One of my neighbours has a red currant bush in their front yard. At this time of year, it's positively dripping with bright red berries, fat little orbs that seem to glow from within when backlit by the bright summer sun.
It seems said neighbour has absolutely no idea the berries are actually quite edible (nay, delicious), because there they sit on the bush, day after day, unpicked and uneaten. It's a shame. It's entirely possible they did try a berry once or twice, only to be put off by the mouth-puckering sourness that is the predominant flavour of even the ripest of red currants... or perhaps it was those seeds that threw them off, given that they're surprisingly large for such a small berry. Or maybe they just hate currants, which would be the biggest shame of all.
I know I should be a good neighbour and knock on their door so I can inform them of this undiscovered treasure awaiting them in their very own front yard, but I'm far more tempted to listen to the little voice in my head that suggests I ought to pick the bush bare instead and then skip home to gobble down my ill-begotten bounty.
Since it doesn't pay to piss off your neighbours (or to listen to little voices in your head that tell you to do bad things), I ended up getting my fix at the farmers' market instead, forking over $8 for a large basket of red currants. And let me tell you, it was worth every stinkin' penny.
While they're rather hard to find (at least in Toronto) and carefully picking the berries off their threadlike stems is a time-consuming chore, I still firmly believe that red currants are well worth all that hassle. The flavour is quite distinctive, somewhere between cranberry and underripe raspberry, with a sour juiciness and seeds that crunch beneath your teeth. Like cranberries, currants are also full of natural pectin and become quite jammy when cooked, which makes them an ideal candidate for making jams and jellies.
This batch, however, was destined to be baked up into this meringue-topped cake, which is based on a traditional German dessert. The recipes I found all were based on hazelnuts or almonds, but I've opted to use some lovely California walnuts instead, which give the tart more assertively nutty flavour and a hint of bitterness that helps offset the sugary meringue topping.
It's a rather unusual dessert. It's neither pie, nor tart, nor cake, nor pudding... but it has elements of all four. The crisp shortbread-cookie crust cradles a fluffy filling dotted with red currants, which has a texture that lies somewhere between a really firm pudding and a really soft, falling-apart-moist cake, and loads of little currant seeds that crunch under your teeth. The real appeal, though, is a toasted walnut meringue topping that shatters as you slice into the cake, and melts on the tongue in a wisp of sticky sweetness.
The only catch is that this is also a cake that must be eaten on the day it is made. Leftovers will last for another day or two, but the moisture of the currants will begin to weep into the meringue topping and cookie crust, slowly robbing them of the delicate crispness that makes them such a wonderful counterpoint to the fluffy filling.
Best to save it for a special occasion, when you've got guests you want to impress - your future mother-in-law, your cranky boss, or a wealthy childless relative... or maybe even a certain neighbour whose red currant bush you've been oogling for the past four years.
- ½ cup butter, softened
- ½ cup sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- ½ tsp almond extract
- 1⅔ cups all-purpose flour
- ¼ tsp baking powder
- Pinch salt
- ½ cups ground walnuts
- 5 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup ground walnuts
- ⅓ cup cornstarch
- 3 cups red currants
- In large bowl, beat butter with sugar until fluffy. Add egg yolk and almond extract, and stir until incorporated.
- In separate bowl, sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Stir into the butter mixture until soft crumbly dough forms. Press the dough onto bottom and halfway up the sides of an 8" springform pan, and sprinkle with the ½ cup of ground walnuts. Transfer to the refrigerator to chill for 30 minutes.
- Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375F.
- Once the dough is nearly done chilling, prepare the meringue. In a large clean bowl, beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Beat in sugar, 2 tbsp at a time until stiff glossy peaks form. Fold in 1 cup group walnuts. Remove 1 cup and set aside for topping.
- Sift cornstarch onto the remaining meringue, and fold in. Gently fold in the currants. Spoon into the prepared crust, smoothing into an even layer. Top with the reserved cup of meringue topping, and smooth out the top with a spatula.
- Bake the cake in preheated oven for 45 minutes, then cover loosely with foil and continue baking for another 35-40 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean and meringue topping is toasty brown.
- Let cool completely on a wire rack before removing the springform collar and cutting into slices. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream and fresh currants.
Kevin (Closet Cooking) says
That looks so good! I am always looking for ways to use currants.
Beautiful pictures! I just bought redcurrants yesterday as I am planning to bake a cake and the redcurrants will be part of the top-decoration. Your post is inspiring :D
The torte looks wonderful.
[email protected] says
What a lovely blog! The red currants are also beautiful - so bright and fresh. I will have to try out this dessert for sure. Thanks!
It's gorgeous, buzzing you!
I have never had (nor am I sure I've ever seen) a current, but I read your reply that said they were similar to cranberries and like tiny grapes. I love cranberries and hate grapes so Im not sure if I'd love or hate these. :D But I'd try a slice of this cake just to be sure. Your photographs make everything look so tasty.
Aimee @ clever muffin says
The colours in this look absolutely awesome! Though, I think you should of just pinched them off your neighbours!
Parsley Sage says
Oh, those currents look fabulous! Lovely torte, well done :) Buzzed!
Sasha @ The Procrastobaker says
I LOVE your description of this...cake/pudding/tart/pie deliciousness, its so intriguing! Red currants are so very lovely and used so little, this is a truly wonderful recipe and i adore your photos so very much. New to your blog i think, but will definitely be coming back regularly from now on :)
Nicole @ itsfeedingtimeatthezoo says
I don't think I've ever seen a recipe for a torte like this, but it's bringing back memories of my grandmother's old neighbour, who was German and used to bake for use a lot. It seems similar to what she would make. I'm going to have to give it a try!
I've only had red currants in jam/preserves. This torte is such a creative way to use them!
My mom used to have both red and black currants bushes and what I remember is jam. This torte takes it to a whole new level Isabelle.
This is one beautiful looking tart/torte whatever. Love the nutty meringue and fruit combination, unusual and worth hunting down some red currants for, wish me luck!!
My grandmother used to make the best currant jam (she had a mix of red and black currants). I remember when I used to go in Germany in the summer I'd eat them right off the bush as she had several..
My mom also has a bush and I use to pick them up but since I left, I'm not sure anyone bothers..
Seeing as we're practically family, your folks would be totally cool with me driving over there to pick some currants... right? :) (nevermind that the gas to get there and back is way more than $8 - it's the principle of the thing, dammit)
Those currants look beautiful! I'm kind of sad that I've never had them in their natural state. Great post. It is hilarious. I love the little voice in your head; it sounds a lot like the one I have, with its devilish suggestions.
I have never seen these in any store or market near by but I am definitely going to keep an eye out. I want to try this meringue! And I want to make jam with them. Hmm. I may just fly up and borrow a few from your neighbor :)
[email protected]'s Kitchen says
I've never had red currants in my life and to me, they look like cranberries here. They look so beautifully translucent in your photos and I imagine their tartness works really well against the sweetness of the meringue and crust. Spectacular torte!
The flavour reminds me a little of cranberries in terms of the sweet-and-sour quality, but the berries themselves are much smaller and more fragile than a cranberry... the closest comparison I can think of is a very small grape. You can substitute raspberries for the red currants, assuming those are easier to find where you are.
Adora's Box says
Red currants are so beautiful indeed. I have never cooked with them but had the odd one or two in fruit tarts. Such a lovely torte you've made. Love the meringue topping.
This looks fantastic! I don't think there would be ANY leftovers at our house! :)
Pretend Chef says
I've never tried red currants and am intrigued to do so now. This looks really delicious. I've love to try a slice of this.
That looks amazing! Love red currants and that meringue makes it so special and fancy!