Made with chopped cashews and graham cracker crumbs, complete with a dense mouthfeel reminiscent of carrot cake, this torte is spectacularly unique and one of my very favorites, especially for celebrating Easter and welcoming in spring.
The funny thing is I never knew exactly what made this dessert a torte — not when I tried it for the first time and not even once I began making it pretty much regularly over 15 years ago after having it at a gathering with my husband’s family in Monteagle, Tenn.
Judging by their responses when tasting it, I don’t think a lot of the people to whom I’ve served it over the years have known exactly what made it a torte, either. “What’s it called again?”
But one thing is for sure: People love it.
Prior to falling in love with this torte, my only experience with tortes was in restaurants. Not only did I not know what a torte was exactly, but I also wasn’t sure if it was pronounced “tor-tah” or “tort” based on the spelling. I just skipped it.
Allow me to humbly tell you all that I now know exactly what makes a torte a torte: It’s a type of cake made without flour, though it’s not necessarily gluten-free. Typically dense and multilayered, it’s made with crumbs or ground nuts along with cream, jam or fruit. It’s of European origin, denser than a cake and oftentimes made in a springform pan. Throughout America, it’s typically pronounced as “tort” and elsewhere as “tor-tah.”
Despite being requested numerous times a year, not one person in my family has ever referred to this dessert by its actual name. My husband asks when I’m going to make “that thing that tastes like a carrot cake — only not as sweet — that I like so much.” My good friend, who now makes this every year as part of her family’s Easter lunch, generally tells me she’s making “that funky coconut pie thing of yours.”
I feel like I’m painting all of us — my immediate family, my friends and me — as ignorant rubes, but I don’t think any of us are. None of us grew up with tortes; they weren’t in any of our moms’ repertoires. Plus, the word torte just doesn’t roll off our tongues. It sounds like something that would be hard to make and possibly taste too fancy for the kids at the table.
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However, this coconut torte is unpretentious and simple. The flavor is unmistakably coconut (hence the name), but the other ingredients harmonize handsomely.
The base is made of egg whites beaten to stiff peaks to which chopped cashews, graham cracker crumbs and coconut are added. It’s baked low and slow, given time to cool, then topped with fresh whipped cream sweetened with coconut and lemon zest. It’s also dizzyingly delicious.
I know you’re going to love this coconut torte. Everyone does!
- 1 cup graham cracker crumbs
- 3/4 cup “snowflake” coconut (sweetened or unsweetened both work), divided
- 1/2 cup chopped dry roasted, salted cashews
- Pinch of salt
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
Combine and set aside the graham cracker crumbs, 1/2 cup coconut and cashews.
With a pinch of salt, whip the egg whites to stiff peaks, gradually add the granulated sugar and beat again to stiff peaks.
Add the vanilla, then fold in the graham cracker mixture.
Pour into a 9-inch baking pan or use a springform pan, and bake 45 to 50 minutes until lightly golden.
Whip the cream, adding the powdered sugar, lemon zest and remaining coconut. Spread over the torte.
Cut into pie slices to serve.
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