Chocotorta, an Argentinian dessert with a unique history

Chocotorta is a very popular Argentinian dessert, especially with children. As well as being delicious, it has a particular history, told here.

Th origins of this Argentinian dessert

Whoever came up with the lyrics for the catchy commercial jingle bouncing around my head knew what they were doing. Actually, Marité Mabragaña, an advertising executive with the defunct ad agency Ricardo de Luca, is credited with coming up with the idea for the commercial and its star, the Argentinian dessert called Chocotorta, in 1982.

Ms Mabragaña is also credited with coming up with the first example of cobranding in Argentina. The idea was to combine two of her accounts, Mendizábal (makers of Mendicrim cream cheese) and Bagley, the makers of Chocolinas chocolate cookies, in one commercial. Both clients took some convincing but it finally happened.

Chocotorta is a very popular Argentinian dessert, especially with children. As well as being delicious, it has a particular history, told here.#Argentiniandesserts #argentineanfood #argentina

The historical context of the late 1980s

1982 was a landmark year for Argentina. The military regime was still in control and had ruled with a fist of iron. The threat of terrorism that had brought about the 1976 coup had by then been pummelled and thrashed into oblivion. The members, and those directly or remotely associated with them or even random people, had been arrested and tortured in concentration camps and their bodies had vanished into thin air. 

Families were desperate for news of their disappeared sons and daughters.  State terrorism had been in full swing. Society was divided between those who suffered in silence and those who like me -I was 10 at the time- had no clue what was going on or were in the know but were reluctant to discuss things in public, just in case they were overheard by the wrong people and later “chupados” (kidnapped by the military.)

Chocotorta is a very popular Argentinian dessert, especially with children. As well as being delicious, it has a particular history, told here.#Argentiniandesserts #argentineanfood #argentina

Argentina at war

That iron fist was beginning to rust. The then president, Lt. Gen. Leopoldo Galtieri, saw his power slipping away due to social unrest and the economic crisis. He came up with the appalling idea of invading the Malvinas, a group of islands located in the South Atlantic, to bolster public opinion. He thus declared war on the United Kingdom because the islands had been under British rule.

Argentina and the UK had disputed sovereignty over the islands for a century and a half. This war did not resolve this dispute but brought about more hurt and sorrow.  The one positive outcome was the advent of democracy. The de facto government faced an untenable position after losing the war and called for elections for the following year.

The military marches that opened each official communiqué on TV to update, or rather misinform, the population contrasted greatly with the cheerful music and angelic voices of Ms. Mabragaña’s commercial.  I see this contrast in hindsight. Back then, that’s the way it was. Besides, I was preoccupied with other matters, like preparing for my First Communion and dressing my Barbie dolls. 

Chocotorta is a very popular Argentinian dessert, especially with children. As well as being delicious, it has a particular history, told here.#Argentiniandesserts #argentineanfood #argentina

The first dessert I ever made

The Chocotorta was the first recipe I’ve ever made and I’ve enjoyed cooking and baking ever since. This easy-to-make Argentinian dessert gradually became a staple at kiddies’ birthday parties.  However, novelty desserts became fashionable and displaced the good old Chocotorta, like the cheesecake in the nineties and cupcakes in the noughties. The Chocotorta experienced a revival in the last few years. It is served everywhere from wedding receptions to tea houses. It’s even become an ice cream flavor.

The Chocotorta is moist and soft and eaten by the spoonful. The tartness of the cream cheese cuts through the sweetness of the dulce de leche and the cookies soaked in coffee provide a slightly bitter, chocolaty aftertaste.

Cooking with my niece

I recently made a Chocotorta with the help of my eleven-year-old niece. I sang the commercial’s jingle as we went. She never winced at my singing. As we mixed ingredients and soaked cookies and made the layers, we chatted and I told her that I made this very same cake when I was a year or so younger than she is now. I sang snatches of the song.

We were creating memories. I hope my niece will make Chocotorta with her children or nieces and nephews too and remember this moment, and treasure it like I do.

We were so excited that we didn’t want to wait for it to chill and cut a piece to taste the cake right away. We high-fived. It was good. It tasted like a childhood that was happy and sheltered from the harsh reality of a country on the brink of collapse and rebirth.

Chocotorta is a very popular Argentinian dessert, especially with children. As well as being delicious, it has a particular history, told here.#Argentiniandesserts #argentineanfood #argentina

Recipe from Food52

  • 15 ounces dulce de leche
  • 8 oz boxes of cream cheese, left out to soften
  • 2 cups brewed coffee or espresso
  • 2-3 packs of chocolate cookies, however many it takes to line your dish of choice
Directions
  1. In a bowl, mix the dulce de leche and soft cream cheese until they’re completely combined. It should be a light caramel color. Keep tasting until you achieve the ratio of your dreams.
  2. Brew your coffee and pour it in a shallow dish. Submerge each cookie one by one in the coffee then line them across a different baking dish until the bottom is fully covered. Feel free to break one or two in half to find the perfect geometrical set up.
  3. Once one cookie layer is complete, spoon over a healthy glop of the cream cheese dulce de leche mixture and spread it evenly across. Top that with another layer of coffee soaked cookies.
  4. Continue layering until you reach the top of your dish, saving enough space to make sure the top layer is the cream cheese dulce de leche mixture. Top with an optional dusting of cocoa powder.
  5. Set in the fridge for upwards of four hours, or until ready to serve.
Chocotorta is a very popular Argentinian dessert, especially with children. As well as being delicious, it has a particular history, told here.#Argentiniandesserts #argentineanfood #argentina

Suprema a la Maryland: Argentinean greasy spoon special

Suprema a la Maryland is traditional Argentinean greasy spoon dish and comfort food. It consist of fried chicken, creamed corn, fried banana and more.

I remember eating suprema a la Maryland back in the 80s and maybe the early 90s. Like many traditional dishes, this one fell out of favour in the 1990s and was relegated to greasy spoons and neighbourhood eateries. I visited Buenos Aires recently with my husband and we had lunch at a traditional bodegón. A bodegón is a caff, greasy spoon, whatever you want to call it).

Suprema a la Maryland, Argentinean greasy-spoon special
Suprema a la Maryland and revuelto gramajo in the background.

I was relishing the prospect of eating my own weight in good food. And I did! My husband ordered a revuelto gramajo, a chip and egg dish. I went for the suprema a la Maryland. First of all, a suprema is a piece of boneless chicken breast pounded, breaded and pan-fried. It is served with a healthy portion of shoestring potatoes (papas pay), creamed corn, a couple of strips of roasted red pepper, a slice of fried ham, a few green peas, and a breaded and fried banana.

I’ve always wondered why such a typical dish bears the name of that mid-Atlantic state. As far I know, there are no obvious culinary connections between Argentina and Maryland. So I started to do some digging. This is what I found;

Auguste Escoffier (1846-1935), a French chef and restaurateur famous for modernising traditional French cooking methods, created a dish called poulet saute Maryland (Chicken a la Maryland, see recipe here). This dish was even on the first and second class menu of the Titanic’s last voyage.

Half-way through!

Escoffier’s chicken was dredged in flour, breaded and pan-fried. It was served with béchamel  sauce (white gravy), corn fritters and fried banana.

As far as I’ aware, people in Maryland serve this pan-fried chicken with white gravy, mashed potatoes and corn on the cob. I’m fine with that version too.

It is a mystery how this dish made its way to Argentina and how it developed. The béchamel and corn on the cob merged into creamed corn. The fried banana is breaded first, whereas Escoffier’s was fried in butter. We like fried potatoes, hence the shoestring potato addition. No idea where the ham, red pepper and peas came from, but they’re an amazing addition as well and regular ingredients in other Argentinean dishes like costillitas a la riojana.

This is me after such a hearty lunch. I was so ready for an afternoon nap!

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Suprema a la Maryland is traditional Argentinean greasy spoon dish and comfort food. It consist of fried chicken, creamed corn, fried banana and more. #food #Argentineanfood #Argentina

Cooking class in Marrakech at Dar Cherifa riad

I took a cooking class in Marrakech and here’s what happened (PS: I loved it). #Marrakech #cooking #food #Morocco #travel

A Moroccan cooking lesson was one of the activities offered during a travel conference I attended in Marrakech. I jumped on the chance. I love food and I love cooking. This was the perfect chance to enjoy both.

Where was my cooking class?

The cooking class took place at Dar Cherifa restaurant. I have to say that we had a hard time finding this riad, hidden in a maze of narrow lanes in the heart of the Mouassine district of the medina. Once we crossed the door, the colours, the light and the decoration dazzled my senses.

Cooking class in Marrakech

Dar Cherifa is inside a historic riad that dates back to the Saadian era (16th and 17the centuries). You walk straight into the patio with tables. However, your eyes don’t stay at ground level. Inevitably, the saffron-coloured walls, with their intricate carving and tiles, guide your eyes to the sky. That’s right, there is no roof above the patio. Hence the wondeful light.

What is a cooking class in Marrakech like?

The class took place on the terrace. I got there a bit early, so I had time to enjoy the views both of the surroundings and of the patio down below. I also stopped to observe a couple of Instagrammers taking the mandatory pictures with floppy hats and their back to the camera.

A smiley lady led the class. She spoke in Arabic and an assistant translated into English. A long table was already laid out with the ingredients and the utensils we would need. This was a hands-on class. I love cooking, so I didn’t need much instruction.

Cooking class in Marrakech

The cook was very competent, it was like cooking with your mother. First, she showed us how to prepare the chicken tagine with clear and concise explanations. While the chicken was cooking, we peeled and chopped the ingredients for the salads. I also socialised with other participants. I came by myself and left with a friend.

We prepared some fresh and vibrant salads as well. We made taktouka with sauteed bell peppers, tomato and spices like cumin and paprika. The white cabbage and apple salad was a surprise: not too sweet, not too tangy, just right. My favourite was the grilled eggplant salad because eggplant is one of my favourite veggies.

Cooking class in Marrakech

Time flew by and when we least expected it, it was time to sit down to eat. We sat at a long table and passed around the bread and the different dishes. The food tasted very good.

They gave us the recipes whe we left. I tried to recreate the chicken tagine at home. Although I don’t own a tagine pot and used a regular pot, the result was pretty good.

Cooking class in Marrakech

Dar Cherifa’s eggplant salad (serves 4)

Ingredients: 1lb eggplant; 3 garlic cloves, grated; chopped parsley and coriander (cilantro); 1 Tb olive oil; 1/2 Tsp salt, 1/2 Tsp cumin, 1/2 Tsp paprika, 3 tomatoes, grated; 1 cup water; 1 Tsp lemon juice.

Peel and cut the eggplant into 1/4-inch cubes. Place in a deep skillet with the tomatoes, garlic, spices, olive oil and water. Cover and cook for about 20 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Add water if necessary. When the eggplant is very tender, mash it with a spoon. Add the parsley, cilantro and lemon juice and cook for another few minutes to reduce any liquids. Remove from heat. Serve at room temperature with crusty bread.

The food in Marrakech: what to eat and where

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food

The food in Marrakech is next on the blog post series about this Moroccan city. It tends to be rather traditional and most restaurants, at least in the medina, tend to serve more or less the same dishes. Here’s what we ate and where.

Traditional Moroccan dishes

The tajine gets its name from the earthenware pot in which it’s cooked: a round tray with a conical lid open at the top. Chicken, beef or lamb is cooked slowly with spices and fruits depending on the recipe. The result is a flavourful and tender meat. Tajine varieties include chicken with lemon or with olives, beef with prunes or with orange.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food
Beef and prune tajine

Pastilla is a sort of small pie made with phyllo pastry and a vegetable or sweet and savoury filling. Types of filling range from chicken with spices, almonds and a pinch of sugar, or veggies like leeks, sweet peppers, butternut squash, goat’s cheese, and orange sauce. It is generally eaten as a starter. It was one of my favourite dishes.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food
Chicken pastilla

Coucous, probably the best-known Moroccan dish worldwide, is made with durum wheat semonlina. It’s cooked in the top section of a coucous pot with the steam from the stew cooking below. It was the softest, airiest couscous I’ve ever eaten, not a clump in sight. It’s served with the veggies and /or meats cooked in the same pot.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food
Couscous with veg

Briouates are triangles of phyllo pastry filled with ground lamb, chicken, vegiies, etc. They make for a delicious snack or starter.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food
Briouates

Harira is a traditional soup made with lentils, tomatoes, chickpeas, lamb, and spices. Hearty and flavoursome, it is eaten after the sun goes down during Ramadan.

You can’t spend time in Morocco and not drink mint tea made with fresh leaves. It’s served in a gorgeous little pot and is rather sweet. It’s glorious with Moroccan pastries. Coffee, in my experience, is also very good.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food
Having a refreshing glass of mint tea. Although I look tired, I was actually suffering from allergies.

The tanjia is another traditional dish. It consists of beef and spices cooked for hours in a sealed earthenware crock. This crock is placed in the ashes from a hammam oven in a centuries old tradition.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food
Tanjia

There are lots of pomegranate and orange juice vendors in the street. They press the fruit there and then.

Service

In general, service at restaurants is mediocre. Servers take oodles of time before acknowledging you and they take ages to bring your food and drink. Sometimes, they bring your drink, appetizer, and main at the same time, or in a different order. We even had to request silverware in order to eat our food! Don’t expect Western standards and go with the flow.

They usually bring your bill to the table and you pay at the front desk, never your server.

I loved that everywhere we went, they brought bread and a little dish with olives as soon as we satdown.

Restaurants

Probably the best experience for me was to watch the sunset over Jemaa El’Fna square from a cafe terrace. It was magical. We patronised Acqua because we simply liked it, wasn’t too big like Cafe de France, and Driss, one of the waiters, had the best customer service we came across in the city.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food

Café des Epices is across the square in the spice zouk, hence its name. We sat in one of the sidewalk tables for coffee. The place was heaving with tourists. You can make dinner reservations if you prefer.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food

Nomad is probably one of the most famous restaurnats in Marrakech. It’s in the spice zouk neacr Cafe des Epices. It’s advisable to make a reservation because it’s very popular. We ate there twice. The first time, we made dinner reservations. Both food and service were very good. The second time, we went there for lunch without a rez. They could only accommodate us in the rooftop. It was a wet, windy day. They gave us a kind of fleece robe to protect us from the cold. The food was great but the robe wasn’t very clean, though. It seemed to me that hygiene wasn’t a top priority in Marrakech.

We wanted to try something different and ended up eating good Lebanese food at Naranj a couple of times.

Menara Mall offers lots of food options, from traditional Moroccan to Spanish tapas and French fare. The food court is utterly forgettable, go to the restaurants at street level.

Alcohol

There’s a strict no-alcohol policy inside the medina. I was told it was because no alcohol can be drunk within a certain distance of a mosque. There are so many mosques inside the medina that it’s just not possible unless the restaurant has a special license, but it’s very rare. The New City doesn’t have that restriction, but it is still forbidden to drink in public spaces. Even in your own balcony!

Street food

We don’t usually eat street food, we prefer the convenience of a restaurant. We read many conflicting reports on stret food in Marrakech, so we gave it a wide berth. We saw many pastry carts in the streets full of what I thought were flies, but turned out to be bees. It was a little offputting nonetheless. We also stayed clear of the kebab, bread, fruit and pancake sellers. If you’re interested in trying street food, I’d suggest you do a food tour with a reputable company.

Read this article on what to eat and what to avoid in Marrakech.

A short guide to the food in Marrakech: what to eat, where to eat (especially in the medina), and what to expect. #Marrakech #Morocco #food

The good ol’ English breakfast

It’s a well-known fact that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It provides the energy you need to start the day right. I must confess that for most of my life, breakfast was a quick milky coffee and out the door I went. That is not a proper meal but I was never hungry first thing in the morning. Now that I’m older and hopefully wiser, I eat a nutritious brekkie every day.

I try to eat healthy at home. However, when we are travelling, I eat food that I do not normally prepare at home like scrambled eggs and bacon or pancakes. We burn the extra calories walking and exploring. Or trekking, which is what we did every weekend when we lived in Jersey. We loved walking along cliff paths. The scenery is simply breathtaking.

A bracing walk along the cliffs of Jersey puts you in the mood for a fry-up
A bracing walk along the cliffs of Jersey puts you in the mood for a fry-up

During one of these treks, we ended up in a tiny bay called Grève de Lecq. There was enough room for a minuscule car park and a no-frills café called Colleen’s. Fresh air, bracing exercise, beautiful scenery and a hearty meal afterwards in the sun with the newspapers. I can’t think of a better way to spend a Sunday morning.

The first time I ordered a full English breakfast, or fry-up, I ordered coffee. My husband suggested I drink tea instead because it helps break down the fat. And it’s the British thing to do. I did the “Mary, Mary quite contrary” thing and drank my coffee. I never told my husband I suffered from bad indigestion the rest of the day. From then on, tea it was!

Colleen's
Colleen’s

The full English breakfast combo I had was back bacon, eggs, baked beans, toast with butter and jam and stewed tomato or mushrooms. And tea, of course. Other traditional components are sausages, black pudding, fried bread and chips. It seems like a lot of artery-clogging food but I don’t mind it as an occasional treat. This kind of meal made sense at a time when people did a lot of physical work, like working down the mines or in the fields.

According to the English Breakfast Society, the tradition of the full English breakfast started with the gentry, who used this meal to display the wealth of their estate. In Victorian times, the upwardly mobile middle classes wanted to emulate the gentry and adopted this civilized custom. At the same time, during the Industrial Revolution, the working classes started to eat a hearty meal before going about their backbreaking business. They needed all the energy they could get.

I would never have thought that there was so much history behind a meal I sometimes take for granted.

What’s your favourite breakfast food?

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