After writing yesterday's post about the difference between tarts and tortes, I had a hard time getting both out of my head. When I got home from dinner tonight, I could resist no more and decided to poke around in my kitchen to see what I could throw together. I've been promising the girls at work that I would bring in a treat for them soon so I figured this would be the perfect opportunity to try something new (as if I need more excuses for random late-night baking).
A bag of hazelnut meal that I had been keeping in my freezer since Thanksgiving was the inspiration for this light, flourless torte with just a hint of nutty crunch. The ingredients are few and simple (ground hazelnuts, good cocoa powder, olive oil, sugar, vanilla, and eggs), and the process is very quick. And I mean really quick... I was enjoying my slice about an hour after I decided I wanted to bake something.
The decadent secret behind this deceptive little torte? Olive Oil. (Shhh...)
I started using olive oil in my baking out of laziness, really. I was baking a batch of chocolate chip cookies one day when I realized that I'd run out of butter. Not wanting to run out to the store to buy some, I decided to experiment with a bottle of olive oil I had sitting on the counter. The end result was incredible--moister, and with an additional layer of flavor that I was definitely not expecting, but am now completely unwilling to give up.
If this is your first time baking with olive oil, you might be wondering what kind. It's really up to you. A light olive oil with a mild flavor could be a good start if you're concerned about the flavor notes being too distinct. Personally, I go straight for the strong stuff. For this recipe, I used very fruity Tuscan extra virgin called Laudemio. It's made by the Frescobaldi family, one of the big, old families in Florence (along with the Puccis and the Ferragamos) known mainly for their award-winning "Super Tuscan" wines. It is a bit pricier than the average bottle of olive oil ($35 to $40 a bottle), but the flavor is so incredible that you won't regret it. In Italy they say the test of a good oil is one that can be drizzled over fresh cooked gnocchi and enjoyed as is with no additional flavors. This is definitely one of those oils.
The fruitiness of the oil contrasts well with the hazelnuts and silky cocoa powder. If you don't have hazelnut meal (also a Whole Foods buy), you can replace it with ground almonds or pecans--just be sure to toast them before grinding to remove the excess moisture, which is key to keeping your torte light. A teaspoon of baking powder gives the cake a little lift, but feel free to skip if you don't have any on hand or want to avoid for dietary reasons (this also makes a great Seder cake for Passover).
I think you'll be surprised with the texture of this cake. Most flourless tortes tend to be very dense and almost pudding-like, but this one is very light and nutty. You'll swear there is flour in it when it comes out of the oven. It almost made me wonder if some kind of kitchen poltergeist tossed some into the Kitchen Aid while I had my back turned
(I have kind of an overactive imagination sometimes.) (Or most of the time...).
Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Torte
I was originally going to top this with a bittersweet chocolate ganache,
but it came out so perfect that I decided to skip that and just rely on the
great flavors of the cake. I suggest serving with a dusting of confectioner's sugar and a little dollop of homemade whipped cream on the side.
2 cups hazelnut meal (you can also substitute almond or walnut meal)
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons good cocoa powder
1 cup granulated white sugar (for low-carb, you can use granulated Splenda)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 pinch of salt
4 large eggs
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and grease a 9" round or springform pan.Combine the dry ingredients in an electric mixer or food processor and pulse a few times. Add the eggs one at a time, followed by the oil, water, and extract. Continue to mix at high speed for 2-3 minutes to work some air into the batter.
Pour into your greased pan and place in the oven. Bake about 40 minutes or until a tester inserted into the center comes out clean.
Once it's ready, remove from the oven and let cool. You can store in the fridge, but be sure to serve at room temperature for the best flavor. Enjoy!
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