At least 8 batches of torta later, and I have something that looks great, but not sure if it’s THE recipe yet. Torta’s in Bohol and Cebu are special cakes traditionally made with lard and tuba or coconut toddy as the leavening agent. My mother was a great torta fan, and frankly, I and most of my siblings were not. But being from Cebu, wanting to find what made this delicacy so special for my mom and her siblings, wanting to make it in a relatively authentic manner, now having access to wonderful homemade lard and finally getting my hands on the right quality of tuba meant only one thing… it’s torta time. I have written about tortas before, here, here, here and here if you are curious…
From what I understand, tortas were typically cooked around Fiesta time, and the key ingredients were lard, eggs, tuba, sugar, and some anise seed for flavoring. The cakes would last days without refrigeration, and were thus perfect for cooking well before the fiesta. They are heavy, dense and filling. And like I said above, I just never “got” them. At any rate, I was hoping to bake a few batches to come up with something that was “authentic” and delicious. The spark was this precious container of tuba, transported straight from the farm… And apparently, totally not allowed as check-in baggage. Crew members had tried to bring this to Manila for me, only to be thwarted several times. Suffice it say, and I won’t share just how, this nice jug of the stuff finally made it to our kitchen, so let the torta experiments begin.
Without a recipe to follow, I decided my first foray into tortadom would be through a torta made with lard (no butter) and raisins that had been soaked in tuba for that alcoholic twist.
I used yeast for this batch and it yielded a dense cake, reminiscent of some of the tortas I have tasted on the island of Cebu, but clearly lacking the flavor of tuba.
Next round, with Sister visiting, we both had a go at a recipe with no yeast and just relied on the tuba as a leavening agent. After nearly 10 hours, the dough didn’t seem to rise at all. Semi-freaking out, I thought that was the end of that batch. But Sister mixed up a batch of yeast dough and incorporated it into the original dough, but it STILL didn’t rise much. The following day, or fully 24 hours after making this dough, I finally stuck it in the oven and it yielded what I can only describe as a baked discus… :)
This was evil. Ninja’s could use it as an alternative weapon of choice. After a few more experiments, I decided we either didn’t have the right tuba (not in the ideal stage of fermentaion needed to make dough rise), or my tastebuds just weren’t loving the tuba action.
So I made another batch with yeast but some tuba thrown in for flavor. This batch with lard.
Then we made batches with butter and tuba and yeast and a whole host of variations…
We had batches that looked like balloons ready to burst, not to mention the raisins that looked a bit like ticks ripe for the picking… And other batches that were not appetizing at all. Anise adds a distinctive taste, but it isn’t universally appealing.
I did figure out that two “layers” of cheese make for a really scrumptious topping… first bake some cheese on the bread so it melts and browns slightly, then after you remove it from the oven add more butter, cheese and sugar… And that raisins in brandy tasted and smelled better than tuba… But I was getting further and further from what I think is a more authentic version…
By the nth batch, I decided no matter how I had tweaked it, I simply liked the yeast and butter version better, with brandy soaked raisins and lots of cheese and sugar. It was more of a hybrid ensaimada/torta, and my mother would definitely have liked it, but wouldn’t have referred to it as a torta reminiscent of her childhood. It’s one dish that I have to say the use of lard didn’t seem to improve it at all.
Here are the two final batches I made. The one on the left, with lard, and the one on the right, made with butter. Both use yeast. I realize purists will scoff at this concoction. So maybe I haven’t done enough experimentation, but the torta chronicles are in hiatus for a while… And I did these while on my diet a couple of months ago! :) If and when I finally nail a recipe for torta, you will be the first to hear about it.