120+ Tortas Later…

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.

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36 Responses

  1. I was just in Iligan City this Monday and chatted with my cousin who makes torta for her business. For a while, I couldn’t remember what torta was! Too bad, I came late for my uncle’s funeral, she made hundreds of torta for the guests. I’m getting her recipe soon.

  2. Yeah, I thought at first glance the post was about ensaimada. Looking at your last picture – and reading the difference in ingredients it looks like I would have love them both. Its funny, my daughter will have love the one without cheese topping but not with lard but butter; hahhahha, it jus shows you really can have many many variations of these torta including one that just plain lard, no topping. Eh di parang mamon na yon. Along the way in Quezon, I hav bought this kind of bread. Thanks for the post – deja vu also for me.

  3. It’s like the Lechon Chronicles but Torta version. =) Don’t lose faith, keep trying! They do look good though.

  4. It does look like ensaymada for me but I’m sure it taste great. I can’t recall if I had torta before except the tortang talong or other type of omelet that we called tort a in Manila.

  5. I thought this was about ensaimadas until I finished reading… the ninjas and the ticks are too funny lol…After reading your lechon chronicles, etc., I believe you will be successful on finding the right torta recipe in the future…

  6. Wow, you are so patient and persistent! i might have stopped at that 20th torta… What is the difference in taste between a torta and an ensymaida? Between the butter and the lard batch, which one tasted better?

  7. Maybe you need to try it in a wider, flatter tart pan. The totas I remember were only about an inch thick. Didn’t like them then, can’t imagine loving them now…

  8. looks delicious…the torta sold in argao cebu is one of the best torta i ever tasted…

  9. in some towns of misamis occidental, they specifically make torta for “BH/Bring House” during fiestas and special occassions. this tortas are sometimes called as “tortang pinabantok” or hard torta and lasts for weeks without refrigeration. perfect for dipping in hot coffee! my lola makes lots of it for “BH”, a typical mindanaon gesture. busog ka na sa fiesta, may pabaon ka pa!

  10. saw a recipe of torta in food magazine years ago. i haven’t tasted any torta in my lifetime.

    the photos remind me of ensaimadas and cheese cupcakes from neighborhood bakeries minus the raisins. the photo from the food magazine articles i mentioned looked like mamon dusted with sugar.

  11. Is torta similar to the inipit of Bulacan? The flat one that you described as baked discus looks very much like it though inipit should be pillowy, not hard.

  12. The ingredients are the same as yours down to the lard and tuba, EXCEPT – RTO. This beverage was always added to the batter and then baked in a native oven fired with charcoals.

    I’m a torta-from-Argao fan, too because that’s where my 104-year-old Lola hails from. We’d always get our share of these goodies usually during fiesta time and All Saints and Souls Days (kalag-kalag). Although we all enjoyed this treat, none of us really made the effort to learn the exact recipe because Lola was always around to cook it for us.

    Alas, Lola who’ll be 105 this September, is more deaf and has a major memory gap now. Perhaps my 70-plus aunt could help me with the details. Keeping my fingers crossed…

  13. The last time you started on a cooking experiment spree like this, you ended up starting Zubuchon, and now the restaurant, right under our noses :) I don’t know if a torta market is big enough, but I have the feeling this can be a great accompaniment for the Zubuchon Resto. Authentic (well, kinda) Cebuano food :)

    I feel like this when trying to recreate “authentic” food. I still haven’t suceeded in my brown puto from Lucban experiments. FRUSTRATING.

  14. your tuba version reminds of the korean drama Baker King, where Tak Gu tried to experiment on alternative for yeast :) Nice MM!
    Torta in VisMin is really the best~

  15. i used to think torta served in the province (bohol and also cagayan up north) were the local versions of mamon of red ribbon/goldilocks variety.

    no wonder the tortas were quite dense– lard is used instead of butter (!). cholesterol alert! hahaha!

    but just the same, it was best paired with ice cold royal tru orange drank straight from the bottle with straw! :)

  16. “raisins that looked a bit like ticks ripe for the picking…” arghhh. thanks for giving me a big smile (actually more than that) this morning.

  17. If you or someone you know ever finds themself in Digos in Davao del Sur, I think the store Mer’s is still at the crossroads of the highway (I’m recalling this from about 7 years ago, so please pardon the haze). It makes and serves really good, and I think authentic, torta. Might aid you on your heroic quest. ;)

  18. photo-wise, i had the impression you baked ensaymada cos of the cheese. i like my torta– Argao style. simple lang: no grated cheese, raisins etc. Nonetheless, these look yummy.

  19. Sorry MM…albeit delicious-looking, what you made does NOT look like a torta at all.

    I just had some the past few days from 2 local bakeries/coffeshops here in Dumaguete (Sans Rival and Don Roberto’s) and they look completely different from yours (i.e. in terms of texture and density). The local tortas are like a denser version of a butter cake shaped mamon-style. Some have more tuba flavor, others minimal, and then some use margarine while others use butter.

  20. *Shame* I’ve eaten hundreds of tortas in my life and I never knew it was made from tuba! Sigh some Cebuana/Boholana I’ve turned out to be. But thanks for this, I learned something new today. :)

    Tuba’s the best by the way! Not a lot of people appreciate it for all that it can offer. Tuba shout out! :)

  21. Those look great, MM! I’m looking forward to the recipe so I can try making ’em and share it with friends and family! THANKS!

  22. MM, please say that you will also offer Manang Lima’s budbud kabog in the Zubu restos!

  23. To die for, MM. Am salivating here looking at your photos. I’ve had tortas from Bohol, Cebu, Mindanao, etc. but it ‘s my first time to hear that tuba is one of the ingredients. Definitely torta is not something that ordinary homebakers can readily make given its unique ingredients like tuba and lard.

    I once tasted the Carcar version in a party, and it was soooo good but sinful. Different from the butter cake- like Bohol version. It would be interesting to taste other towns’ versions and compare. Perhaps you can write about this in your future blogs, MM?

  24. nothing to do with this post- just wanted to say that i came back from cebu yesterday with a whole zabuchon- it was sooo good! the skin was still crunchy – my whole family of foodies loved it! wish there was a zabuchon outlet here in manila…

  25. hi MM! my mom used to bake Tortang Kinaraan in our hometown(Garcia-Hernandez, Bohol) when she was still well(now on dialysis). her recipe is from her spinster aunt in Valencia. the picture you posted is the same Torta with my mom’s Torta. that Torta would last for long….i would describe it as a crossover between cake and bread. it is yummy and best with coffee or sikwate(just dont think of the cholesterol and calories in take :-))

  26. MM…pasensiya again, please…don’t know how to get hold of Gej…I replied to your e-mail but it bounced back!…said it won’t take my new e-mail address?!?

  27. The cruel trick that your uncle, the celebrated sculptor, plays on his unsuspecting friends with moldy torta I find really funny because it’s true. Ignore the much vaunted claim of long shelf-life of traditionally made torta, after three days, unless refrigerated, they are all going to be shifting on their own accord with fungi. You can easily dissimulate white mold with confectioner’s sugar though.

  28. Maybe it has to do with the tuba. Is it the fresh (bag-o) tuba or the bahalina?

  29. Hi Mr MM this is my first time to visit your blog and I enjoyed it a lot! I admire your patience in making the tortas and they look so delicious!

  30. MM, the fotos looked great. Reminded me of the tortas I have eaten years ago, made with tuba and with anise flavoring. Always liked the raisins.Lahi gyud ang taste, no? Thanks for your efforts. You are too patient and persistent.

  31. For me, torta should not look or taste like cake. Otherwise there is no in point making them.

    My family is from Carcar and the torta between Carcar and Argao are very different. Argao’s is more sponge cake-like and there is no crust, hence I suspect the use of yeast and being baked in ovens. Torta, mamon, lard cookies, and bread-pastry making were the livelihood of my late great-aunt and they churned out sacks of these. Of course I am a purist and I revive the traditional way of making them when I go home. It is not ensaimada and we do not use cheese or raisins.
    – Only use the eggyolks of native chickens as they give a golden, glowing yellow color. Torta is measured by how many dozens of eggs used, there is no limit. Some people use orange food coloring or orange soda to recreate that color. Once you see the real one, you will never forget that shade.
    – We don’t use tuba as it gives a tart flavor from the tungog bark that is used to color tuba brown. Tungog is the same one used to give the red hue to the wooden floors and walls of old, unpainted houses. I use lina – the day or 2 old pre-tuba that is clear in color. Yes, the raising of the dough is unpredictable so people take turns keeping watch of the dough. Sometimes it takes almost 24 hours to rise. One time, my aunt woke up at 3 am to bake them!
    – Much lard is used. The consistency of the dough is a very oily mixture, that slides from one’s hand like slime. The lard has to be heated before added to the mixture.
    – We use the old fashioned rattan “mixer” to spin the dough. For the handmixing part, the dough has to be mixed in fast, gentle stroke in an up-scooping manner and always in the same direction.
    – We use the clay ovens to bake, the one in which heat is applied on top and bottom of the clay oven. First use the dried coconut leaves to apply instant, high heat.Then coconut husks for a longer, slower heat. Uling does not give the consistency and variation of heat need for the clay oven. The clay ovens are made in Sibonga, the town between Carcar and Argao.
    – The test of Carcar’s version is that when the torta is sliced, the pieces should open up and it should look airy. The ones from bakeries are too cake-like and dense.

    It was a thrilling day for me when we were able to recreate the taste of the traditional torta of my family. When my great-aunt died, no one wanted to bake torta and mamon anymore for fear of ridicule. People would still shout out during processions asking for these. My family is the only one who still make it the old-fashioned way.

    By the way, the inasal in Carcar do not use tanglad or lemongrass. We use a different herb that Mexicans also use.

  32. hi mr. MM! stumbled upon your blog today (i googled “is dry fish clean” and your daing entry came up) and i was instantly hooked coz your writing is too damn funny!! love it. can’t wait to try your recipes :)

  33. MM my Lola Badang who hails from Carcar made the best torta in the whole wide world that is to an opinion of a granddaughter eh? I remember this delicacy served with Lola’s home made from scratch ‘sikuate’ (hot coco) during our patron saint Sta Catalina’s fiesta. Family members from the city would huddle in my uncle’s jeep for the trek to Carcar. I miss my childhood days in Carcar with cousins, the many Lolo’s & Lola’s, Tio’s & Tia’s who happens to spoil all of us kidos. We wander close to the river next door to Lola Monay’s house before the rotunda. I’m feeling homesick as I shiver from cold & watching the snow covered houses across. I can’t wait for 2013’s USC alumni homecoming then treating myself to gastronomic delights from Cebu. Torta, chicharon, ampao from Carcar, bibingka & tagaktak from Mandaue here we come ;-) Wishing you and your family a prosperous New Year! God bless from Toronto with luv . . .

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