Lúdláb Torta, or Death by Chocolate and Maraschino Cherries

Posted by Florian in Desserts, Hungarian Food, Recipes, tagged with , ,

There are a few famous Hungarian desserts (famous, that is, among those with an interest in Hungarian cuisine). The Dobos torta and its many layers. The Rigó Jancsi and its saccharine history. The Gundel palacsinta and its secret recipe. Less known is the lúdláb torta, a chocolate sponge cake with cherries and chocolate mousse or buttercream, covered with chocolate glaze. Its name, literally “goose leg cake,” supposedly refers to the original triangular shape of the slices, resembling goose feet. Magyars can be a bit obsessed with geese sometimes.

Since I had all those maraschino cherries I needed to do something with, I decided to revisit this Budapest café classic. In his book 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 ideas:

  • Buttercream was all the rage in Hungary at the end of the 19th century when it was introduced by the French. 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 chocolate truffle, we might as well go for a real truffle layer. To balance that richness, the sponge and mousse elements 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. At the end of the day, my version may do a poor job when it comes to disposing of large stocks of maraschino cherries (1/2 lb for a 9″ cake), but it sure makes one fine lúdláb torta.

Hungarian Cuisine - Ludlab Torta

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.

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 an offset spatula to cover the sides. Refrigerate until set.