If you ever tried to renovate a house – even in smaller or bigger sense- you know very well that the process is like riding a rollercoaster. Sometimes you just let yourself being in the moment suspecting that it will be one of your most memorable experience in your life, but sometimes you just want to stop it and get out immediately.
Then something happens- even it is a tiny little thing- and you realise you have still amazing energy resources that you didn’t even notice.
At the weekend we organised the attic because under the new roof we will have a tiny attic bedroom. Earlier this year I already wrote a post about how much I love this corner of our house and however we did our best to get rid off the garbage and keep the treasures, we are still far from a completely empty space that we have to prepare for the builders.
I am standing in the poor-lighted attic, trying to take small, short breaths from the dusty air and Áron is standing at the bottom of the ladder waiting for me to hand over anything we won’t need. Broken roof tiles, pipes, tiles. I hope not to put my hand into a wasp nest or not find any mouse corpse. Suddenly I discover something between the roof tiles and the rafter. I pull it out and wipe the dust. It is a black covered old book, with mouse-chewed almost browned pages. What is that? I open it and see the typical old handwriting, a name, and two dates, one on the first page, one on the last one: 18. 6. 1939. 4.1. 1942.
I found my great-grandmother’s gothic, German prayer book.
I am so enthusiastic that I almost cannot breathe and shout to Áron “Look what I have found” than add a few swear words because of excitement. I go down quickly the ladder so we can take a look at the book at the sunshine. I wipe down the dust of 80 years we turn the yellowed pages and ask each other: “What do those dates mean? Why did they hide it in the attic? Was it because of the German expulsion? Did they want to keep secret that they are Swabian?
Suddenly I feel extra energy to clean and organise, I put together all the wooden boxes that I want to restore, demijohns and glasses for pickles that I want to keep in the cellar. In this moment I don’t know yet that one of our questions will be answered soon.
On the way home I call Erzsi, Áron’s mother, who was born and grown up in a village nearby and who knows everything about Swabian secrets and traditions, which fact I am really grateful for since she is the only one that I know who can answer these questions.
I tell her what I have found and she says: “well, those are the places where these things used to be”.
“But why did they put the book there?” , I ask excitedly.
“Because of protection, Judit”, she answers. “According to the beliefs of old people this prayer book protects the house and the people inside. You have to put it back when the new roof is ready. Don’t forget it”, she adds and tears come to my eyes. I guess I don’t need to explain, why.
The dates still remain a mystery but I hope if we find out we can get closer to the date when our house was built.
This event must be celebrated. This week I wanted to bake something with chocolate for Áron’s sake and as a thank you gift because he does so much effort and work for our little house to become a home again. I see a rustic cake from the good old times in my mind and immediately grab my antique cookbooks. In this moment I don’t know that my decision will be followed by unexpected events which almost end up in a culinary disaster and I have to take several turns to finish this blog post. I thumb through the yellow pages and do a short brainstorming.
The recipe of French chocolate cake by József Dobos C. from 1881 starts as follows “Mix 560 grams almonds with 4 whole eggs and 490 grams sugar, than add 20 egg yolks and beat it for 30 minutes, than fold in 12 egg whites…” Stop! I really wanted a cake from the good old times, but not as rich…with 24 eggs and half of a kilo almonds…!
The recipe of Anna Tutsek from 1913 sounds great but after trying to get potato flour, one of the ingredients in our town with no result, after visiting 5 shops, I give it up.
Erzsébet Bánffyhunyadi Hunyadi seems to save the situation, but only seems. I carefully weigh ingredients and following the recipe mix sugar, butter and eggs. When I add ground almond to the mixture I know that there must be something wrong. I get a thick, hard dough and I still need to add 200 grams of grated chocolate and five beaten egg whites.
“ This is a serious rip-off I suppose” , I grumble to myself with growing tensity and fold in egg whites with my hands into the dough.
Welll, this is the situation which is very well illustrated by the scene in the movie in Julie & Julia when Julia Child asks Irma Rombauer how she was able to finish her cookbook in one year including testing. “Oh, well, I didn’t really test all the recipes…there were so many of them!”
I am quite sure about that my fellow cook-pastry cook, Erzsébet never baked this almond-chocolate cake. “Do not speak ill of the dead”- my parents taught me so I only say she wasn’t really careful with this recipe. I take a deep breath and think about what next. Ms. Hunyadi’s cake is so hard that you could even kill somebody with it.
Indirectly, my dear friend, Kata helps me to find the solution. It pops into my mind that she sent me a french chocolate cake recipe several month ago which turned out to be a really delicious one. I use that recipe as a guideline, however it is made with flour. I keep all ingredients and ratio by Erzsébet, except almonds which amount I drastically reduce and also I add less sugar just because I prefer to do so.
From that point I start writing a new recipe. I don’t grate chocolate but melt it over bain-marie and add reduced ground almond alternately with the egg whites at the end. As I carefully fold over the dough I already feel that it will be perfect. Very chocolaty, dense and creamy as an almond-chocolate cake should be. Its top will break which is completely normal and there is no reason to hide it with chocolate glaze, powdered sugar or cream. I simply like the way it is: imperfect perfection.
Chocolate cake with almonds
200 g dark chocolate
170 g confectioner’s sugar
150 g butter, at room temperature
5 eggs, separated
80 g ground almonds
Preheat the oven to 200 °C. Place and melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of simmering water. Beat sugar and butter until it gets creamy then slowly add chocolate while stirring continuously. Separate eggs, add yolks to the chocolate mixture, whisk egg whites until it forms peaks. Carefully fold in egg white and ground almond alternately to the mixture. Butter and flour a 20 cm cake tin with removable bottom. In case using a non-stick cake tin only butter the bottom and line with a piece of baking paper so the cake will be easier to remove. Bake it for 30-40 minutes, or until the top seems to be dry and breaks.