14 May 2011

On to Austria - Building the Panamatorte

No time to rest, we're on a roll.

Don't worry, this cake is a breeze to make even though we're still in the Fancy Cakes section of The Book AND it saved my bacon at a party recently.  The taste?  Well, there wasn't a crumb left after I cut the first slice.

Panamatorte (a.k.a., Chocolate Almond Torte).  Not much info to be found on this particular confection.  I can tell you that it was invented to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal in 1914 and that it remains really popular in Austria.

What intrigued me about this cake was that it called for no flour, only nuts and breadcrumbs.  Of course that doesn't mean it's gluten-free because there's still flour in the bread (sorry!).  The more I read the more I'm finding that the breadcrumb thing would only seem unique to me, the naive American. In Europe using breadcrumbs for cake is common and dates back to, well, forever.  I like the frugality of it and I'm sure that's how it started--don't waste anything!  All the better if you can turn scraps into deliciousness.  So that's one more reason to toss those bread heels into a bag in the freezer rather than trashing them or feeding the birds.

It wasn't breadcrumbs that led me to baking this cake the first time, it was cake panic.  I had made a dessert plan for a party that included 2 small cakes (Hazelnut Roulade with Mocha Cream and Punschtorte--more on these soon) and I was a little nervous about one of them. I wasn't wrong. After 3 attempts to fix the questionable cake, I admitted defeat and knew I had to come up with another cake and quick.  Cue my hero, the Panamatorte!!

What Happened:

I made this cake in under 2 hours.  It was EASY and resilient.  Because I was making a few different desserts for the party, I decided to make a smaller, 6-inch version of the cake (half the recipe).  The batter is quick and straight-forward to put together.  Although sponge cakes are thought to be temperamental, this one was a champ.  Batter made, I threw the cake in the oven and took 10-15 minutes to sit down and eat lunch--a rarity for me on baking day.  I came back to the kitchen to check on the cake and it hadn't risen.  Hmmmm.  Turns out, in my flurry to finish the day's baking (and before I'd decided to bake another cake) I had turned off the oven!  Ahhh!  I screamed in agony.  Yeah, I'm kinda vocal.  I announced to Cody it was ruined.  You can't leave a delicate egg foam cake to sit in a oven at mouth-temperature for half the baking time and expect it not to turn out like a lead pancake.  I was wrong.  I pulled the cake out and preheated the oven, threw it back in and it rose perfectly!  Crazy.

The buttercream was a breeze and I chilled it for a couple of minutes just to make sure it wasn't too soft before frosting the cake.

The cake was a hit.  I got no end of complements about how delicious and light it was.  This is definitely a recipe I will keep in my back pocket.

Things I would change:
  • Don't turn off the oven before baking the cake!
  • Cut the cake into 3 equal parts instead of two to have more and thinner layers of buttercream sandwiched between the delicious chocolate almond sponge.  This would make it look as elegant as it tastes and guarantee the buttercream was evenly distributed
  • Okay, this is splitting hairs but if I wanted a perfectly smooth exterior I would take the time to chill the cake and use a warmed spatula to smooth the top. Then I would let the cake sit out long enough for the buttercream to soften just a bit before pressing on the sliced almonds.  It's a soft buttercream so it's hard (at least for me) to get a mirror-like top without going that extra mile.  Necessary--no, but it can be a nice touch for a truly fancy occasion.

The Results:

Outstanding.  The toasted almonds add flavor and great contrast in texture.  Not too sweet, not too rich.  The almond flavor is subtle, but it's enough to differentiate the torte from an ordinary everyday chocolate cake.

Your turn.

Chocolate-Almond Torte
adapted from Kaffeehaus by Rick Rodgers
serves 12

3 oz     semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
5 oz     sliced almonds (1 ¼ c)
1/3 c    dried bread crumbs
7         eggs, separated, room temp
½ c      sugar, divided
1 t       vanilla extract
½ t      almond extract

Chocolate-Almond Buttercream
3 oz     semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
2         eggs, room temp
¾ c      sugar
1 c       unsalted butter, cool room temp
½ t      vanilla
¼ t      almond extract

½ c      sliced almonds, toasted
1 T       almonds, chopped

1. Place rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9-inch springform pan (regular cake pan will work) and line the bottom with a round of parchment or wax paper.  Dust the pan with flour and tap out the excess.

2. In the microwave gently melt the chocolate.  Cool slightly.

3. In a food processor, pulse the almonds and bread crumbs until the nuts are a fine powder, but not oily.

4. In the bowl of a mixer, beat egg whites to soft peaks, then gradually add ¼ cup of the sugar until the peaks are stiff and shiny.  Remove to another bowl and set aside.

5. In the same mixing bowl, beat the yolks and ¼ cup of  sugar until thick and pale yellow (ribbon stage), about 3 minutes.  Beat in the chocolate, vanilla and almond extract.

6. Stir a small amount of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture to lighten, then fold in the remaining whites using a large balloon whisk (whisk of the mixer works) or a rubber spatula.  Fold in the nuts in 2 additions.

7.  Spread the batter evenly into the pan.  Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and it starts to shrink from the sides of the pan, about 35 minutes.

8. Cool on the rack 10 minutes before removing from the pan to cool completely.

1. Melt chocolate gently in a microwave.  Set aside.

2. Bring a saucepan of water to a simmer.  In the bowl of a mixer, whisk together eggs and sugar then set over the pan of simmering water (don’t let water touch the bowl).  Whisk gently until the eggs are very hot (170 degrees).  Remove from heat.

3.  Stir melted chocolate into the eggs then beat with the whisk attachment on medium high until completely cool (touch the bottom of the bowl to determine), about 5 minutes. It MUST be cool before adding the butter.

4. Beat in the butter 1 tablespoon at a time.  Make sure the butter is incorporated before adding more.  Add the vanilla and almond extract.

1.  Using a long serrated knife, level the cake if necessary.  Cut the cake in 2 equal horizontal layers.  (Best way to do this is to make a shallow cut all around the cake, then turn the cake again making the cut deeper.  Repeat until you’ve cut all the way through.)

2. Put a dab of buttercream on a cardboard round then invert the top of the cake onto the round making it the bottom.  Spread ½ cup of buttercream on the layer then top with more cake (cut side down making your top layer level and smooth).  Spread ½ cup buttercream on the top of the cake and use the remaining to coat the sides.

3. Supporting the cake with one hand, use the other to press the sliced almonds onto the sides of the cake.  Sprinkle the chopped almonds on the center of the cake (when you slice it, the tip of each slice will have a tease of almonds).

4. Chill at least an hour before serving.  The cake will keep in the refrigerator up to 1 day before serving.


  1. I can vouch for this cake... it was AMAZING!!

  2. Delicious cake. I like the decoration!

  3. Make this cake with ground walnuts instead of almonds. You won't believe how much "juicier" and more delicious it will turn out. Also, no breadcrumbs needed. Both my grandmother and my mother made this cake for all special occasions, such as birthdays, anniversaries, etc. I used to call this "the only real cake". No other cake compared to it.