Other people’s recipes: Lora Brody’s Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

Another week, another cake! Up next on my list of summer baking projects is “Chocolate Hazelnut Torte”, a flourless chocolate cake from Lora Brody’s Chocolate American Style (Clarkson Potter, 2004; p. 118). Although not mentioned in the title (to the chagrin of one co-worker who doesn’t like the combination), this torte has a raspberry-jam topping in addition to a thick chocolate glaze. The preparation is something of a cross between the creaming method, like a butter cake, and the soufflé method, with an egg-white foam to provide both lift and structure. Here is how I made it:

Mise en place
We start, as usual, with the mise en place. The hazelnuts have already been toasted, and the raspberry jam is actually not going to be used for this part of the procedure. The chocolate is 8 ounces of Callebaut 70% (probably L-70-30NV but it’s not labeled that way at Whole Foods); there will be more of the same in the glaze. Not all of the butter goes into the cake; some of it is used for the glaze as well. And you’ll note the extra-large eggs, specified in this particular cookbook and no others that I can recall. All of these ingredients are at, or coming to, room temperature.

Ground hazelnuts
The hazelnuts are ground in the food processor about as finely as possible without turning into paste (although I’ve never seen my food processor do that, no matter how long I leave it running). I suppose you could just use 6 ounces of commercial ground hazelnuts, but since these are toasted and still have some of the skin on, the taste would be different.

Mise en place (II)
I return again to the mise en place, now with all six eggs separated, six ounces of sugar, six ounces of hazelnuts, six ounces of butter, and eight ounces of chopped chocolate — plus that raspberry jam is still hanging around waiting for its turn.

Butter and sugar creamed using hand mixer
The torte is made, as I mentioned, by a hybrid of the creaming and soufflé methods. To preserve the stand mixer for the egg-white foam (which requires a scrupulously clean bowl and whip), I’ve done the creaming steps with the hand mixer. (You could do the whole thing with the hand mixer.) This is what creamed butter and sugar should look like, when you’re ready to add the next ingredient (usually eggs, but in this case egg yolks). Note the pale color and fluffy texture. This step often goes wrong if you try to cream butter that hasn’t properly softened: eventually you’ll get all the sugar incorporated, but it won’t have this fluffy texture. But it can also go wrong if your butter is too soft, because that will allow the water in the butter to dissolve the sugar, rather than leaving hard sugar crystals around to punch holes in the fat. (Of course, this cake also has an egg-white foam so it doesn’t depend as much on the creaming step for lift as a butter cake does.)

Egg yolks beaten into creamed butter and sugar
After beating in the six egg yolks, one at a time, the creamed butter-sugar mixture takes on a bright yellow color. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula to ensure no uncombined egg or butter remain.

Chocolate mixed into butter-sugar-egg mixture
The chocolate, having previously been melted in the microwave, is allowed to cool for a few minutes before mixing it in to the butter-sugar-egg mixture; then the ground hazelnuts are added. (Note that this recipe calls for no additional flavoring; many recipes would add vanilla or some other flavored extract here. You could make pretty much the exact same recipe with almonds instead of hazelnuts, if you prefer.)

Whipping more egg whites
I don’t really need to say much more about whipping egg whites, do I? The recipe calls for all six egg whites to be whipped to the “soft peak” stage. Brody doesn’t call for acid to be added to the egg whites, as is commonly done; I added an eighth of a teaspoon of cream of tartar just for insurance.

Cake batter in pan, ready to bake
In the soufflé method, a heavy base (often a butter- or cream-based sauce) is lightened by folding in an egg-white foam. I didn’t take any pictures of that part, but the final result looks like this. I used a small offset spatula to spread the batter around in the pan, to get it as flat as I could, and also tapped the pan a few times to settle the batter, hopefully without deflating the egg foam too much.

A word about pan preparation: normally I would use baking spray and/or parchment to prepare this 9×3-inch (230×76 mm) springform pan, but in this case I used the more traditional coating of softened butter and flour in addition to a parchment round at the bottom (hand-cut from a square of regular baker’s parchment). After buttering the pan, the parchment circle is pressed into the bottom, smoothing it out to eliminate as many air bubbles as possible, and then more butter is spread on top of the parchment. A tablespoon of flour is more than enough to coat the entire inside simply by rotating the pan while holding it at various angles (with any excess flour dumped out).

Cake cooling on rack
After 50 minutes in a 350°F (175°C) oven, the torte is finished baking. It must cool in the pan for about 15 minutes (during which time the egg proteins are still cooking!) before being turned out onto the cooling rack to finish cooling.

Cake cooling on rack – upside-down!
Brody says to cool the cake with the original top side down, so that the flatter bottom side will become the new top of the torte. I haven’t yet removed the parchment round in this photo.

After removing parchment round from cake bottom/top
The new top of the cake isn’t completely flat — the creases from where I folded the parchment to make the circle have to some extent transferred onto the cake. Still, it’s definitely smoother than the other side, which has cracked a bit in the baking. The whitish spots on the far edge are just a bit of excess flour that wasn’t completely removed during pan prep; the whitish spots on the near edge, by contrast, are bits of hazelnut.

Side view of unfrosted cake
You can see from this side view that the torte top (formerly bottom) isn’t completely flat, but has actually sunk a bit after cooling. This isn’t a problem, however: it will provide a shallow well to hold the raspberry-jam “filling”. (“Filling” in quotation marks since that term would normally be restricted to a layer cake.)

Cake on cake stand awaiting topping
To keep the serving platter (or cake stand, as I’m using here) neat, Brody recommends placing strips of waxed paper underneath the cake to catch drips. This allows me to avoid using a cardboard cake round, since I can fully frost the cake on the stand rather than having to transfer it after the fact. (That wouldn’t be an option with a taller layer cake that wouldn’t fit in the refrigerator on top of the cake stand.)

Cake with raspberry jam topping
A third of a cup (3 ounces weight) of the jam is heated on the stovetop to loosen it up, and then spread in the depression on top of the cake, making sure not to let it drip down the sides. (Oops: you can see one drip on the right-hand side!)

Making chocolate glaze on stovetop
The chocolate glaze which will cover the entire surface of the torte is made from six ounces more bittersweet chocolate (I used the same Callebaut 70% as for the cake), two ounces of unsweetened chocolate (I used the TCHO 99% “dark chocolate critters”), three tablespoons of water, an equal volume of corn syrup, and an ounce of butter. All except the chocolate are brought to a boil on the stovetop, and then both chocolates are mixed in off-heat, until melted. (The extra unsweetened chocolate helps to counteract the additional sweetness of the corn syrup, which is there primarily for textural reasons rather than adding any sort of flavor.)

Finished chocolate glaze, cooling
The chocolate glaze is supposed to cool for a while, until it firms up to a bit more of a frosting-like consistency.

Another view of frosted cake
I was a bit impatient with the glaze and didn’t allow it to set up as much as I should have before frosting, so it tended to pool a bit in the center of the torte. Still, despite the sloppy job of frosting (need more practice) I’m reasonably happy with the results. I did however have to put the torte in the refrigerator to set the glaze — this time of year my kitchen is simply too warm for it to set, and when (after waiting overnight) I tried covering the torte with plastic wrap, the glaze stuck to the plastic.

Cake minus one slice
The following night, I portioned the torte into 16 pieces, following my usual practice (and calorie budget). Ignoring any garnish (Brody recommends either whipped cream or fresh raspberries), this cake works out to 398 kcal per slice, if you make 16, but a whopping 640 kcal if you stick with the suggested 10 slices.

Slice of cake garnished with fresh local raspberries
In keeping with the theme, I chose the lighter of Brody’s suggested garnishes, some delightful fresh local raspberries. You’ll also note in this cross-section how, because the glaze was applied before it had sufficiently thickened, it pooled in the depression in the center of the torte, whereas at the edges it is quite thin indeed.

Nutrition

As I’ve already hinted, the suggested serving size is a bit of a splurge. I’ve stuck with my usual 16 slices for a nine-inch round cake, which also works out better for sharing. Since this torte gets its structure from butter, eggs, and hazelnuts, rather than flour, it gets more of its calories from fat than a flour-based cake would. On the plus side, it is A Low Sodium Food according to FDA regulations. Excludes garnish.

Nutrition Facts
Serving size: 1/16 cake
Servings per recipe: 16
Amount per serving
Calories 398 Calories from fat 270
% Daily Value
Total Fat 30g 46%
 Saturated Fat 14g 72%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 116mg 39%
Sodium 30mg 1%
Potassium 70mg 2%
Total Carbohydrate 27g 9%
 Dietary fiber 1g 4%
 Sugars 15g
Proteins 5g 9%
Vitamin A 9%
Vitamin C 1%
Calcium 3%
Iron 6%
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