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Dessert Tue Jul 17 2012

Ceci n'est pas un Birthday Cake

7588414786_73a20fb371.jpgIt was what would later be realized as a confusing typo that caught my eye as I read the Reader's Best of edition from earlier this summer, notably the award of "Best Lutheran Dessert." What was it? Streusel-coated lutefisk? Solemn rice pudding? My mind was blown away when I read who received the award: Garfield Ridge's Racine Bakery, for their Lithuanian (Napoleonas) Torte cake, a dessert with origins in Omaha, my hometown.

I loved this cake as a snotty kid (and later, a surly teenager); thin, soft layers of pastry couched between buttercream and apricot filling--similar in texture to a spongy cheesecake. I could always count on finding Lithuanian Torte Cake (a key product of the blandly named Lithuanian Bakery) at the upscale deli down the street, in a handful of restaurants, or at the catering events I had to work on the weekends. In a town that was known for big portions of familiar American fare, this cake stuck out as a distinctive homage to the city's ethnic diversity.

I was sure that somewhere in Chicago served it. For a city full of restaurants, stores and bakeries that can fulfill all food cravings and odd ingredient-seeking, you'd think I could easily find it, but I came up empty. I considered making the cake, and scoured the internet for an accurate recipe one boring afternoon at work, but it required far more labor than my small, counter-free kitchen could withstand. I made the deli a required visit every time I went back home, but my return visits have become rare to nonexistent.

Enter Racine Bakery and the Best-of issue of the Reader.

IMG_1327.jpgI called Racine and ordered the torte for my upcoming birthday. After a great birthday dinner with friends, I hauled it out of the fridge to serve it to the group; I even made a raspberry coulis in advance to play up the cake's apricot and lemon components. From the outside, it didn't look totally in line with what I knew to be a Lithuanian Torte Cake (pictured right, courtesy of Fat in Omaha), but I wasn't going to count it totally out--until I saw the center of the cake.

Dana Kapacinckas of Racine Bakery said it best in the Reader's coverage: "All recipes for [Lithuanian Torte Cake] are different." While what we ate was certainly tasty and a fine dessert, it was not an Omaha-style Lithuanian Torte Cake. Yes, I saw layers of thin pastry and apricot filling, and the cake was coated in the distinctive crumble, but its construction was way off. The Racine Bakery version reminded me of a lot of standard Polish bakery fare--not very sweet and heavy-handed with the frosting, versus the creamy, sugary density of the Lithuanian Bakery version. It sufficed, but was a disappointment, even for this avowed lover of all things cake. The remaining half of the torte was taken to work the next day and left in the office fridge for interested coworkers. I spent the day searching online for a cheap ticket to Omaha.

Racine Bakery's (6216 S Archer, 773-581-8500) Lithuanian Torte Cake runs $22 (8") to $34 (12"); Omaha's Lithuanian Bakery sells their torte cake through Omaha Steaks, Fresh from Nebraska, and its own store; call 800-798-5217 for details. The cake requires rush shipping to preserve ingredients; total cost is around $50 for the three-pound size.

 
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Dan Mackevicius / July 19, 2012 3:58 PM

Thanks, Robyn. Google Alerts pointed me to this blog post and I can say the Bakery appreciates your kind words. We realize that a city the size of Chicago probably SHOULD have something similar to our torte, but we also know that we're the only one of our kind in the country. We've looked longingly on the Chicago, trying to get more customers there, but because our advertising is of the word-of-mouth variety, we really haven't been able to crack that nut. Any positive words really helps out!

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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Drive-Thru is the food and drink section of Gapers Block, covering the city's vibrant dining, drinking and cooking scene. More...
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Editor: Robyn Nisi, rn@gapersblock.com
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