Z is the LifeIt’s bad enough that I’m behind in my blogging. Here’s what really hurts: I’m behind in my cake making! When I wrote my post about 10 cakes to bake in 2010 I thought it would be a cinch. Of course, I made that list in January, in winter mode. Most of the cakes didn’t tempt me at all for the past 5 months. Others required candied citron, so I’m patiently waiting until Buddha Hand citrons turn up in the market.
So here I am. Three months to go (two of which have other baking duties), and 6 cakes (7, since I actually listed 11) left. Guess I’ll be busy this month!
I’d planned on finally baking the Zigomar cake last week, when my in-laws were visiting. I don’t know about your life, but mine seems to get away from me. It’s a shame, really. They would have appreciated the ‘Z’, and my father-in-law would have particularly appreciated the chocolate. If he could look past all the rum (he doesn’t like alcohol—I know, right?).
I’m not completely sure why, of all the cakes in the Pellaprat book, the Zigomar attracted me as a child. The romantic in me (the one who’s married to a Czech man with a last name starting with ‘Z’) likes the fact that in 5th grade I wrote a report on Czechoslovakia, complete with many National Geographic photos. She also likes the fact that my parents, for my 21st birthday (before I’d set eyes on my future husband), gave me a garnet ring made in Prague, when it was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Finally—and I admit, it’s a huge stretch—she wonders if maybe it was the swirly ‘Z’ atop the cake that called to me.
Because I can’t imagine I would have actually liked the cake for my 8th birthday. The flavors are deep and complex. The cake, a dense torte, is flavored with ground almonds, unsweetened chocolate, cinnamon, lemon (rind and juice), and a whopping 1/2 cup of apricot brandy. Though I substituted Slivovitz—partly as a nod to the Czechs, but mainly because I had it on hand in (one of ) my liquor cabinet(s).
The butter cream is also boozy. Believe it or not, there was a time when that was not a selling point to me. You make rum butter cream, and then flavor 2/3 of it with chocolate. Half of the chocolate rum butter cream has espresso added to make mocha rum butter cream. The layers are separated by the various flavors. It’s a cake to eat on a rainy afternoon, when you can mull it over. And hope that rain comes a day or two after you bake it, because these flavors mellow and mingle, and the cake just gets better.
The cake calls for fine cracker crumbs. But what kind? I was pretty sure Mr. Pellaprat didn’t mean Cheez-Its (Amelia Bedelia could have a field day baking this cake!). I asked my mother-in-law, and she suggested fine bread crumbs or crushed lady fingers. I also considered zwieback, but guess what--Nabisco has stopped making them. (For anyone missing them, King Arthur has a recipe for zwieback on their site). Finally I remembered I had an opened package of Dutch rusks in my pantry. They worked perfectly.
Sadly, my cake decoration skills are, well, non-existent. So I will only show you the cake by the slice. When my son, looking at the cut cake, asked “is this a noodle on top?” (referring to part of the ‘Z’) I made a note to self: take a cake decorating class.
And what about that name? I found two Zigomars, and they’re a bit at odds with one another. The first showed up on a website about ‘the European Wold Newton Universe”. (I must admit I knew nothing about that—if you didn’t either, check out the Wikipedia article on the Wold Newton Family—and by the way, how can you not love how far a cake can take you?).
This Zigomar, apparently, was a fictional (adventure comic strip) ‘cruel Romany crime lord’, who terrorized Paris. I kind of like his organization’s password: “Z is the life! Z is the death!” This Zigomar character made it into the movies early on, appearing in the 1911 ‘Zigomar the Eelskin’ and the 1912 ‘Zigomar contre Nick Carter’.
The second Zigomar was a character in a 1930s Serbian adventure comic strip. The Serbian Zigomar, according to Internationalhero.co.uk “fought crime wherever he encountered it, ably assisted by his Chinese companion, Chi Yang.” Unfortunately, there doesn't seem to be a Zigomar vs. Zigomar comic.
(If your Hungarian is good, you may enjoy this site, which has an issue of the Zigomar adventure comic online).
So which one is the cake named for? I could imagine it either way. Named for the Serbian Zigomar, because why would you name a complex and delicious cake after a cruel dude? But maybe the cake is an homage to the Romany Zigomar: “Z is the life!”
If you want to tackle this cake, here’s my adapted Zigomar Cake Recipe.