Cebuano or Boholano â€œTortaâ€ is almost legendary in our family. It was spoken of like it was the holy grail of provincial desserts/snacks/sweets. My mother used to mention it like she and her siblings were the only ones who really knew what they were talking about. Stories about the preparation of dozens and dozens of tortas before a fiesta and the hundreds of egg yolks required to do such a feat grew larger and more outrageous as the years wore onâ€¦ Their ancestral home by the sea would be redolent with the aroma of baking torta and they would not only serve it to guests but wrap them up and send them home with the visitors. Oddly, I never once saw my mother make a torta and by the time I was an adolescent I only got to taste it when someone else made it. Frankly, I didnâ€™t have any fond memories of torta as I recall an â€œoff tasteâ€ that didnâ€™t quite jive with the concept of a cake. Now I realize it was the use of tuba (coconut liquor) and the slight fermentation action going on as the dough sat overnight before baking. In the classical recipes, tuba apparently acted as baking powder does for most cakes today, according to a recipe described in an Inquirer article and by Lori of DessertComesFirst. The other thing I recall about Torta was its incredible shelf lifeâ€¦several days sitting out on the counter in some casesâ€¦ My Uncle, an artist, is known to bring torta to friends and act normal when they reel back in horror at the sight of mold on the surface! Hereâ€™s a tipâ€¦DONâ€™T EAT it if itâ€™s moldy.
So when Alicia, a regular reader asked me if I had a recipe for torta, I realized I had never ever made this legendary delicacy. But I was determined to try. I was intrigued further by a friendâ€™s story that her mother-in-law had once gotten into torta so much that she was eating it for merienda every day for about 10 days and landed herself in the hospital! The nearest the doctor could figure, it was â€œtorta overdose!â€ Letâ€™s just say this is cholesterol packed and not for anyone worried about caloric intake. In the old days, this was made with lard just like the ensaimadas were made; today, butter and some vegetable oil are the fats of choice. I have to admit I was an instant convert. I now understand why it was so well thought of. It is incredibly easy to make and tasted absolutely spectacular. I hunted around and read several recipes but decided to try the easy one written up in the Aboitiz-Moraza Family Cookbook. I tweaked the proportions and method a bit and also did a version with raisins soaked in brandy that turned out really well. If I have offended any Aboitiz/Moraza family members by putting this recipe on the web, please email me and I will take it out. Hereâ€™s the recipe I used â€“ Prepare a bowl filled with 4 cups all purpose flour, 4 tbsp of baking powder and 1 tsp of fine salt. Mix and set aside. Heat up 2 cups of granulated sugar and 2 cups of water on the stove until sugar is dissolved. Cool this mixture. In a mixer, beat 1 and Â¼ pound (about 2 and Â¼ blocks) unsalted butter until creamy, add 25-27 egg yolks and mix well. Add the sugared water that has cooled into the mixture, one can of condensed milk (I used a small one), 1 cup of milk, Â¾ cup of vegetable oil and mix slowly until well blended. Add the flour until just well mixed. Donâ€™t overbeat. Line about 24 torta or ensaimada tins with oil and torta papers (like waxed paper and sold in bakery stores- but DO NOT use waxed paper) and pour the batter in until about 2/3 full. Bake in a pre-heated 350 degree oven until just set, about 25 minutes. If you want to go over the top, brush with additional melted butter and sprinkle with fine sugar on top. I made a second batch to which I added raisins that I had pre-soaked for three hours in brandy and they were a terrific variation. This is a dense, flavorful, rich and stunningly simple cake that almost anyone can make. I strongly recommend it. But donâ€™t blame me if you end up in the hospital!