Lúdláb Torta, or Death by Chocolate and Maraschino Cherries

The Lúdláb Torta is a Hungarian chocolate sponge cake topped with cherries and chocolate mousse or buttercream, then covered with chocolate glaze. Its name, literally “goose leg cake”, probably refers to the original triangular shape of the slices, resembling goose feet. Since I had all those maraschino cherries I needed to do something with, I revisited this Budapest café classic.

In Kaffeehaus: Exquisite Desserts from the Classic Cafés of Vienna, Budapest, and Prague, Rick Rodgers describes the dessert as “the true test of the pastry maker’s art”, and “like eating a chocolate-cherry truffle”.

This gave me a couple of thoughts:

  • Buttercream was all the rage at the end of the 19th century when it was introduced from France. However, in 2010, it’s unlikely to impress anyone other than your suburban grandparents. Better to try something a little bit more modern.
  • If the cake is reminiscent of a truffle, we might as well go for a real chocolate truffle layer. To balance that richness, the sponge and mousse recipes will have to be reasonably light.

Since I don’t claim to be a master pastry chef, I chose to adapt recipes from renowned authorities for each layer.

Chocolate sponge
(adapted from Michel Roux)
Yields one 10″ round sponge

9 oz 62% chocolate, chopped
2 oz butter, diced
2 oz egg yolk
9 oz egg white
3 oz sugar

  • Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie and whisk in the butter. Let cool for 10 minutes.
  • Beat the egg yolks with 1/4 of the sugar until pale. In the bowl of an electric mixer fit with the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites to soft peaks, then add the rest of the sugar and beat until firm. Fold in the yolks, then the chocolate.
  • Poor the mixture into a 10″ ring mold placed on a sheet tray lined with greased parchment paper. Bake in a 350 F oven for 35 minutes.
  • Transfer to a cooling rack. Let cool, then cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Truffle layer
(adapted from the Truffletorte at the Sprungli pastry shop in Zurich)
Yields one 9″ round cake

7 oz heavy cream
1 1/2 oz butter
1 1/2 tbsp sugar
10 1/2 oz 70% chocolate, diced
8 oz strained maraschino cherries

  • In a saucepan, bring the heavy cream, butter and sugar to a boil. Add the chocolate and let rest for 5 minutes.
  • Whisk and strain into a bowl. Stir in the maraschino cherries, then refrigerate until thickened.

Chocolate mousse
(adapted from Francois Payard)
Yields one 9″ round cake

2 1/4 oz egg yolk
2 oz egg white
2 1/4 oz sugar
3/4 oz water
6 oz extra-bitter chocolate, coarsely chopped
8 1/2 oz heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks

  • Beat the egg yolks and whites in an electric mixer on medium-high speed until light and pale.
  • Combine the sugar and water, cook to 250 F. Slowly add to the egg mixture, pouring down the side of the bowl while beating on low speed, then beat on medium speed until cool.
  • Melt the chocolate in a bain-marie and let cool for 10 minutes.
  • Fold the chocolate into the whipped cream, then fold in the egg mixture.

Chocolate ganache
Yields one 9″ round cake

4 oz heavy cream
1 oz butter
4 oz 62% chocolate
1 pinch salt

  • In a saucepan, bring the heavy cream and butter to a boil. Add the chocolate and salt, and let rest for 5 minutes. Whisk and reserve.

Assembly
Yields one 9″ round cake

chocolate sponge
truffle layer
chocolate mousse
chocolate ganache

  • Trim the chocolate sponge using a 9″ ring mold. Keep the sponge in the mold.
  • Cover the sponge with the truffle layer, making sure the cherries are spread out evenly.
  • Cover with the chocolate mousse, and refrigerate until firm.
  • Remove the ring mold. Cover with the chocolate ganache, using a brush to cover the sides. Refrigerate until set.
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