Food & Nostalgia: The Cake

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Like music, food is tied to emotion, memory and tradition – and certain dishes can transport us back through the years, all the way to childhood. Here, a cherished family recipe that lives on for generations to come

Elly and Esme have been married for 55 years (going on 56) and are an inspiring example of lifelong love.

Elly was born in Kaunas, Lithuania. With the rise of Hitler, Elly and his family were moved to the Kaunas Ghetto for three years. They were then taken to Dachau concentration camp for a year, where he and his father were separated from his mother. By a stroke of miracle, Elly, his father and mother all survived and were reunited after the war.

The Cake from alex budman on Vimeo.

Eventually they were relocated to Rhodesia, Africa. After graduating from the University of the Witwatersrand as an electronic engineer, Elly, being the dapper young man that he was, was set up with many girls, yet it wasn’t until he met Esme on a blind date in Johannesburg that they fell in love and decided to get married.

Elly and Esme decided to move to Canada in the sixties to leave the apartheid society. Now they live in Toronto, with their three children and grandchildren near by.

Since Elly was a child, his mother Sonja would make him a 7-Layer Napoleon Cake for his birthday. This recipe was unique to the Gotz family, and it was Elly’s favourite dish. When the family was reunited after the war, they were eventually able to make the recipe again. Sonja eventually passed on the recipe to Esme, who continues to make the Napoleon cake for Elly year after year.

Sonja Gotz’ Recipe for 7 Layer Napoleon Cake

Heat oven to 450◦
You will need one 11 x 17 baking sheet (2 would be better)

½ pound butter
4 eggs
2 tsp baking powder (heaped)
Pinch of salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 Cup of Milk
5 – 6 cups of flour (a little more if the dough is still sticky)
Divide dough into 7 balls
Roll out and spread each layer in a 11 x 17 inch jelly roll baking sheet
Prick all over with a fork
(It’s okay if each layer is not perfectly square as the edges will be cut off and straightened later.)
Bake one at a time for 5 – 6 minutes until lightly browned

To Make the Custard

Rub together:
3 eggs
2 cups sugar
¾ cup flour
1 tsp Vanilla
Pinch of salt
Mix with ¾ cup cold milk


Bring 2 litres of whole milk to a boil.
Stir in the custard ingredients and bring back to a slow boil.
Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until thick.

It’s ready when the custard coats the spoon.

Leave to cool.

Spread a soup ladle of custard on the first baked layer.
Place the second layer on top with another spoon of custard.
Continue with each layer including the top layer.
For the top layer, crumble plain cookies (like arrowroot) and sprinkle on top.
Leave overnight in the fridge to allow the custard to sink into the layers.
Then trim and cut to the desired size.
Makes one large 11 x 17 cake or 2 or 3 smaller ones

What is your nostalgia food? Let us know in the comments!