper and cool completely.

(*) If desired, the unglazed torte may be kept covered at room termperature up to 2 days, or it may be frozen, tightly wrapped in aluminum foil. Defrost wrapped cake at room temperature.


Up to 1 day or several hours before serving, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake precans or walnuts on baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes, sirring occasionally, until browned. Line a small baking sheet with wax paper. Place cake on rack set over a baking pan. Melt the chocolate and butter in a small, heavy saucepan, stirring until smooth. Dip half of each nut into the glaze and place on paper-lined pan, as pictured. Refrigerate until set. Set the glaze aside until thickened slightly. The glaze should be soft enough to pour, but thick enough to coat the cake. Pour glaze onto middle of cake, tilting the cake so the glaze runs down the sides. Use a knife dipped in hot water to help smooth the sides, if necessary. Do not try to touch up the top once it is…

I expect the next word was “set” but it was on the second page of the recipe, which is lost in the sands of time. Also on page 2 was the arcane baked nut-dipping process referred to in the “as pictured” reference.

I did that part once, on the grounds you were “supposed to,” and it made me feel like a fancy pastry chef. But the next time I tried it I got busy with something else and charred the nuts beyond redemption in the oven. That’s when I rethought the whole step—why toast the nuts? They’re better raw. So after that I always dipped the nuts into the glaze uncooked or skipped the whole dipping thing altogether. You can just stick the walnut halves into the glaze on top of the torte and leave it at that, or save a little of the glaze and drizzle it over the nuts after they’re in place.

Another way I’ve evolved the recipe is to use high-quality semi-sweet chocolate chips, like Ghirardelli, instead of the baking chocolate. If you add up the ounces of chocolate required in the torte and the glaze it comes to 10 ounces. The squares come in 8-ounce boxes, so to make the cake you buy two boxes and end up with 6 ounces of chocolate sitting there screaming at you to make something else, or else eat them on the sly while consumed with self-hatred. Whereas the chocolate chips come in 12-ounce bags, so you can put a little extra into both torte and glaze and succumb to the temptation of eating a few here and there without major damage to health, recipe or self-esteem.

One more change: I’m aware that with The Planet’s editorials on the liquor laws I have probably gained myself the reputation of a serious lush. But in actual practice I’m mostly a wine drinker, maybe a little beer when I mow the lawn, and cannot remember a time when I’ve had a bottle of Grand Marnier around the house. Much less rum! Anyway, I long ago reached the conclusion that my palate is not sophisticated enough to appreciate the mixture of alcohol and sweet stuff, as in things like rum balls. Gag! So I either ignore the requirement for a tablespoon of booze or replace it with a capful of vanilla extract.

That's all I have for now. For next week: The fabric of reality...

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