Friday, November 19, 2010

Cooking to Save the Planet: Fall Nut Torte

There's nothing particularly ecological about the following recipe, but as with the one I recently shared for a sweet potato soufflé, it's on my mind as American Thanksgiving approaches, and as I leaf through a journal of handwritten recipes I've recorded (very sporadically) since the late 1980s.  I first find myself dating these recipes which are my own inventions in 1991.

This torte recipe is on my mind, too, because I recently gave Steve's aunts copies of a handwritten cookbook I put together for our friend Mary last year, as a gift.  That cookbook gathered my own recipes, various family recipes that my family treasures for one reason or another, many of which have stories attached, and memories of cooking, shopping for food, and eating from various places in which I've lived.

And one of Steve's aunts recently wrote to point out that I had apparently omitted the all-important ingredient of flour in the handwritten copy she received of this nut torte recipe.  It's interesting, in another way, that this is the one recipe that caught her eye in the entire collection (she told me intends to bake it soon).  She's a Benedictine sister, as I've shared in other postings, and I created this recipe in honor of a Benedictine monk at Belmont Abbey during the brief period in which Steve and I taught at that community's college in North Carolina.  

Nicholas was the only member of the entire Belmont Abbey community who made any effort to keep up with us when were booted from the college community and decisively shunned by the monks.  He did so despite commands from the community's abbot that no monk have any contact with us.  I later learned--and was not surprised to learn--from a student whom I had taught and who entered the monastery and then left, that the novice master (who is now abbot) had forbidden the novices even to speak to me.  Including those I had taught.  Two vowed members of the monastic community who left the monastery around the time we were booted and shunned (in one case, one of these monks left as a direct result of how we were treated, as a protest against it) did also keep up with us.

We were, unfortunately, never told by anyone why we merited such treatment.

Needless to say, we valued Nicholas's kindness and support very much.  He brought us a slip of a fig tree that we planted in front of our house in North Carolina, which was flourishing and bearing much fruit when we left there in 1997.  And, sadly, he died rather suddenly while we were still in North Carolina, from cancer--and his death was made gruesome, or so I was told by a woman who sat with him along with several other women friends during the final days of his life, by the cruel treatment dished out to him by the community's abbot even as he lay dying.  The abbot later sued Nicholas's heirs to recover property Nicholas had left his nephew for the nephew's college education.

And here's the torte I invented for Fr. Nicholas, OSB.  May it grace your table if you ever decide to bake it:

Cream 3/4 cup of soft butter with 1/4 cup sugar and the finely grated peel of one orange.  Add 1/2 tsp. salt, mix well, and then cut in 1 c. flour.  Add 3 or 4 tablespoons of Cointreau or Triple Sec, a tablespoon at a time, mixing well, and adding just enough to form a soft ball.  (You can substitute orange juice if you prefer.)  Press this dough into the bottom of an 8" springform pan.

Mix together 1 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts (or try what you have on had--almonds, hazelnuts?), 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup melted butter, 1 teaspoon vanilla, and 3/4 cup dark brown sugar (packed).  Spread the nut mixture on top of the dough and bake for at least an hour at 350 F.  Cool well before serving and serve with whipped cream.

If you don't have a springform pan, I see no reason why a round 8" cake pan would not work for this recipe, though getting the torte out of the pan in one piece might be more of a challenge than it is with the springform pan.

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