Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Frankopanska Torta

Among the multitude of unwelcome tourists that have travelled to, through, and over what is modern-day Croatia were the Austrians and Hungarians. Titled as lords, dukes, and counts, they usually repeated the standard ritual of pre-1950 era history in that part of Europe with your usual pillaging, raping, taxing, and other forms of behaviour guaranteed not to get them invited for a return visit. The Frankopans were a Croatian-Dalmatian family that came to power when Croatia (at least in its form at that time) joined the Kingdom of Hungary somewhere in the 1100-1530's to try to protect itself from other "outside interests". This was about the time when the Ottomans were interested in "vacationing" in Dalmatia and "exporting" Turkish coffee to the Balkans. No Bienvenue, Welcommen, Welcome for this lot. Traveling through the country, vestiges of pillages are still evident along with your token statuary or monument.

One such item still evident comes in an edible form.
The dreaded Frankopanska Torta.
It is not like our comparative holiday fruit cake, as it is quite tasty and addictive.
It is like our holiday fruit cake as it has the weight possible only when baking with ingredients culled from the lower right hand column of the Periodic Table. I believe 2/3 of the Frankopanska torta is made from Lawrencium, with the highest atomic mass of 262.0. With each successive bite of the torta, I felt the steel tubing of my chairs slowly buckle.
Why it wasn't classified as a weapon of mass desturction, at least in those old days, is beyond me. Perhaps something with 3 inches of schlagge poured on it disqualifies it as a weapon of any sorts. Having been attacked (well...self-attacked as I personally aimed and loaded the cake in the general direction of my full-tilt open mouth) by this gastronomic bomba, I type here with the hazy memories of a sugar high still plucking at the back of my tongue.
How do you describe a cake that has you hallucinating (and I know cannabis was not baked in; it isn't on the Periodic Table)?

My ever-loving wife and one of my cousins who accompanied me on this cake journey insist it had everything to do with timing. Eating this dessert beast in mid-morning was asking for trouble. I’m not so sure, writing this a week after the event. But, I’ll go along with their take on things, as morning behaviour, especially during vacation, is always difficult to explain.
You’re relaxing.
You’re recovering from a previous day that had ended most certainly in a manner due to some morning behaviour on that day which you’re still trying to comprehend. Talked me into diving from a cliff, jack-knife, if you please, with sunglasses on because that’s the “cool” way to make your water entry? That doesn’t sound right now, now being 6:00 pm, well 18:00 really. At 7:00, well 07:00, yesterday? Good plan, that.
Now, if only I can find my sunglasses and a band-aid to stave off the gushing blood on the bridge of my nose, I’d be a content kind of guy.

But today brings more “rosy fingers of Dawn”, each delectable digit pointing out possibilities that will be unavailable as soon as we’re back stateside. Sleep is as much of an option as possible; my bed back in Delaware will welcome me with open linens as soon as I’m back. Here, sleep is a minor necessity; a mistress best left alone before she envelops me in 8 hours of dreams. This morning’s finger is coated with whipped cream; Schlagge, if you don’t mind. "Mit Schlagge" is a battle cry I shout out at every dining opportunity here. The cows in the field that we’ve passed during our journey inland had all seemed content and smiling. The war’s been over for about 10 years and, save for an occasional errant step on a, as still, undetected mine, the bovine life is a good life. Roaming the grass covered fields, jamming up summer traffic as you go from field to field, grabbing some shade under the plum or pear trees. Perhaps even a lick of the home-brewed plum brandy from the stills parked by the shaded side of the barn. The cows are happy. The milk is sweet and full. The Schlagge is divine.

How is this torta constructed? Like a fortress. The outer defenses, Schlagge on all sides and then dolloped to a fare-thee-well on top, is intended to stop the amateur eater. Having filled themselves with the outer layer of whipped cream, their eyes glaze over with the remnants of the vanilla sugar and they slowly slink down their seats until the wait-help can prop them up and escort them to a park bench.
The expert dessert eater approaches well-armed. Teaspoon in the left hand, razor sharp-sided fork in another. Bringing a knife into the fray only causes unnecessary Schlagge-shed. With the teaspoon (and an additional plate if the plate the cake fortress sits on is inadequately small), you carefully scrape off most (BUT NOT ALL) of the Schlagge to the side. This is your dessert dipping area. You leave enough of the cream to allow the torta, when sliced with your razor sharp-sided fork, to slide down your throat. The cake is two distinct layers of wafer thin enclosures containing date paste, hazelnut cream, some raisins, and another smooth pasty sauce. On top of these two layers is a sugar wafer marzipan type of cake, which shields the wafer cake concoction from the Schlagge. It’s like a tasty U.N. force, only much more effective and pleasant. You slice the cake and sugar wafer into a swallowable piece. You dip it into your Schlagge pile. You open up your mouth and slowly pass your fork past your teeth. Then slowly, oh soooo slowly, you close your mouth and begin the chewing process. If Schlagge passes between your teeth as you close, no worry. That is considered acceptable Frankopanska Torta eating behaviour. Some folks have been known to dismiss chewing as barbarian; they simply close their mouths and let the torta melt into a sauce mélange that slowly winds its way to the gastronomic juices area. This method, while highly admired, poses a problem to the restaurant as lingering past 3-4 hours over a slice of Frankopanska is taken as evidence of poor parenting skills.

If one is to eat a slice of Frankopanska in the morning, one should also be sure to block off some recovery time. That was our mistake. Soon after finishing, we all rushed off. My cousin and his spouse jumped in their car and drove to the market. A bad thing. One should never jostle a Frankopanska in their stomach, at least for an hour or two. He had troubles for the balance of the day.
Frankopanska’s revenge.
My ever-loving wife and I also had plans. They were of the pedestrian sort. We lifted ourselves with great difficulty from our chairs. This was not helped by the appearance (at least to ourselves) that the chairs had gotten shorter since our arrival. Like early-morning drunks, we s-curved down the promenade, our speed decreasing with every step. An empty park bench beckoned. We slumped, my hat fell off, landing top down besides the bench. We drifted off to sleep, on wings of Schlagge and hazlenut cream. When we awoke, my upturned hat let us know we were 15 kuna (about $2.50) richer.
10 more kuna and we could buy a slice of Frankopanska!
Pardon me while I zzzzz off.


That's a terrific portrait you've found there. It reminds me of Brian Blessed - he of the perpetual SHOUTING - in a movie called "The Hidden Garden" or "the Secret Valley" or somesuch. Written by James Clavell, I recall, and concerning the Thirty Years War. If I remember correctly Brian gets his comeuppance from an evil Michael Caine, who stabs him in the gut with the pointy-end of a Kaiser helmet.

"...don't frow... that bloody hat... at me."
Surely it's Frangooble from Lord of the rings awkwardly miscast in 101 Dalmatians
Darko, You are truly the Peter Mayle of Croatia. I can't tell you (well, I can, but it's a figure of speech) how much I've enjoyed reading your reminiscences. Let's hope your employer doesn't start to begrudge your blogging time.
What? No photo of the Swimmer? And a swimmer in cool shades?

After all that sumptuous torte description, are you going to tell me that NO WHERE in the whole new knighted states is there a similar treat to be found?

Really good post.

Fcb & Stephenesque: It's a great illustration, done by a Zagreb born illustrator, Zvonimir Grbasisc. His site is

Mr. Tunes: I blush. I point my head down and twist my toe in the dirt. Thank you. No need for employer worry; all written legit on breaktime.

Ms. Pattie: Pics soon to be posted as soon as I get scanning process learned and done. Unfortunately that swimmer in the cool shades has been conducting the storming of the Frankopanska torta campaign for far too long. Even DuPont's miracle fabrics could not contain the spillages of (cake) war. I may substitute a fellow Croatian, a body-double for imaginative purposes.
bloody marvelous all around! Frankopanska torta sounds like something Americans should not eat on any regular basis!
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