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.
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.)
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.
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.
Recipe from Food52
- 15 ounces dulce de leche
- 2 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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Set in the fridge for upwards of four hours, or until ready to serve.