Walnut Cake

The recipe

Note: The recipe is as ad hoc as Mirka’s story implies! We found that you need to double the amount of flour and halve the amount of walnuts in order to achieve the desired ‘swiss roll’ effect.

Walnut Filling:
70 g. butter
70 g. brown sugar
500 g. walnuts
1 small liquer glass of rum
Pastry: 300 g. fine plain flour
175 g. white sugar
3 eggs
75 g. butter
15 g. vanillin flavouring (Dr Oetker's)
walnut oil

Melt the sugar and butter together in a copper saucepan until the mixture has the consistency of caramel. When the mixture starts to bubble, ad the walnuts, then the rum, and stir over a flame. When thoroughly mixed heap the walnut mixture in a row down the centre of the pastry, and join the outer edges of the pastry together over the mixture, making a cigar shape. Brush the top of the cake with a wash made from egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of walnut oil. Lift the cake onto a flat baking sheet which has been basted with walnut oil too, and bake for 20 minutes at 210°C.

Serve with:
Black coffee, European style. If you are in Melbourne, almost certainly you should have either a latte or a flat white.

The significance

Melbourne had a variety of eating places by the early twentieth centuries, some of quite high quality, but it didn’t have the ‘pavement’ eating scene that you found in European cities. Visitors remarked that given the good weather it was a shame. During the war years, the city became even more conservative until the Parisians, Mirka and Georges Mora appeared. In 1954-1958, they opened a café on the corner of Exhibition Street and Little Lonsdale right in the heart of the central business district, placing tables and chairs on the street! This inspired a number of places, including the Reiss Hotel to have a go, although they were all eventually disbanded.

In 1957 Mirka and Georges moved the café to East Melbourne where it went onto become the first licensed restaurant in 1960, serving drinks before, during and after dinner. Until then, only licensed clubs, hotels and wine saloons could serve alcohol. The café was renamed to Balzac Restaurant in, and the Mora’s sold it on to Leon Massoni in the late 1970s and founded Tolarno French Bistro.

Mirka originated from Romania, but spent most of her youth in Paris until she and her family were interned in the Pithiviers camp outside Paris. Georges, was born Gunther in Leipzig, fleeing Germany while a medical student due to the Nazi persecution. Changing his name to ‘Morat’ or ‘Mora’ to avoid the authorities he was involved in the Resistance. Both Mirka and Georges arrived in Melbourne and set up their apartment as a hub of art, exhibitions and parties. This spilled over into their restaurants, with the Melbourne bohemian art circle cooking and painting on their wall, and all sorts of international visitors from Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, to Graham Kennedy. After they separated, Georges went on to become an art dealer and Mirka a writer and respected artist.

The impact they had on the tone of the Melbourne food scene is still present today – in its wine bars, bistros, restaurants, street café culture and desire for fun.

Café Balzac and Tolarno were both French restaurants, but I’ve chosen an Eastern European recipe here as a nod to the impact of the Jewish community in Melbourne, as well as the focus our collection has on Central European and Slavic languages in the Ada Booth Collection.