Jacob Schor, ND, FABNO
DenverNaturopathic.com and DenverNaturopathicOncology.com
December 6, 2018
A decade or so back we began to serve Linzer Torte as part of our Chanukah menu. The habit may have begun with Costco stocking raspberry jam on their shelves this time of year at a price that was hard to refuse and in quantities that one could never finish by eating an occasional dab on toast. Baking Linzer torte was the only conceivable way to finish the jar. These jam-filled cakes get their name from the city of Linz where it is claimed that they originated.
Linz is in northwestern Austria. The Romans founded the town in that once upon a time era, back a long time ago when dates all merge together. The Romans called the place Lentia. At some point the name changed; use of the name Linz was first recorded in 799 AD. That is still a long time ago. We need to go back this far though as the cake has rather ancient origins. The city straddles the Danube River between Vienna and Salzburg and has become a place of a cultural importance being named a European Capital of Culture in 2009.
The recipe for Linzer torte is claimed to be the oldest cake recipe in the world. One document supporting this notion dates to 1653. The library of the Upper Austrian Provincial Museum has a collection of handwritten cookbooks and more than a hundred recipes for Linzer Torte that date from this 1653 version to the 20th century. [i]
As Linz sat amid the ancient trading crossroads we see diverse ingredients that clearly do not originate in Austria, which must have come along numerous early trade routes. Cinnamon must have come from the Far East, lemon from somewhere far to the south. The only local ingredients in the recipes may have been the fruit preserves and nuts. As mentioned in other newsletters, affordable sugar was not available until the mid-1600s and perhaps this triggered the sudden interest in sweet pastries. Raspberries have a history that might be worth dwelling on for a moment. While the plants are thought to be native to Asia, scientists tell us the red raspberry plants were probably carried to North America by the first populations that crossed the Bering Strait via that land bridge way, way, way back. The idea of these early peoples carrying raspberry plants with them into the New World brings back the story of Adam and Eve leaving the Garden…. Did they bring raspberry seedlings with them as well? Black raspberries were however native to North America. I suppose your choice of jam filling may now be used to subtly state your personal views on migrant populations. Black raspberry would be the true nativist’s choice. One can imagine some early Linzer torte could have originated thousands and thousands of years earlier somewhere that we later would call the Yukon Territories. Of course, then we have to consider the origin of nuts and what nut flours might have been available.
Raspberries are curious foods and there are several things worth mentioning about them. They contain certain chemicals that we might consider as anti-nutritional factors that they produce curious effects on health. A paper published this past October (2018) reminds us that raspberries interfere with digestion, inhibiting among other things the enzyme amylase that breaks down starch. [ii] Eating too many, especially uncooked will hasten bowel transit time. This business about hindering amylase action has been reported before. If I remember correctly I wrote about this four years ago in the Natural Medicine Journal.
As a result of this anti-enzyme action eating raspberries interferes with starch digestion lowering the resultant jump in the eater’s blood sugar levels. Bottom line is that putting raspberry jam on your toast made it better for diabetics to eat than plain toast. Last summer my good colleague Mark Davis and I wrote about a Chinese study on using anti-amylase enzymes to treat type-2 diabetes in a special issue of NMJ.
It is now believed that in type 2 diabetes, where the body no longer responds as it should to insulin, is controlled, at least in part, by the gut microbiome, the bacteria that are living in the large intestine. (pause, and consider how weird that is). Blocking starch digestion, that’s what anti-amylase action of raspberry translates into, increases the amount of food that reaches these gut bacteria, stimulating their growth and shifts their impact on blood sugar in the body. Now, no one has yet run a study feeding diabetics Linzer torte hoping for a beneficial effect, but still, this is a good rationale for baking something that most people would not think healthy.
Of course, raspberries are a prime source for ellagic acid and we have long been excited about this chemical’s potential in controlling cancer.
This excitement has not calmed: a new Italian review published in November 2018, “Experimental Evidence of the Antitumor, Antimetastatic and Antiangiogenic Activity of Ellagic Acid” adds additional weight to the idea that eating raspberries is a good idea. The paper notes that oral ellagic acid is being tested “… as supportive therapy to standard chemotherapy has been recently evaluated in small clinical studies with colorectal or prostate cancer patients.” [iii] Ellagic acid…. Think Linzer torte.
Need I write anything about nuts? We have reviewed nut data so many times in recent years, any mention that eating nuts is good for you should be getting tedious. You can find links here: https://www.naturalmedicinejournal.com/search/node/nuts
For the sake of being current with the science though, the least we can do is mention de Souza’s 2017 review, “Nuts and Human Health Outcomes:” [iv] and point out that you can read the full text here:
If we had the patience, or shall we admit if our readers had the patience, we could also mention the interesting chemical limonene found in the lemon zest in this recipe as its potential as an anticancer agent is increasingly exciting. The title of a paper set for publication at the end of this month kind of sums this up: “Biochemical significance of limonene and its metabolites: future prospects for designing and developing highly potent anticancer drugs.” [v] Granted the amount of lemon zest in this recipe won’t cure cancer, but on the same hand, it’s not going to hurt anyone, and it might help a little.
The idea that cinnamon may improve diabetes is also common knowledge these days; no reason really to go into further detail. Still, just to refresh your memory, a short piece by the good Dr. Mona Morstein is here:
There is one other detail that is worth mention about Linzer torte, relevant to my creating a tradition of baking and eating it as part of our Chanukah celebration. Adolph Hitler grew up in Linze. My cultural appropriation of Linz’s longstanding tradition and taking pleasure in eating a symbol of Hitler’s childhood is in its way like Chanukah itself, a statement and celebration of survival.
At this point, let me write down a recipe for today’s baking.
¾ cup whole hazelnuts ground
¾ cup whole almonds ground
1 1/2 cups white flour
14 tablespoons butter, that’s 7 ounces. Why not round it up to 8? an even two sticks? Because the oil starts to leak out of the pan. It may even do so with just 7 ounces so keep an eye out and put a pan in the oven to catch any drips before the smoke alarms go off. [This should seem like an insane amount of butter to anyone who ever bakes. In comparison, the same amount of flour in pie dough calls for half this quantity. The butter will ooze out of the dough as you handle it. All the recipes seem to use this ratio. I assume this is the Austrian national ego on display here; no one is willing to admit they use less butter than their neighbor does and the quantity just went up and up over the generations.]
½ to 2/3 cup sugar
Zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg, plus 1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
Make the dough, obviously, you have to grind the nuts in a food processor. If that is too much effort, just buy pre-ground almond flour. Other types of nuts will also work, walnuts in particular. If using walnuts adding a bit of cocoa powder is particularly scrumptious. Is chocolate good for you? You bet…..
Divide the dough into two pieces. Refrigerate them while you do something else. The dough will be sticky and oily, a nuisance to work with. Use plastic wrap to help roll out the bottom and use the dough to line a springform pan. Add the raspberry jam filling and top with lattice strips. Try to remember to mix some flour with the jam so it will set up. Try warming the jam a bit either in a saucepan or microwave so you can mix in the flour. Cornstarch would probably work as well. The easiest way to make these strips is to roll out snake-like worms of dough and weave them across the top. Weaving isn’t the correct term as the strips will kind of melt together during baking so you can skip the over-under business, it won’t show on the finished cake. You can hide any sloppiness by shaking confectioners sugar on top of the cake before serving.
The filling is easy: Use lots of raspberry jam. If added plain it will be runny, so mix in some flour with it, maybe a quarter cup so that the jam sets up when baked.
Baking temperature: 350 F
[ii] Grochowski DM, Uysal S, Zengin G, Tomczyk M. In vitro antioxidant and enzyme inhibitory properties of Rubus caesius L. Int J Environ Health Res. 2018 Oct 12:1-9.
[iii] Ceci C, Lacal PM, Tentori L, De Martino MG, Miano R, Graziani G. Experimental Evidence of the Antitumor, Antimetastatic and Antiangiogenic Activity of Ellagic Acid. Nutrients. 2018 Nov 14;10(11). pii: E1756.
[iv] de Souza RGM, Schincaglia RM, Pimentel GD, Mota JF. Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients. 2017 Dec 2;9(12). pii: E1311.
[v] Mukhtar YM, Adu-Frimpong M, Xu X, Yu J. Biochemical significance of limonene and its metabolites: future prospects for designing and developing highly potent anticancer drugs. Biosci Rep. 2018 Nov 13;38(6). pii: BSR20181253.