Flourless Chocolate Hazelnut Torte

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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  1. It must be fate that I just so happen to NOT have much flour left in my pantry but I DO have ground hazelnuts in the freezer. My husband will be glad that there's chocolate involved for tonight's dessert. :-)

  2. How perfect!

    You know, there are two kinds of women in the world: those of us who keep things like ground hazelnuts in the freezer, and those who don't... (And lucky for the men who end up with us!)

  3. Yum! That looks tasty!

  4. I just saw your comment and had to get back with you...the cake was AWESOME! I was a little worried at first because it seemed overly liquid, but in the end (after about oh, 45-50 minutes total time) the cake was done and it was a difficult wait til dinner.

    My husband loves it. The best compliment though? He said to make it for his dad. "Papà will really like this cake, and he won't believe it when he finds out that there's no flour in it."

    Way to go!

  5. ah, your torte is calling my name!

  6. What a luxurious cake this must've been! I've been a long time devotee of Laudemio. We were in Tuscany and saw how they still hand pick all of their olives. I think I could drink it alone. Hmmm... can I add this to my Valentine dessert list?

  7. Rowena: What a fantastic compliment from both you and your husband! It isn't easy to please an Italian palate and so I'm proud that your husband thinks it worthy of serving for his Papa. I should have noted that the batter is a little bit liquidy, but it bakes up nicely. I just had a bit of it today and it also keeps well!

    Mandy: I know what you mean! I spent all day at work daydreaming about having a slice when I got home. I barely dropped my keys and groceries before I indulged. ;)

    Christine: I would be completely in favore of drinking Laudemio alone. It's incredible. And yes, you may absolutely add to your Valentine's dessert list! I'd be honored.

  8. What a lovely cake, and a very interesting, yet simple, recipe! Thanks for posting this!

  9. Thank you, Cinnamonda! Please let me know if you try it!

  10. I made this for my husband's birthday, and it was amazing. It's going into my permanent collection. A question: have you -- or has anyone -- actually tried this without the baking powder? I was thinking of trying it for passover, but am worried it will be too dense.

  11. Hi Alice!

    I actually have made it without the baking powder! Once by accident and once on purpose for Passover. Both times it came out wonderfully, although not quite as light. It won't be dense, but it will just be a bit flatter (think only about 1 to 1.5 inches instead of rising up the full way). It'll still be very good!

  12. Thanks, Alejandra. It's a go.


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