Just close your eyes, concentrate completely on the first bite and give in to the heavenly combination of flavours. Crunchy walnut pieces smothered in smooth caramel, fresh cream for extra richness, and exquisite pastry that is a marvel in itself: not too heavy, not too dry. Pure pleasure!
No wonder our Engadin walnut cake is our pride and joy, our signature product and our top export, all at once. To this day, no one has been able to prove clearly who invented the original recipe of the “Engadiner Nusstorte”, although many bakers claim this honour for themselves. One thing is sure, however: Engadin confectioners certainly had a hand in the matter, not to say the pastry - as far back as the late-Middle Ages.
To claim that the Engadin is the cradle of international confectionery would certainly be an exaggeration; but it is undeniable that without our Graubünden bakers and confectioners and the countless delicacies and specialities they have created, the world would be a poorer place. It all began far from our mountains: our search for the first Engadin confectioners (known in Romansh as “patissier” or “pastizier”, and among Italian-speaking people of Graubünden as “pasticciere” or “zuccariere”) leads us to Venice. After the plague of 1630 had taken the lives of many residents, the city welcomed talented and industrious skilled workers from abroad. The people of the Engadin, long unable to make much of a living from the bare soils of their mountain home, had instead made a name for themselves as confectioners, above all - and saw an opportunity. Their organisational skills (they soon founded guilds with great influence), their versatility (the trade of the confectioner in those days included making and selling bread, cakes, ice cream, soft drinks and jams, as well as brewing beer and distilling spirits) and their religion (Protestants from the Engadin were permitted to bake with butter during Lent, for example) ensured that their reputation soon spread from Venice to the rest of the world.
Of course the Venetian pasticcieri were all but happy about this powerful competition, so they breathed a sigh of relief when Venice fell out with Chur in 1766 and turned all the Graubünden bakers out of the city. This did not, however, deflect the determined Engadin confectioners from their path to success: they simply extended their sweet network throughout Europe and even beyond. And here we come back to our Engadin walnut cake, because it was the confectioners and bakers who settled in France who first encountered walnuts, which did not grow in their homeland. With this new and thrilling ingredient they soon created the cake that has become, alongside Swiss chocolate and Swiss watches, an international export success.
It terms of popularity, the Engadin cake provides stiff competition to the Engadin walnut cake. It, too, has a shortcrust pastry base, but the “Engadiner Torte” is a multi-layered marvel with fine crème patissière and a crunchy Florentine topping. Created in the 1930s by Oscar Kochendörfer at his Pontresina confectioner’s, it quickly became a sought-after speciality, known well beyond the region’s borders. Talking of specialities: if you want to explore the gastronomic soul of our region in all its many facets, you should not miss the chocolates hand-made by our local confectioners or our delicious Engadin “Birnbrot” (“pear bread”). A pastry case envelops a sweet and succulent filling that contains whole fruit and crunchy nuts. The delicacy is full of vitamin-packed goodness: pure pleasure. But you should really try it for yourself!