21 Apr2014


Boholano/Cebuano “tortas” are just one of those enigmas I have not been able to resolve over the nearly 10 years of writing this blog. On the one hand, my mother, who adored the tortas of her childhood, waxed poetic about special, often fiesta specific cakes that made them sound like the pinnacle of cakes and pastry. Broken down to the basics, as I understand them to be, these cakes are traditionally (and historically correct) made with the following critical ingredients: flour, eggs, lard (rather than butter), tuba (in place of yeast), sugar, and anise seed for that crucial flavor that distinguishes this cake from many others made of the same ingredients. Baked in pans say 4-6 inches wide, the resulting cakes are good for sharing between 3-4 people, depending on one’s appetite. Over the course of this blog, I have tried to come up with a “good” (I know, relative) or “authentic” torta recipe and despite hundreds of tortas baked, have failed thus far. It’s sort of like my epic failure at producing a consistently good white puto despite dozens of attempts.


I wrote about another source of Boholano tortas before, here, as well as a look at leaden Southern Cebu (Argao) tortas, here and these quite traditionally made tortas from a Marketmanila reader’s mom in Naga, Cebu, here. I tried to make a snazzy upscale Spanish-Cebuano family recipe here (utterly delicious, but lacking many of the traditional ingredients) and spent a day cooking up EIGHT batches of experimental tortas to less than splendid results, here. I also wrote about Myra Sun’s delicious ham infused tortas, here, which were commercially for sale in Cebu a few years back. So when I spied these freshly baked tortas at Osang’s in Baclayon, Bohol, recently, I was a bit giddy with excitement.


Osang’s has been our family’s source for the best broas (ladyfingers) in the country (yes, I say that confidently) since the 1960’s or so, and figured they must have an equally spectacular torta recipe as well. They don’t normally make tortas, but this just happened to be a couple of days before the town fiesta nearby, and their blackboard was filled with orders and they still managed to spare four of them for us to buy on the spot to take to our hotel and enjoy later that day.


Baked in their clay oven fired with wood and charcoal, these certainly looked like they were going to be wonderful. When we cut into and devoured one of the cakes later that day, they turned out to be not as traditional as I might have hoped. They definitely used yeast instead of tuba or coconut toddy, and while there might have been some pork lard, it’s more likely they used vegetable shortening or some butter mixed in with the shortening. There was hardly any trace of anise seed or flavoring and the top was simply sprinkled with sugar. It was, unfortunately, not as spectacular as I was hoping it would be.


Perhaps tortas the way I perceive them to have been, just aren’t a thing of today. Maybe it’s too expensive to make them with enough eggs, butter/lard and anise to make them economically viable. But I still would like to come up with a version I can call my own. Even if it has to be a 21st century take on an old classic.



  1. Natie says:

    Ohhhh, I was hoping and praying for a happy ending… I hope that day will come, MM…

    Apr 21, 2014 | 8:19 am


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  3. Footloose says:

    Sometimes one’s quest for the authentic turns out to be a big let down. In my case, I blame Time-Life’s Cooking of Viena’s Empire that primed my taste buds for years before I finally sat down for a slice of the eckte wiener Sacher Torte. Turned out it was dry, seemed stale and not all that impressive and which I later found out, was supposed to be that way.

    The flavour of any yeast raised cake benefits from a pre-ferment (levadura) prepared overnight. This is probably the tubâ yeast generated flavour that has been evading your torta attempts. Do not expect the cake itself to be sweet either, any amount of sugar added to the batter will be devoured by the yeast. That’s why they are topped with a casting of sugar just like ensaimadas.

    Apr 21, 2014 | 9:37 am

  4. Cheryl says:

    looking forward to your own version MM!

    Apr 21, 2014 | 12:58 pm

  5. Khew says:

    I’ve always wondered what the hell happened to all the egg whites when most recipes of cakes and sweets of SE Asia call for only egg yolks. Then I realised that many of the old buildings were made with egg whites in their mortar!

    Apr 21, 2014 | 2:28 pm

  6. Khew says:

    Actually, now that I think of it, the ingredients for torta are akin to lapis legit – the Indonesian spiced multi layered cake which is a refined adaptation of the Dutch spekoek. I’ve tried using anise in the spice mixture and it certainly smells a lot more sophisticated than just using cinnamon and nutmeg. The trick apparently to a good emulsification and therefore fluffiness is to cream the butter with the condensed milk and flavourings in one bowl. In another, the egg yolks and sugar. Perhaps you could make some adjustments:
    – replace butter with lard
    – boil coconut water with several star anise to infuse
    – use half infused coconut water and half beer to replace tuba/toddy

    Because lard is so much more stable than butter in our climate, the batter can sit there for an hour or more for the yeasts in the beer to multiply and do its thing, before baking.

    Apr 21, 2014 | 3:51 pm

  7. Khew says:

    Here’s a recipe for a chocolate lard cake. You could easily adapt this. http://stresscake.wordpress.com/2013/05/17/praise-the-lard-again-chocolate-lard-bourbon-cake/

    Apr 21, 2014 | 3:54 pm

  8. Footloose says:

    @ comment #4. Not by any means exclusive to SE Asia. There was a lively exchange about this topic here, http://www.marketmanila.com/archives/sugar-cane, particularly an amazingly learned comment, number 10, from AN.

    The tubâ may bring with it the whiff of fermentation but it is added primarily as a leavening agent. Anise flavouring is usually added to sweet and savoury Filipino recipes in the form of anisado (anise schnapps simply anís in Spanish) as in the banlê recipe in Jean Gonzales’s Cosina Sulipeña and Jamon en Dulce of Enriqueta David Perez. The quantity of egg yolks guarantees a quick and stable emulsification of the lard so I suspect that that is not a crucial step either.

    Apr 21, 2014 | 7:09 pm

  9. Nina says:

    Hi MM, are you still in Bohol? If so, you could make a short trip down the main road of Tagbilaran and try Edelwiess. They make tortas in their home somewhat behind/ beside DBP, across the Coca-cola plant. I remember their tortas to be really good. Let me know how find their tortas. :)

    Apr 22, 2014 | 9:26 am

  10. Belle says:

    My Lola made the best tortas I’ve ever tasted. I heard that lard’s the best for it. The runner ups would also happen to be from her hometown, siquijor. I didn’t see any magic when I went there, unless you include the food!

    Apr 25, 2014 | 7:21 pm

  11. Mandy says:

    It’s hard to compete with childhood memories. :) Food you grew up with will always seem to be a better version of the something you have today.

    @Footloose: Re: sacher torte–I had the same feeling! My mom & I were so looking forward to having a slice at the Hotel Sacher. Not only did it not taste great, service was pretty bad too.

    Apr 25, 2014 | 11:44 pm


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