Discovering a new food anchors a slice of time in my memory like nothing else. Perhaps this is the case for you as well, but I doubt it is this way for everyone. Mnemonic peculiarities aside, it was December of my twelfth year when I first laid eyes on a princess torte. Actually, it was a room full of these pastel green, marzipan cakes. Like magic, the creative women at our church transformed our church parlor into a glowing festive space for a Christmas smörgåsbord for the grownups. As candles twinkled on tables spread with lovely linens, one could hardly believe this was where we sipped coffee and lemonade on ordinary Sunday mornings. All who entered oohed and ahh-ed with pleasure, and everyone agreed the crowning glories of this beautiful sight were the princess tortes that graced the center of the tables. Each cake resembled a satin pillow in subtle green, lightly dusted with powdered sugar and carefully placed on a fancy cake pedestal to be admired by the guests until dessert.
I had never seen anything like this at church! My heart pounded with excitement, and I felt fortunate to be one of a handful of girls who would help serve this delightful meal. Eyeing the pretty tortes, I wasn’t sure we servers would get a slice, but if not, I planned to visit my parents’ table where I could count on pilfering a taste.
As luck would have it, after toting stacks of plates and pouring gallons of coffee, we girls sat down to our own feast, complete with torte. At first, I wasn’t so sure about green marzipan. Why was it spring green, especially in December? Some of my friends left the sweet nutty “wrapper” on their plates. But the more I tasted mine along with the whipped cream, the more I liked it. And the cake itself, with its layers of custard and raspberry jam and perfectly whipped cream…I was smitten.
That evening marked the beginning of a long and faithful admiration of the sumptuous dessert that would be at the heart of many celebrative events going forward. A big one showed up the day we cheered for my grandmother on her 80th birthday. Another appeared to honor my parents on their 35th and 50th anniversaries. My almost-fiancé and I gobbled a slice after secretly looking at engagement rings on Clark Street in Chicago. And of course, I’ll never forget our wedding cake a year later, a giant princess torte without any color added. For Eric and me, the thin layer of ivory marzipan atop the white blanket of whipped cream was absolutely perfect. The only problem — with all that cream, we couldn’t take leftovers along on our honeymoon.
Eventually we moved away from Chicago to places where princess torte could not be purchased. Obviously we did not move to Stockholm or Malmö, where the torte is as common as cupcakes in America. It was time to make this beautiful cake in our own kitchen. As a college student in Sweden I’d been blessed by a baking instructor who, after quite a bit of begging on my part, agreed to add prinsesstårte to our cooking class repertoire. It was then that I learned the basics. Bake the cake. Make a custard. Whip the cream. Split the cake. Assemble and cover it all with cream. Lastly, after drawing a big breath, and digging deep for a “Julia Child-courage-of-your-conviction,” carefully slip the thinly rolled sheet of marzipan over the cake. Exhale. Tuck in the edges and send a gentle snow shower of confectioners’ sugar over the top. To be really authentic, shape a nob of pink marzipan into a rose and plant it in the center of the cake.
And that’s exactly what we do at our house every Christmas. You see, my sister, Kristen Carol, was born on December 25th, which means the day’s festivities are not complete until we celebrate her with prinsesstårte and another round of coffee. The arrival of Jesus has been the focus of a month of music, worship, and gift-giving, but now we turn to honor Krissy. As we cut into her much deserved torte, we rejoice in loving recollections that stack up even higher than our marzipan covered stratum of sponge cake, custard, cream, and jam. With thankful hearts, we savor a lovely slice of prinsesstårte, and add more wonderful memories to those already attached to this extraordinary dessert.
8 oz. marzipan or almond paste, though I will call it marzipan in the recipe
1 cup raspberries
1/3 cup raspberry preserves
2 ½ cups heavy cream (divided)
2 T. sugar
a few drops of yellow and green food color (optional)
confectioners’ sugar for rolling and for dusting
1 cup half & half
½ vanilla bean, split open lengthwise
1 egg + 2 egg yolks
1/3 cup sugar
1 T. cornstarch
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 T. butter
Pour half & half into a saucepan. Add vanilla bean. Scald half & half and steep vanilla bean in the liquid for 15 -20 minutes. In medium size mixing bowl, whisk together egg and yolks, sugar, cornstarch and salt. Remove vanilla bean from saucepan. Slowly add steaming half & half to egg mixture. Pour this back into the saucepan and cook over low heat, stirring constantly. When the custard thickens, taste to make sure the corn starch is cooked. The custard should be smooth, not grainy. To prevent scrambling the eggs, do not boil. Remove from heat, stir in vanilla extract and butter. Strain into a bowl. Place plastic wrap on surface of custard to prevent a skin from forming. Chill in refrigerator until ready to construct the torte. The mixture will thicken as it cools.
Sunshine Sponge Cake
(This makes two cakes, one for the prinsesstårte, and one for your freezer to make a future torte. Wrap well!)
6 eggs, separated
2 T. cold water
2 cups sugar
½ cup warm water
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup cake flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut parchment to fit the bottom of two 9-inch springform pans.
Beat egg yolks in a large bowl using an electric mixer with the paddle attachment. Add cold water. Add sugar slowly and beat on high until light, lemon colored and thick. Add warm water.
Sift dry ingredients together. Add dry ingredients and extracts to mixing bowl and beat on low until completely incorporated. Set aside.
Beat egg whites in another bowl using the wire whisk attachment. Just when whites become a bit foamy add cream of tartar. Beat until peaks form, but not dry stiff peaks (save that for meringue). Fold egg whites into cake batter.
Pour cake batter into two un-greased springform pans. Bake for about 40 minutes. The tops should become golden brown. Invert cakes on a rack and cool for 15 minutes. Loosen sides of cakes from pans and gently remove. Peel off parchment. Allow cakes to thoroughly cool.
Assemble the Prinsesstårte
Whip cream to peaks, adding 2 T. sugar. Slice cake horizontally with a serrated knife. Place bottom cake layer in the center of a cake plate. Tuck four strips of parchment under the edges of the cake to keep the cake plate clean. Spread half of the raspberry preserves on the underside of the top cake layer. Set aside.
Spread cooled custard on the bottom layer of cake.
Place about a quarter of the cream in a separate bowl, and stir in the remaining preserves. Spread raspberry cream on the top of the custard. Set raspberries into the cream. Place top cake layer, jam side down, over this. Starting with the sides, frost the cake with the remaining whipped cream. Chill.
Knead almond paste or marzipan with a few drops of green and yellow food color. Using a rolling pin, roll marzipan into a large circle, (about 16-inch diameter) on a sheet of parchment. If it is sticky, spread confectioners’ sugar on work-surface and rolling pin. Very carefully drape the thin sheet of marzipan over the rolling pin and transfer it to the cake. Gently place marzipan over the cake. Trim edges and tuck them neatly around the base of the torte. Remove parchment strips. You may wish to garnish the cake with a marzipan rose, and a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar, or write on it with melted chocolate. Chill until serving.