Did Latvia send 'kūka' or 'torte' to its neighbors?

Though Latvian is in general quite good at communicating in an unambiguous manner, there are a few hidden traps for the language learner. Among these is the difficulty of knowing precisely what type of sweet treat you are consuming with your coffee: is it a kūka (cake) or a torte (cake)?

Luckily the State Language Center (VVC), national guardian of linguistic purity and correctitude, is on hand with a clarification.

In a fascinating definition for the benefit of cake-consumers everywhere posted on the VVC official website August 8, the VVC gives the following guidelines:

"A torte is a fairly large pastry made from filled (e.g. cream, fruit purée) pastry dough and the surface is usually trimmed."

So far, so simple. But wait, things are about to get more technical.

"On the other hand, a kūka is: 1) a small pastry made from a sweet dough (usually with a sweet filling) or 2) a larger pastry made from such doughs, which is usually kneaded and distributed in pieces," says the VVC.

It must be admitted however that something is lost in translation to English. The Latvian word for dough, mīkla can also signify batter as well as pastry. Appropriately it also means a puzzle or conundrum.

"So the essential characteristic of the torte is the layer or layers of dough and filling, but the basis of a kūka is the sweet dough," clarifies the VVC.

But having drawn the distinction, the VVC rapidly adds a caveat or two, saying that in spoken language, both varieties of tempting nibble are frequently referred to as kūka.

"In addition, there are also exceptions to the rule when patisserie products do not seem to correspond to the definition of the word in question, such as ice cream cake," VVC adds with a slight air of resignation.

This may all seem like a good excuse for VVC to sample various combinations of cream and fruit puree on expenses in the name of linguistic research, but such considerations could not be more topical.

Last week Latvia sent three cakes as gifts to Lithuania, Estonia and Finland. They were referred to throughout as "kūkas" and yet after reading the VVC's note on the matter, we at LSM cannot help wondering if they should instead have been referred to as "tortes".

As the picture at the top of this page shows, there appear to be several layers to the special centenary cakes, tilting our opinion more towards the torte tendency than the kūka camp.

In the interview below as the kūkas/tortes were in the process of being dispatched, Aiva Rozenberga of the Latvian Institute lets slip a suspicious fact around 3 minutes and 25 seconds in.

"It's a centenary kūka recipe from Burtnieks area," says Rozenberga, before adding: "It's a real Latvian country torte."

Well, which is it? We demand clarification from the relevant government body.

 

 

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