Grow your own ground cherries for a rustic Chocolate Almond Torte
Cape gooseberries, ground cherries, husk tomatoes–whatever you call them, were always a childhood favorite. They’re one of those delightful garden secrets, tart-sweet juicy bits of happiness to be discovered inside paper lanterns hanging about on garden bushes which one could eat without the need to wait and wash. Imagine! If the garden was an unending treasure hunt, these were golden clues lighting the way.
Physalis philadelphica, they’re called botanically. Physalis is a genus of flowering plants in the nightshade family, related to the tomatillo–which explains the husk. (More on nightshades forthcoming in my series on common Tamil greens, as another common relative of the ground cherry is the black nightshade, Solanum nigrum or மணத்தக்காளி/manathakkali as it’s known in Tamil).
We discovered green varieties blown in on passing breezes here in our garden, but the glowing golden ones were what we wanted. It took a visit to Johannesburg to find the fresh fruit (though we’d find them later in Chiang Mai markets as well).
Cape gooseberries, as they’re known there, are highly perishable, so our first order of business was consumption. Their slight tartness pairs well with rich, dark chocolate; their juicy bite complements the nutty texture of a torte.
Having had our cake, however, brought us to the edge of existential crisis: what’s a chocolate almond torte without a ground cherry topper? Luckily, the quick disintegration of the husked ground cherry left us with a handful of spoiling fruit–which became then the source of our genetic material. Otherwise put, we saved seeds simply by smearing half the remaining (spoiling) fruit on paper towels and leaving those out to dry, and sticking what remained of the ground cherries in the ..er, ground. I’m not certain how long the dry seeds remain viable, but I’ll not be waiting beyond the coming season to plant them (with the paper, cut into bits to space out) in the ground.
Ground cherries grow easily, almost without care; they’re the ultimate no-fuss plant, happy just with some reasonably nourished soil, a space to spread, and water.
We had seedlings before long, and then these unassumingly beautiful little flowers:
Soon, our bush was covered with little green lanterns..
And happily spread its way around to dominate one rather large bed in my suddenly rather small-seeming kitchen garden..
But I didn’t mind. In these few months were contained the nostalgia for so much of my childhood, all those hours after-homework and before-dinner spent finding little edible treats, perfectly packaged and good to go, in secret garden corners.
It was hard enough waiting for the lanterns to light up–that is, for the green husks to dry and turn gold, a sign that the fruit inside was ripe and ready.
And then there they were…
Ground cherries keep a lot better and longer in their husks, so don’t do like the South Africans and husk these babies to store. Fruit we bought from Chiang Mai market lasted weeks in the refrigerator; from Johannesburg I was lucky if the husked fruit reached home without putrefying. But all good things have a de-finite life, so it’s best you get on with it — eat them in the garden, or get ready quick! to make this cake.
Really, you’re still waiting??
Oh, right, you need the recipe. So here it is. Happy growing, happy baking, happy garnishing. Life is just happier with ground cherries around.
- 6 large eggs, at room temperature
- ¼ tsp. cream of tartar
- 1 cup almonds
- ¼ cup unseasoned bread crumbs (make your own by toasting bread to a crisp and pulsing in a food processor)
- ¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 tablespoons all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 2/3 cups sugar
- Cape gooseberries or ground cherries to garnish
- 8 oz or about 1 1/3 cup of semi-sweet chocolate (chopped into bits) or chocolate chips
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- Prep work
- Prepare cake layers: Grease three 9-inch round baking pans. Use two if you don't have a third. Line the bottoms with rounds of waxed or parchment paper, and grease and flour the paper.
- Preheat oven to 180C/350F.
- Get the torte batter ready
- Place almonds in a food processor and pulse a few times until crumbly. Add the bread crumbs, cocoa powder, flour, baking powder, and baking soda and pulse again until well mixed. Set aside.
- Separate eggs, placing whites in large bowl with cream of tartar and yolks in small bowl.
- With an electric mixer on high speed, beat egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in 1/3 cup sugar until stiff peaks form. Set beaten whites aside.
- With the same beaters (no need to wash) and with mixer on high, beat egg yolks with remaining 1/3 cup sugar until thick and pale yellow (5-8 minutes).
- With rubber spatula, fold the nut mixture into beaten yolks.
- Fold about 1 cup of the beaten egg whites into nut-yolk mixture to lighten it, then fold in the remaining egg whites gently just until no streaks of white remain. Divide batter among prepared pans, spreading evenly.
- Bake cake layers 15-20 minutes or until center springs back when gently touched with your fingertip. Cool layers in pans on wire racks 5 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the edges to loosen layers from side of pan and invert onto wire racks, peel off and discard paper. Cool layers completely on wire racks.
- Bring cream to a simmer (not boil!)
- Add in the chocolate chips, and mix to melt.
- Then whisk until smooth. Let this sit for a few minutes to set before you use it. If you live in a very hot climate (as do I), you may need to refrigerate to speed up this process.
- Assemble your torte
- To assemble torte, place one cake layer on serving plate. Spread with a few spoons of the ganache. Don't worry if it's not a very thick layer-- this is a torte, not a cake!
- Place another layer on top and repeat. Place last layer on top, cover cake layers with remaining ganache.
- And garnish liberally with cape gooseberries or ground cherries, as you call them.