20th century, baking, confusing recipes, dessert, disaster, lessons learned, settlement cookbook, vacation

Himmel torte

We just returned from a week in Maine with Josh’s family. A gorgeous lake house near the town of Casco served as our home base, and we spent the week swimming, kayaking, reading, and playing games. The men-folk cooked almost every meal on the grill, while the women-folk engaged in some serious salad-making and baking. I even hauled out The “Settlement” Cook Book to make a belated birthday cake. (Yes, I packed it. No, you shouldn’t be surprised.)

That week is still on my mind, for the sense of utter relaxation it gave me and for the cooler weather we left behind. And also for the cake I baked. You see, it was kind of a disaster, and I’m still trying to figure out what went wrong.

This was one of those recipes that was devilishly hard to interpret, thanks to its sheer lack of specificity. With the frosting, for example, the only instructions were: “One pint thick sour cream, vanilla, two tablespoons cornstarch and sugar mixed. Boil.” How much vanilla? Do you combine one tablespoon each of cornstarch and sugar, or two each? There were no reassuring comments from the cookbook writer, either, telling me not to worry when my cake batter was barely spreadable. As a modern cook, it’s frustrating to encounter old recipes that assume you know everything.

So I made some of it up, crowd-sourced interpretations for some of the stranger instructions, and hoped for the best. The resulting cake (ambitiously titled “Himmel torte,” or “heaven torte”) was flaky and crumbly, but the jam helped hold some of it together. Once frosted, you could hardly tell this cake was a disaster. And once served, it was pretty darn tasty.

I might redo this cake at some point in the future, but for now I’ll leave you with the recipe I cobbled together. Try it if you want–it actually turned out okay.

Himmel Torte
(adapted from The “Settlement” Cook Book)

for the cake:
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter (3 sticks), softened
4 tbsp sugar
2 eggs + 2 egg yolks
4 cups flour
grated rind of 1 orange

for the frosting:
about 2 tbsp cinnamon sugar
about 3/4 cup raspberry jam
1 pint sour cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbsp flour or cornstarch
2 tbsp sugar
2 egg whites

to make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease two round 8 x 8 cake pans and set aside.

Cream the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and yolks, one at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add the orange rind and flour, mixing gently until just blended. (Use your hands if you have to, and I won’t tell.) Spread in the prepared pans and bake at 350 F until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20-30 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

to make the frosting:
In a medium pan over a medium flame, heat the sour cream, vanilla, flour, and sugar until bubbling. Mix in the egg whites until well-blended and remove from heat. Let cool and move to the refrigerator to set, about 1 hour.

Once the cakes have cooled, turn one layer out onto a large plate. Sprinkle the top with the cinnamon sugar and spread evenly with the raspberry jam. Turn the second layer out on top of the jam. Spread the cooled sour cream frosting on top and sides and serve.


2 thoughts on “Himmel torte”

  1. It's amazing how vague old recipes can be! It looks like it turned out pretty nicely. 🙂
    Also–Apples to apples! I haven't played that in forever!


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