Skip to main content

Until a recent foray into Canada's geographical heartland, I had never even contemplated eating a schmoo.

The schmoo (or shmoo) torte is legendary here in Winnipeg. My very first encounter with the tallest of tortes is at Step 'N Out, a little bistro on Provencher Boulevard.

It arrives in all of its gooey, triple-layered glory, glittering beneath a hissing sparkler and a thick layer of caramel sauce - an epic example of the 'Peg's finest. It's found in pastry shops and restaurants across the River City, but no one here seems to have a solid take on the schmoo's origins.

Story continues below advertisement

Since the classic cake - layers of nutty angel-food cake sandwiched with whipped cream, pecans and caramel sauce - appears "at every bar/bat mitzvah in town," according to one city librarian, many believe its roots run deep in the local Jewish community.

But even Arthur (Fivie) Gunn, the master baker at Winnipeg's fabled Gunn's Bakery, isn't sure who made it first.

"We do make schmoo, but I don't think we originated it," he says. "There are always a few in the freezer and we have the caramel sauce ready - we can do a schmoo at the drop of a hat."

At any celebration in the city, from weddings to bar/bat mitzvahs, the schmoo is the crowning glory of the dessert table - typically a feast of chocolate and halvah logs, creamy cheesecakes and chocolate-chip, banana, poppy seed and cinnamon tortes.

"You haven't lived until you've experienced the Winnipeg dessert table," Mr. Gunn says.

At Schmoozer's Café - in the Jewish Heritage Centre - Maxine Shuster makes many a schmoo, too. She isn't sure where it all started either, but the cake is reminiscent of Hungarian or Ukrainian tortes, with their layers shot with ground nuts and creamy fillings.

It's also reminiscent of a Louisiana layer cake filled with pecans and drizzled with bourbon-spiked pecan sauce, so it may have Cajun or French-Canadian roots.

Story continues below advertisement

One blogger on wikipedia.org claims the schmoo is pictured in her aging Five Roses cookbook, but my circa-2003 reproduction has no such reference. She also wonders if "schmoo" might be "some German, Yiddish or Slavic word."

Indeed, the Jewish Heritage Centre's Carla Divinsky says, " 'Schmoo' can also be 'gooey' in Yiddish," and schmoo torte certainly is.

Li'l Abner's creator, Al Capp, introduced a cartoon Shmoo in the 1940s - a lovable, lumpy shape-shifter that instantly became anything its human handlers desired. In a place that can bear an uncanny resemblance to Capp's icy Lower Slobbovia, Winnipeg's sweet schmoo torte seems to bring just as much happiness.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter
To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies