Throughout my self-decreed baking textbook, lovely pencil illustrations drawn by Maida’s daughter accentuate equipment, an ingredient, technique or a concept. But besides the full color buffet on the cover, there is not one photograph. My 1974 copyright was published prior to our need for visuals fueled by the food photography revolution. I am positive that for my learning purposes, Maida’s intimate and detailed writing far surpasses any benefit I could obtain from an image. However, about one third into this linzer torte, I realized I had not a clue what I was baking.
Regardless, I continued. While I focused on each and every step, in my meditative cooking mind it occurred to me that my baking education wasn’t only about improving technique and a quest for better end products. No big surprise, but also a reminder of my truly novice status.
Home baking holds hands with tradition. We bake what our moms or grandmas or grandpas or dads baked. We bake these recipes for our family and friends to hold onto where we came from, our culture and traditions. While totally necessary and comforting, I think a type of tunnel vision could arise. I felt this blindness and a baking illiteracy while baking through this linzer torte. I knew there must be history behind this pastry, not a cake or a pie or a tart, with jam in the middle and a very specific nut crust. The techniques Maida uses like breaking off pieces of dough and pushing it on the board with the palm of your hand had to be some time-tested method.
With my torte in the oven for an hour, I googled it and at first found many recipes none of which used walnuts in the dough, almonds mostly and hazelnuts, some raspberry jam but mostly red currant. Then I learned about its Austrian origin, actually coming from a city named Linz where its made a lot at Christmas time, which may explain the cookie like crust and the red of the jam. It’s also referred to as the oldest cake in the world. Really, is that true?
Then I stumbled on this: https://smittenkitchen.com/2013/12/linzer-torte/. Maida’s recipe with tons of praise for her as the ultimate baking author! I loved reading this and all of the comments. I also learned a lot, like the purpose of sprinkling breadcrumbs on the crust before the jam, which is that they help thicken up the jam a bit. Some people left that out and I admit I thought maybe I could as well. But I am determined not to make my own alterations for my education purposes. So glad I did not. There were also comments about adding iced water to the crust because it would not come together and that it baked too hard. Answers spoke of how a linzer torte is better after sitting for a while. Maida doesn’t say that, but mine did seem to get better with time. And I wonder again about the dough breaking and pushing technique because this post’s recipe doesn’t instruct to do that. Could this be the reason their dough did not come together? More research definitely needed.
So this leaves me with questions. If you are baking and you have no idea what you are baking how does that affect the outcome, if at all? And if you make something again and again and know every detail of it does that affect your baking and does it then become your own instead of someone else’s recipe, even if you are using someone else’s recipe?
Meanwhile, on to my next recipe…