The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Torta Cebuana Moderna - 100% Sourdough Rich Butter Cakes

PalwithnoovenP's picture

Torta Cebuana Moderna - 100% Sourdough Rich Butter Cakes

Torta depending on where you are in the Philippines can mean different things. Up to the day when I was just aware of one type, the only torta that I know is a savory dish made with eggplant and eggs that I often eat with ketchup. I do not know any other form of torta when actually, there are. Then, during my college years my dad introduced me to the torta of his childhood which is made from potatoes and eggs (I think there are tortas that are similar to this one in Spain and Latin America) that can be with or without meat depending on your budget :) and it has become a favorite for a cheap and filling dish to go with rice because the only thing that we have to buy are potatoes. Today, I am focusing on the torta of Cebu, a province in the central Islands of the Philippines where the Queen City of the South and Philippines’ oldest city lies – Torta Cebuana.

The best ones are said to come from the town of Argao in Cebu. It is a rich naturally leavened cake baked in fluted molds commonly made during the town’s festival. Torta Cebuana, the name alone strongly implies its Spanish roots. It must have come from Spanish Tarta/Torta which seems to be a cognate of the English Torte and Cebuana means something or someone with origins from Cebu in which this delicious cake comes from. It is a product of ingenuity or necessity from the locals in replicating the Spanish breads and cakes that the Spaniards brought with them that they sorely miss perhaps; many ingredient substitutions brought many delicious breads and cakes of the Philippines to life.

Authentic Torta Cebuana is made using a local toddy wine, egg yolks and lard, aged lard. It is then flavored with anise seeds which is very common in old world treats. Tradition states that the yeast in the wine should be the sole leavener of the cake and should be enriched with lard that is at least a year old rendered during the previous year’s festival then baked in a “wood-fired” oven that uses coconut shells and husks as fuel. The naturally occurring yeast and bacteria in the wine also imparts a special fragrance and flavor to the cake particularly tang and improves the shelf life; the lard also makes it very moist and gives it its unique flavor and aroma along with the touch of smoke that the wood-fired oven imparts. Here is a video of local artisanal Torta production in Argao, Cebu.

I really want to taste this interesting cake but I do not have access to the requisite wine and aged or even just good quality lard so I need to make sound substitutions so I did some research on recipes online. Many recipes for the sake of convenience and modernity call for baking powder and/or baking soda and right-off-the-bat I scrap them since it is not what this cake is all about. Some recipes call for instant yeast which seems to be a decent substitute but one thing that will be missed is the tangy flavor. I tasted the wine once and it has a nice fizziness and tang due to the live yeast and bacteria in it and I suddenly thought of sourdough which may be different in form but will more or less produce a similar flavor profile. It’s my first time to bake a cake without mechanical or chemical leavening in the form of baking powder so I was a bit skeptical if it will succeed. I made a lot of reading about yeasted cakes and then sourdough leavened cakes that I saw here on TFL. With the prerequisite knowledge complete, I proceeded with a plan.

With its characteristics: naturally leavened, with a pleasant tanginess, rich with egg yolks, moist and rich with lard; I made my own interpretation of the cake. Natural leavening and tanginess from sourdough, free-range egg yolks from our own chickens, flavor and aroma from butter and moistness from corn oil are the components of this cake and an addition of baking them in a modern electric oven; I wonder if baking them in my clay pot though not as efficient will make them taste a little bit more old-world. I flavored it with vanilla because I am not that big of a fan of anise, though I think some lime zest will be closer to traditional and local. It hardly resembles the traditional product and with that many modifications, I decided to call this cake Torta Cebuana Moderna; a modern take on this cake but with its essence still there.

The ingredients were very simple: flour,sourdough, egg yolks, sugar, salt, butter and oil. I built my sourdough starter in three stages using egg yolks as a liquid and AP flour with a thick batter consistency. The final build contained the salt, sugar, butter, oil and vanilla. I then let it rise overnight. There were some mishaps on the way such us some stubborn bits of batter that do not want to combine with the other ingredients. I should have started the SD builds with a thinner consistency but I was worried it would slow down when thinned down too quickly especially as it will be used in a high sugar high fat application. I strained it and salvaged what I can. Not wanting to waste anything, I still baked the lumps.

After an overnight rest, not much has happened in the fluid batter but there was clearly some growth in the lumps. I deposited the batters in greased 6-inch fluted molds and let them rise for 3 hours. I made 3 cakes from both batters. Again, it looks like not much has happened in the fluid batter but the lumps is over the rim of the pan.I baked them at 200°
for 5 minutes and lowered the temperature to 180°C and baked for another 15 minutes; 20 minutes total baking time and the results were surprising!

The lumps did not show much growth in the oven and burnt on top while the fluid batter rose nice and tall with a beautiful hump not dissimilar to a Madeleine’s. The lumps almost had no taste but have an overly yeasty aroma and excess tang. The ones from the fluid batter have a slightly yeasty but complex aroma, dense and very rich and moist with the perfect sweetness and tang and a very nice buttery flavor that complements the sourdough. If you look closely, its not that different from the traditional Torta Cebuana in terms of looks, my crumb might just a tad less fine and moister.

If you look at its ingredients, torta is not that different from ensaymada. It’s like ensaymada in batter or cake form. If desired, you can also brush the torta with softened butter and sprinkle with white granulated sugar just like an ensaymada. It also goes well with Filipino hot chocolate. I never knew sourdough would make a great cake like this. It's been a year since I took the Licensure Examination for Teachers and I am fully-fledged teacher now so maybe this is a celebration cake for that. I am really thankful for all the blessings!

Filipino style hot chocolate - made from pure chocolate liquor, with or without sugar
and/or evaporated milk according to your liking. Tortas and ensaymadas go super
well with it.

Speaking of ensaymadas, here are some that I made for my co-teachers. I woke up at 4:00 AM to deliver them as fresh as possible to my co-workers without having to come late to work. They loved every bit of it, saying how artisanal they look and taste and its their first time tasting something like that.


Filomatic's picture

What a great story!  Those look amazing.  Will you please give us the recipe?

PalwithnoovenP's picture

These quantities are not accurate. I do not have proper measuring devices. This was a bit dry and I had trouble incorporating ingredients for the final dough. Maybe you can increase the number of egg yolks, use whole eggs, or add water/milk. Will you try it? 

First dough:

2 tbsp. Mature SD fed with AP
2 egg yolks
¼ cup AP flour

Ferment 4 hours

Second dough:
First dough
3 egg yolks
1/2 cup + 2  tbsp. AP flour

Ferment 4 hours.

Final dough:

Second dough
2/3 cup white sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 stick butter
1/3 cup corn oil
2 tsp. vanilla

Let it rise overnight. Pour it into the molds and let it rise again for 3 hours then bake at 200°C for 5 minutes then lower the temperature to 180°C and bake for another 15 minutes. Thank you!

Yippee's picture

Who can pass up such scrumptious desserts? They are perfect for my sweet tooth!😋😋😋

So happy for you that things are going well.  Looking forward to your next bake!




PalwithnoovenP's picture

I just attended my first high school "graduation" ceremony as a teacher today. :)

David R's picture
David R

Congratulations on your full qualification as a teacher, and also congratulations on the beautiful food!

I've seen so many completely different items that are called "torta". Together, they could make an interesting (but strange) meal. "What's for dinner tonight?" "Tortas." "Only tortas?" "Seventeen different kinds." 🙂

PalwithnoovenP's picture

I wonder what does a 17-type torta dinner would look like form starter to dessert. Sure, it is delicious!

PalwithnoovenP's picture

after seeing panettone and pandoro recipes with 36-48 hour rise times at room temperature with raw eggs the whole time. I also read somewhere that sourdough with its established microorganisms have a head start already and will dominate bad ones and the byproducts they produce make the dough inhospitable for bad bacteria for a certain period of time. I also used the freshest yolks but I am no expert in this field so I wasn't sure if it was safe or not. Thanks for your concern and thank God nothing bad happened!

Reeni's picture

Masarap ang itsura! I think i have had Torta Cebuana once, i do like the sharpness of the anise but lime or dayap rind would be tasty too. I feel like the batter, like you said, is a more liquid brioche dough which itself can be cake-like when risen/baked in a tall pan... congratulations on both your pretty cakes and your teacher certification. 

I am new to TFL, but I have an ensaymada post on my blog if you would check it out. I would appreciate feedback or comments. I usually make them for Thanksgiving or Christmas, but this past batch i decided to keep some in my freezer in case my kids have a craving. or I do.



PalwithnoovenP's picture

I have never had a real Torta Cebuana as with most things that I make; I make to experience them because I can't find them anywhere. I only like anise in puto and tea. I want to try them with dayap next time. You bake with sourdough too?! Again, very rare among Filipinos. 

Your ensaymadas look great! I think it is similar to Diamond hotel's which also uses meringue buttercream. I am planning to make ensaymada with different flavors next time. I only knead them by hand and you know it is very difficult to develop the gluten in breads like this so I don't know when I will have the patience to make them again. Salamat!

Reeni's picture

Tingin ko, the sourdough concept isn't popular in Manila for home cooks -- too many variables? But a few bread professionals do take the time for artisanal loaves... restaurants and hotels, not so much the bakeries (even the so-called European-style). I recall a conversation with a friend (restaurant owner and food historian) about rice starter/preferment for puto -- the way it was done before baking powder and standardized dry yeast. I have yet to try it, just because maintaining one starter is enough babying! Baka subukan ko this summer, kasi food nerd haha. Just need to get some good organic rice flour.

PalwithnoovenP's picture

and those chocolate croissants look amazing! You did a great job in laminating it. I also love eating and making croissants but I really struggle to work with it in our hot climate. How did yours went so smoothly as seen in the video? I read that you taught many a croissant classes, are you a pastry instructor? You seem to be very technical and detail oriented (having access to rare ingredients and using the metric system), I assume you were formally trained. Am I right?

Reeni's picture

I first tried as a teenager in Manila ca 80's -- Julia Child's recipe, it was such a laborious process to be in and out of the fridge. I think palmiers were the ones that came out the best.  I'm now based in New York -- I came here to go to pastry school, and stayed to work and live a food-centric life! Yes, I started teaching after I lost my restaurant job because of 9/11 -- the school where i was once a student is where i teach now, but a different location. I also work at a restaurant/event venue, because sadly teaching is not enough for the high cost of living here. I like teaching, and i hope I am good enough that people come out of my classes knowing more and being confident that they can do it at home. It's already satisfying when your own efforts come out good, more so when someone who didn't think they were good at pastry bites into their own successful bake that you helped them do.

Thank you, I saw both your pains au chocolat on your blog and they look very good! When I started to teach myself I didn't have an oven either, only what was called a Turbo broiler that you put over a big pot like a hat. I could only make 8 small cookies at a time. Ironically, my family just moved to a rental apartment (we sold our place that we had put all our desired appliances in, and granite counters perfect for rolling) and our oven cannot be on for more that 30 minutes nor above 375F because it sets off the fire alarm. No 2-kilo artisan miche at home for me!

Like you, my first big purchase after finding a job was baking-related: a KitchenAid mixer.   


dabrownman's picture

The place is amazingly beautiful, the beaches are perfect and the people were very nice - the food terrific.  The last night of our stay at the 4 story Magellan Hotel, the kitchen on the main floor caught fire.  We were on the 4th floor and, by the time we woke up, the stairway down was blocked by the fire.  Jumping out the windows would have been a real killer, so we had to go up to the roof.  Thankfully we could jump off into the deep part of the swimming pool to escape.  All you had to do was get over the 15' of pool deck from the water to the building!  No problem since we had been jumping off the of the roof into the pool earlier in the evening for fun:-)  All 10 of us made it.  As far as I know, no one was killed or severely injured - a miracle!  It was a little strange standing in the street in your skivvies watching the hotel burn to the ground.  Amazing I've managed to live another 45 years since then!

Love your cakes.  Having an oven makes life so much easier for baking!  A year has passed and now you have your permanent teaching feathers.  Nice!  The best of Luck to you and yours.

Uncle Brownman

PalwithnoovenP's picture

I'm here in the country but still has not been able to visit Cebu. I hope those good memories outweigh that event.Thank God you were able to make it, now tantalizing our sensed with your fantastic breads and food!