Fond Memories Preserved by Recipes

Over the past two years, two great friends who were also terrific cooks have passed away. Both were splendid European ladies who never met, but they were both survivors of bleak times in their home countries who found love and happiness in the United States. As it happens, both shared their recipes for almond cakes with us and so I’m delighted to post them here as a tribute to them.

Josette Grossberg

Josette Grossberg

Josette Grossberg was born in La Rochelle in France, a city with a turbulent history in the 17th century, as well as under the Nazis. She met her husband Sydney while studying at Duke University and came to live in Milwaukee where it was my privilege to meet them. Many amazing dinners were had in their apartment with its view of the fantastic Calatrava Art Museum perched on the shore of Lake Michigan. Aside from a lovely Bûche de Noël made with two of my favourite things, chocolate and chestnut purée, one desert I loved was her almond cake. Here is her recipe just as she wrote it down for me:

Josette Grossberg’s Almond Cake

Oven at 350 degrees. Use a square Pyrex pan (9/9). It is easier to line it with foil paper and butter it well; it then comes out easily.

Use sugar a little less than 330g. except if you like it very sweet. Blend with it 330g. of blanched almonds to have it as a powder ….add a cap of almond extract (1/4 teaspoon). Then six egg whites well beaten that you mix then by hand add carefully to the sugar almond mixture. It takes about 40 mins to be ready. One has to check with a knife. It is better if not overcooked but the top must look a nice brownish colour.

When cold put a little confectioners’ sugar to powder it all.

Earlier this year, another friend also passed away. She was Fritzi Schoen, who with her husband Ed lived in Point Richmond not far from the park that celebrates Rosie the Riveter. Fritzi was born in Vienna and managed to escape to America before the Second War. Dining with her and Ed was quite a formal affair: place cards on the table, the best silver & glassware, and many, many courses. However, the atmosphere was anything but formal: lots of laughter, stories, and toasts to Fritzi’s amazing food. Each dinner must have taken days to prepare and we always looked forward to every one. (Fritzi’s recipe for Kaiserschnitzel is also on this blog.)

Fritzi Schoen

Fritzi Schoen

About six weeks ago, we invited her to dinner but sadly she was too frail to come. She did however send us an almond torte that she had made. Of course, it was delicious and here is the recipe preserved by our friend Michèle Stone:

Fritzi Schoen’s Almond Tart

Pastry: 1 cup flour – 1 stick unsalted butter or marg –
2 to 3 tbsps. powdered sugar – a few drops of vanilla extract

With pastry cutter mix well until dough forms a ball – press into a tart pan with removable bottom. Pierce crust with fork & bake at 375-400 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.

Filling: 3/4 cup sugar – 1 stick unsalted butter or margarine. – 2 tbsp. honey
1/2 cup heavy cream, 1/4/ tsp. almond extract –
10 to 12 to oz. sliced lightly roasted almonds – 1 or 2 tbsp. Grand Marnier

In a medium size pot cook sugar, butter & honey over low heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Increase heat to medium until sugar is golden brown, about 3 min. Remove from heat, stir in cream (mixture will bubble). Return to heat & stir until well blended. Mix in nuts, Grand Marnier & almond extract. Let stand for 10 min. & gently ladle into crust. Bake at 375 until filling bubbles about 20 min. Cool tart. Can be prepared a day ahead. Cover with plastic wrap & let stand at room temp.

About a week later, Fritzi passed away. She is much missed.

These two remarkable women truly enriched our lives and we feel so fortunate to have known them both. Also, besides our happy memories, we are so lucky to have their recipes that help us recall the good times we spent together, so often around the dinner table.

Nicholas McGegan