On our first night in Acqui Terme we had the most delicious hazelnut torta for dessert. I am crazy for hazelnuts and am constantly on the lookout for anything made with them. The cake was moist and oh so light. It was served with a dollop of whipped cream and I savored every single bite. I was so enamored that I told the owner (in my fledging Italian) that I would love the recipe. She replied “sorry, no” and I told her that I understood. I then realized that she said “no” because she didn’t have an actual recipe that she used. She went back to her kitchen and then returned to our table with a Piemontese cookbook which had a recipe that was somewhat similar to what she had done. I copied down the ingredients, thanked her and hoped I could make it myself.
The next day when we attended the Barolo Festival in Nizza Monferrato I purchased a delectable hazelnut cake from a booth at the fair. It was different from the one at the restaurant, but equally as delicious and we enjoyed it with our morning coffee. Now that I’m home I’m on the quest to bake a hazelnut torta.
I’ve found two recipes to try, in addition to the one from the restautrant. The one I made today was from a cookbook I’ve had for years called Trattoria, by Patricia Wells (who usually writes about French food). This version has chocolate in it, whereas the ones I ate in Italy did not. Chocolate and hazelnut-you can’t really go wrong with that combination!
Toasted Hazelnut Cake
Unsalted butter and flour for preparing the cake pan
10 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
1-1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 ounces hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and finely chopped
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Generously butter and flour a 9″ cake pan, preferably non-stick. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, cream the butter and 1 cup of the sugar until light and fluffy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Beat in the hazelnuts and the vanilla.
Sift the flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt into a large bowl. Then sift the mixture over the hazelnut batter, folding gently until blended. The batter will be very stiff, almost like a cookie dough.
In another bowl, beat the egg whites until fluffy. Add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar, a bit at a time and whisk until the mixture is stiff and glossy, but not dry.
With a large spatula carefully fold the egg whites into the batter until there are no more white patches in the batter.
Spoon the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing out the top with a spatula. Place the pan in the center of the oven. Bake until the cake is an even golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 40-45 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Turn out onto rack and reinvert onto a serving plate. Slice into wedges and serve with a dollop of whipped cream.
This cake is much denser than the ones I sampled in Piemonte, however it is delicious too. Check back for the next version-probably some time next week.