Let Them Eat: Huguenot Torte
Huguenot torte is a dessert I made frequently in my teens. The recipe was in a well-worn Southern cookbook that my mom had Xeroxed and bound with a black plastic spiral. I cooked from it fairly often; I always had a thing for old and quirky recipes.
I'd all but forgotten about it until Amanda Hesser wrote about it in The New York Times a year or so ago. Friends were coming over to dinner the weekend the piece ran—I couldn't have planned it better. It was time to revisit a golden oldie.
The recipe is simple: beat a couple of eggs, add flour, baking powder, salt, chopped apples, and toasted pecans, then bake. The dessert's decidedly homely appearance will never win a beauty contest, but it's a perfect ten in the flavor category. A crusty brown top caves into a chewy, crunchy, sticky center that's part meringue, part pecan pie goo.
What's with the name? Huguenots were French Protestants who, seeking freedom from religious persecution, fled to, among other places, the United States. Some settled in Charleston, South Carolina, where in the 1940s, Evelyn Anderson Florance (then Mrs. Cornelius Huguenin) made a version of Ozark pudding (a recipe that was homegrown in the Midwest) and re-christened it "Huguenot torte" after Huguenot Tavern, a local restaurant where she made desserts.
The Times' recipe is from The First Ladies Cook Book, and originally appeared in the paper in a 1965 article by Craig Claiborne. The recipe is, ingredient by ingredient, exactly the same as the one I used to make, except in my version the ingredients are halved (the batter is meant to fit in a 9-inch pie plate). Other recipes I came across were either identical or similar enough that it seems this is the way Huguenot torte is made, period.
I'm going rogue, however.
This version is a variation inspired by my recent apple burn-out. As stand-ins for the traditional apples and pecans, I simmer jarred sour cherries until syrupy to concentrate the flavor and add fragrant toasted hazelnuts. Since the dessert is almost dangerously sweet, it benefits from the cherries' pucker. Serve it fresh from the oven with a spoonful of crème fraîche.
About the author: María del Mar Sacasa is a recipe developer, food stylist, and author of the food blogs High Heels & Frijoles and Voracious Billy Goat. Behind her girly façade lurks a truck driver's appetite.