For the last three years, my mother has been living in a little cottage in Kula, Maui on a beautiful property planted with mango, loquat, natal plum, macadamia nut, avocado, kukui nut and guava trees. While visiting my mother recently, my husband became excited about cracking open the macadamia nuts from the yard and making macadamia nut butter. It turns out that shelling macadamia nuts is pretty difficult task. They have both a husk and a hard shell which must be removed. Perhaps this is part of why they are so very expensive to buy at the store? Chris was not daunted, and over a period of a few days produced a few cups of shelled macadamia nuts. It turns out that you can make macadamia nut butter if you process them in very small batches in the blender and it is really good to dip chocolate into. Before getting to the butter stage though the nuts made a nice flour and I got excited about using the nuts to make macaroons. Then I got excited about making jam from the loquats, guavas and natal plums that were ripe in the yard. I wanted to make a Kula backyard torte for Easter tea!
A torte is a fancy layer cake filled with jam and or cream. Tortes are usually very meticuloulsy iced and decorated, but as I have mentioned before that sort of thing is not my strong suit. I made big macaroons for the cake layers out of nothing but egg whites, sugar, ground nuts from the yard and a bit of vanilla extract. I made jam from just sugar, water and fruit from the yard. I layered it all up and topped it with some barely sweetened whip cream. If you have fruit and nuts of any kind growing in your backyard I strongly encourage you to try making a backyard torte. It is a very satisfying project.
The cake or macaroon layers for a torte are usually made with ground almonds or hazelnuts, but the macadamia nuts worked just fine and I am certain that walnuts would work as well if you grow any of these nuts in your yard. These macadamia nut macaroons were so very delicious, that it is very likely that I will spend way too much money buying macadamia nuts in the near future to make them again.
This sort of torte would be just as amazing filled with blackberry, plum, peach, apricot, cherry or pear jam. Whatever grows in your area will work! If I were going to make this torte again, I would make it with just guava jam (pictured above on the right). In addition to being gorgeous, the guava jam has sweet, tart and classic tropical flavour that complimented the macadamia macaroons very well. The loquat jam is pictured center. Loquats are a sometimes called Chinese plum (my mother used to give me loquat syrup form Chinatown for coughs as a child). The jam tasted to me like very sweet conserve of peaches and dates. It was really good on toasted gluten-free whole grain bread with salted butter, but I found it too sweet in this dessert. Natal plums are a very beautiful plant from South Africa, with strongly perfumed white blossoms and lovely reddish-purple fruit. They are in the Oleander family which means every part of this plant except for the fruit is deadly poisonous. When raw, the natal plum fruit has lots of white fruit silicone in it which is a bit off-putting. However, jam made from this fruit has an amazing blackberry flavour with a hint of smoke that I would love to pair with duck or pork chops.
So, here is a record of the process that we used to make our backyard torte. Please use the process to make your own backyard tortes wherever you may live!
The picture above shows all of the fruit that we used plus a small handful of mulberries which did not make into the torte because they are very delicious raw. Only a few of the Macadamia are pictured. A person has to hull and crack many, many Macadamia to get 2 and 1/2 cups of raw nuts! Whatever fruit you are harvesting, you will need enough to make about 3 half pint jars. This will leave you with some leftover jam, but that is not the worst thing in the world. We used about 4 guavas…
10 natal plums…
STEP 2- MAKE JAM
This step should be done the day before you make your torte. The jam has to be totally cool before you assemble everything. Again, use whatever fruit you have, but just in case you happen to have guava, natal plum and loquats in your yard, here are some recipes!
Guava jam is really easy and fast to make! The important thing is to use one slightly under-ripe fruit for every two or three very ripe fruits. The under ripe ones have the pectin to thicken the jam up.
- The pulp scooped out of 1 under ripe guava
- The pulp scooped out of 3 perfectly ripe guavas
- Enough sugar to equal the pulp measured by volume
Throw the ingredients into a pot and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer for 10-20 minutes, stirring frequently until the jam thickens up.
directions adapted from this blog post
- 2 cups loquats
- 1 cup sugar (maybe less?)
- Cut the fat end with the little green belly button of each fruit. This will reveal the seeds inside. Pop the seeds out by squeezing the fruit.
- Measure the seeded fruit by volume (I had two cups) and put them in a pot with half as much sugar (I used one cup). If I were going to do it again, though I would have added a little less sugar, since loquats are plenty sweet. Add enough water to cover the fruit, bring it to a boil and simmer them for a LONG time (maybe an hour). Add more water occasionally after the sugar starts to turn to amber syrup.
- After about an hour, I was amazed that the fruit was just barely starting to break down. Loquats are tough! In the end they finally softened and split, but were still whole, so I let the whole thing cool a bit and gave it a whir in the blender.
NATAL PLUM JAM
directions adapted from this blog post
- 10-12 natal plums
- 2 cups water
- 1 and 1/2 cups sugar
- Slice each plum in half lengthwise and remove the seeds. Place the seeded fruit in a steamer above the cups of water. Cover the pot and bring to a boil. Steam the fruit until it is tender (10-12 minutes).
- Discard all but 1 cup of the steaming water (it will have beautiful purple-red color). Dissolve the sugar into the 1 cup of steaming water over low heat. When a syrup begins to form, add the steamed natal plums.
- Raise the heat and cook it until it begins to thicken. This happens quickly!
STEP 3- MAKE THE NUT MACAROON LAYERS
adapted from the smitten kitchen
- Oil or butter for greasing parchment rounds
- 2 and 1/2 cups macadamia nuts (or whatever nuts you grow), toasted
- a pinch of sea salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 6 large egg whites (3/4 cup)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Position oven racks in the top and lower thirds of oven and heat oven to 325°F. Outline four 8-inch circles on individual pieces of parchment paper. Turn each sheet of parchment over so your ink or pencil lines don’t seep into the macaroon, and very lightly coat each circle with oil or butter. If your oven is large enough to accommodate all flour of these circles on baking sheets, great. My mother’s oven is not that large, so I had to divide make two half batches one after the other. Egg whites do not like to sit around after they have been whipped so I made one batch from start to finish and then the second batch.
- Place the nuts, 1 cup sugar and salt in a food processor and blend until finely ground. If you are making the recipe in two batches, divide your nut mixture in half.
- Using electric mixer, beat egg whites (only half of them if you are doing it in two batches) in a large, dry bowl with clean beaters (or a whisk attachment) until soft peaks form. Drizzle in vanilla extract and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold nut mixture (or half of it) into egg whites in 1/3 increments. Spread 1/4 of macaroon batter evenly within each circle, filling completely (or 1/2 of the batter if you are dividing the recipe).
- Bake macaroon layers until golden and dry to the touch (20 to 23 minutes). Cool macaroons on their sheets on a cooling rack. You can speed this along by placing them for five minutes each in your freezer.
If you are doing the recipe in two batches repeat steps 3 and 4 with your remaining ingredients.
STEP 4- MAKE WHIPPED CREAM FOR THE TOP
- 3/4 cup chilled heavy or whipping cream
- 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Just before you are ready to assemble the torte, whip the cream with the sugar and vanilla extract until it holds stiff peaks.
STEP 5- ASSEMBLE THE TORTE
Arrange all of your cooled macaroons, jams, whipping cream and some sort of serving platter (or block of wood in our case). Peel the parchment off the back of each macaroon round. Arrange your first disc on the platter and slather it with of the jams. We used 1/4 pint of loquat jam.
Place the next macaroon on top and slather it with the next jam. We used not quite a whole 1/2 pint of guava jam.
Place the next macaroon on top and slather it with the next jam. We used a 1/2 pint of natal plum jam.
Place the final macaroon on top. It does not matter if it is ugly because you are going to op it with a generous mound of whipped cream, sprinkle it with nuts and eat it!