Our visit to Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental revealed some of the most common techniques that local bakers use to produce the distinct taste and texture of a bread locally known as torta. It can sometimes be fascinating to see first-hand the making of this local delicacy. What is probably more interesting is the age-old technique that local master bakers utilize to produce the perfect product.
Manang Virgie is one of the most well-known master bakers who uses recipes handed down from generations past. She has been baking torta for decades and has even taught the recipe to her children. While modern innovations in baking technology have produced a variety of utensils to make baking easier, Manang Virgie prefers using her hands in mixing, kneading and shaping the dough.
She usually starts by stirring in tuba, a local wine from coconut palms. She gently stirs it in a small basin with her hands. When she feels the tuba has been conditioned enough, she adds a generous amount of flour to make sticky dough. A little salt and sugar is also added to create the subtle taste that makes this delicacy well loved by the locals and visitors alike. The dough is molded into small balls and arranged together to form the distinct shape. They are then baked in an ingeniously made oven and cooked until golden brown.
One thing that makes this recipe unique is that the recipe itself does not have definite measurements. Manang Virgie adds each ingredient instinctively. She adds flour in the amount according to the fermentation of tuba or the time it was harvested. This in turn changes the required amount of salt and sugar accordingly. While this may seem strange for most baking recipes, it is quite common in Filipino dishes and have even been applied to Filipino baking.
The time spent with Manang Virgie revealed not only her technique of baking the humble torta, but also reflected the most basic Filipino character. Flexibility and versatility has made us adaptable to changes making us survive easily in this ever shifting world.