Around the World in 52 Books group decided on The House of the Spirits as a group read, I decided to participate anyway. I hadn't read anything by Allende before, but I thought I had, probably because she is in the same writing style as Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Luis Alberto Urrea - magical realism, usually following an epic, multi-generational story, largely based on events of historical significance. I would say I enjoyed Allende more than Garcia Marquez but less than Urrea, but I'd still recommend this book. The character of Clara was my favorite.
With the assistance of a friend who also had the book in its original Spanish, we discovered something terrible that the translator had done - they tried to Americanize/Anglicize the food! There are several significant events in the book that include descriptions of banquets, but the food sounded very non-Chilean. I know the French and Spanish influence would be strong in Chile, but not to the extreme of not using any native ingredients.
And certainly not to the exclusion of dulce de leche.
I came across a great blog called Recipes from South America, and she had several cake recipes involving manjar. I used her recipe for the mil hojas, which she got from her great aunt. Traditional family recipes from Chilean great aunts seemed like just the ticket.
Is it really a thousand layers?
Well, no. But when you're rolling out each layer into a circle that you are trying to make exactly the same size as all the other circles, it starts to feel like it! The baked circles looked a bit like giant, thin Ritz crackers. There were actually 14 layers of pastry, but we can account for at least 32 layers if we include the dulce de leche between each layer, and ground walnuts added every third.
I wish I had taken the time to do something to the outside of the cake. The recipe calls for more dulce to be spread around the sides, but I was using dulce from a squirtbottle and I wasn't sure it was thick enough. I was already oozing dulce out of the layers into a pool on the plate. But because I didn't do anything, the very edges were a bit tough. The edges weren't perfectly even, so I was worried that whatever I did would up making it look ugly. As it is, it just looks sticky. This is definitely a dessert for someone with a sweet tooth, although the walnuts do balance it out quite nicely.
By the way. The drink you see in the background of the first picture? That's Chilean iced coffee from the same blog where I got the cake recipe. I took pictures early this morning, but only after zipping to Starbucks for a double shot of espresso to pull it together. So yeah, I had ice cream for breakfast. That's right. Chilean iced coffee has ICE CREAM in it. But the dark espresso makes it not sweet so much as rich. It is easier to pull together than mil hojas, so I'd recommend it!