In recent years Alexander cake has seen a rebirth of popularity, garnering recognition in contests such as the annual Chicago Tribune Holiday Cookie Contest where Aelita Kivirist recently won an Honorable Mention with her version of the Latvian recipe. Dare I say it, but the torte is yet another case of a dispute in origin, just as the Estonian/Latvian Christmas tree debacle - the Finns also claim Alexander cake as their creation, their version called Alexanderbakelsen. The stories are remarkably similar; the czar of Russia, Alexander the First, visited the capital city Rīga/Helsinki somewhere around 1814/1818 when he was served this shortbread layered cookie/torte on his birthday, named in his honor. And although Wikipedia gives credit to the Latvians for Alexandertorte, the dessert also goes by the names Alexander Torte, Aleksander Torte, Aleksandra kūka and Aleksandra torte, so I’m not sure there’s any definitive answer. Meanwhile, Estonians have their version (Aleksandrikook), justifying its appearance today on Day 21 of the Baltic Christmas series, and I'll add that in Denmark it is known as hindbærsnitte, just to mix things up a bit… The truth of the matter will not be unearthed in this 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas post (surprise!); instead, Inga is sharing her recipe as baked by Holden’s Test Kitchen…
Most every Latvian femme au foyer has her own go-to Alexander Cake recipe, and they come with a variety of toppings and crusts. However, the key is in its simplicity; the torte is just two layers of crust sandwiching a layer of raspberry jam and topped with a lemon juice glaze. The tartness of the lemon juice provides a perfect contrast to the sweet shortbread, and although the layers can be tricky to size perfectly, the end result is cut into bars which helps hide any imperfections.
(For the cake)
FLOUR 2 cups
BAKING POWDER 1½ teaspoons
CINNAMON ½ teaspoon
SUGAR ¾ cup
UNSALTED BUTTER ½ cup
SALTED BUTTER ½ cup
(For the filling)
RASPBERRY JAM ½ - ¾ cup
(For the glaze)
LEMON JUICE from 2 lemons
POWDERED SUGAR 1 pound
1. Preheat the oven to 375°.
2. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and sugar.
3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg with a fork.
4. Cut all the butter in small pieces, add to the flour mixture. Using a pastry blender, cut the butter into the flour until crumbly.
5. Add the beaten egg to the flour and mix with a fork until blended. Form the dough into a ball, cover with plastic wrap, chill in the refrigerator about ½ hour.
6. Divide dough into three equal parts. Roll out each piece fairly thin onto a lightly greased cookie sheet. Poke a few holes with a fork (so the dough does not bubble off of the sheet as it is baking), and bake in the preheated oven about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.
7. When the cake sheets have cooled slightly, spread one with half the raspberry jam. Place second cake sheet on top of jam, and spread remaining jam.
8. Place third cake sheet on jam, and cover with glaze:
9. FOR THE GLAZE: Squeeze juice from the lemons. Add juice in small amounts, slowly, to the powdered sugar, constantly mixing it in, until the glaze is the “right” consistency.
10. When the torte has cooled completely*, cut it into small squares with a very sharp knife.
*This torte tastes best when allowed to stand a few hours or overnight, to let the flavors meld.
A special thank you to my mother for allowing me to share her recipe, and to Holden’s Test Kitchen for the photographs and another test-run! This is another one of those recipes that often finds itself on the holiday dessert table, because it can be made ahead, is relatively easy to put together, and provides wow-factor for the taste buds and in appearance. Whenever we make Aleksandra torte it always disappears off the plate – the kids and adults just can’t seem to get enough!
As we count down the final days to Christmas, I want to express my gratitude to all of our readers for helping make this year’s 24 Days of a Baltic Christmas series a success. Thank you for all of your comments, shares, likes and words of encouragement; that’s the driving force behind it all – to share our Baltic Christmas with the world…