By Alex Gutierrez Paez
Paysandu, Uruguay, Feb 9 (EFE).- Uruguay’s Orlando Castellano was working odd jobs to support his family in the mid-1920s when he discovered his passion for confectionery and invented a dessert that has become a staple at celebrations in that South American country.
Sponge cake, meringue and Castellano’s secret whipped cream were the three ingredients he combined on April 27, 1927, at his Confiteria Las Familias dessert shop in this western border city to create the Chaja, which online travel guide TasteAtlas recently ranked as one of the top 30 cakes worldwide.
Now a classic of Uruguayan cuisine, it went nameless for many years until a family friend asked Don Orlando to make “that dessert full of feathers and with a light body” – a reference to the meringue and the mix of sponge cake and cream.
The description made Castellano think of the southern screamer, a large southern South American bird known in Uruguay by the Guarani indigenous name chaja.
And so the cake was known from that point forward.
Mostly through word of mouth, the Chaja grew in popularity and now has earned a place as one of the tastiest globally, competing with the Chocotorta, a traditional chocolate cake from Argentina; Brazil’s Pave, layered cake similar to Tiramisu; and Spain’s Tarta de Santiago, a traditional sponge cake from the northwestern region of Galicia.
“It’s a source of pride that they would choose this dessert, and it makes the family very happy because it shows we’re still doing things well, that people choose us for that (reason) and that the taste is still the same,” Don Orlando’s great-grandson and current owner of Confiteria Las Familias, Alfonso Nardini, told Efe.
As a member of the fourth generation of that family business, Nardini was forced to take the reins in 2001 at the age of just 21 when his father died unexpectedly.
With Uruguay then in the grips of a severe economic crisis, he was forced to reinvent the business to keep it afloat and position it as one of the best in its category.
“We still have the challenge of maintaining a recipe that’s been the same since day one,” Nardini said, though adding that the shop also offers variations on the Chaja containing different fruits, including peaches, strawberries and “some new products such as red and black berries.”
The Confiteria Las Familias owner also recently took part in a tomato-based culinary event in Paysandu from Feb. 3-4, in which he and his team contributed by conjuring up a Chaja variation containing tomato puree.
“It turned out quite good and people were happy, which is the most important thing,” Castellano’s great-grandson said.
The family business has expanded from its humble origins, with Confiteria Las Familias brand Chajas now available at all Uruguayan supermarkets and at shops run by franchisees in Montevideo and in the southwestern department (province) of San Jose.
“Our goal is to open more franchisee-run shops soon throughout the country, although we’re still in negotiations,” Nardini said. EFE