By Ronnie Fein
(JTA) — During the High Holidays, I always make my family’s recipe for a dessert called turte, which is similar to Greek baklava. Rather than walnuts, however, it’s made with almonds and drenched with a thick sugar syrup instead of honey.
Turte is a specialty from the eastern part of Romania called Moldavia, where my grandparents were born, and is sometimes made with thin pancakes. My grandma made it with strudel dough.
I recall watching her make her own dough for this dish, as well as her fabulous potato strudel, laying the paper-thin dough across the entire kitchen table. I did that once — then switched to store-bought.
There was a time when I could find authentic strudel dough, but these days I use phyllo, which is not exactly the same (it’s thinner and more papery), but still absolutely fine. And it’s a whole lot easier.
This is such a wonderful treat, whatever your background. It’s sweet, crumbly and tender, and the fragrance of cinnamon is enchanting. The original recipe did not include orange peel, but I think it gives the cake a refreshing quality.
For the cake:
- ½ pound phyllo dough
- ½ pound melted butter
- Cookie or cake crumbs or ground nuts
- 1½ cups finely chopped almonds
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2-3 teaspoons freshly grated orange peel
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
For the syrup:
- ¾ cup sugar
- ¾ cup water
- 1 teaspoon orange flower water or 2 tablespoons orange-flavored brandy or ½ teaspoon orange extract
- Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Layer half the phyllo dough in a 9-inch square baking pan (or use a 9×13-inch pan), brushing with half the melted butter and scattering crumbs between layers.
- In a bowl, combine the chopped almonds, 2 tablespoons sugar, orange peel, cinnamon and nutmeg. Place the nut mixture over the layers of dough.
- Cover the nut mixture with the remaining phyllo leaves, separating them as above with melted butter and crumbs.
- Brush the top layer with the last of the melted butter. Score the dough with the tip of a sharp knife into squares or rectangles.
- Bake for 30 minutes. Raise heat to 400 degrees and bake for another 15-20 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. Remove from the oven and set aside.
- Make the syrup: Combine the ¾ cup sugar and the water in a saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring only until sugar dissolves. Cook at a boil for a few minutes until the liquid has thickened, but do not let it become caramel-colored.
- Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the orange flavoring. Pour the syrup over the warm cake.
- Let the cake cool and cut it into pieces where you have scored the top. Makes 8-12 servings.