This is a lesson in reading the recipe. Recipes, like road maps, are often partially or completely ignored in my house. For the most part I get where I want to go, but from time to time I wish had paid more attention to those pesky little details. Like for example, you’ll notice this Alice Medrich recipe here calls for unsweetened chocolate, which you know, generally cannot be replaced by a bag of chocolate chips. Or so I learned.
It’s been one of those weeks where I’ve been plagued by an intense restlessness that washes over me from time to time. Ever have a sudden unexplained desire to change your entire life? Quit your job, pack up your house, and go somewhere entirely, totally, completely, different. A place you will then spend the next several years trying to make exactly the same as the place you left. I’m hit hardest by this desire, not when life takes a wrong turn, but when it stays its happy course too long. When I get comfortable. When I look around and see everything I thought I always wanted. I’ve realized lately that I’m good at creating, even changing, and mostly at wanting. But, I’m terrible at just enjoying.
As you can imagine, I’m excellent company when I’m in this mood. Every little thing pushes my buttons as I search for reasons I can be justifiably unsatisfied. Recipes are no exception here. We spent the better part of the week testing one final recipe for a friend of mine writing a New England farm to table cookbook. This one, purposefully saved for last, was a marathon of a recipe: headcheese requiring 12 hours of cooking time and then an overnight rest in the fridge, not to mention the sourcing of the head, etc. Clearly not for the faint of heart, or spirit, as I would discover. Once you actually make your headcheese, you fry it and serve it with a preserved tomato yogurt sauce (requiring 6 hours of straining) and homemade pickles (requiring 24 hours marinating.) The truth is I failed to read through the recipe thoroughly from the start, so just when I thought I was done, I’d come across another direction that required some seemingly unreasonable amount of time. Of course the recipe, not me, was to blame for these surprises.
Long and short long, 3 days and several expletives later, we did it. Headcheese project completed, I pulled down an Alice Medrich book, Pure Desserts, and because I like to torture myself, decided I should make something sweet and easy to rid myself and my kitchen of all the headcheese karma. I honed in on a interesting recipe for a chocolate almond torte in which you simply grind together chocolate and nuts (I used hazelnuts to evoke the nutella gods) and fold them into whipped egg whites – no melting, no finessing, no 24 hours in the fridge – I was sold. Of course, probably as payback for all my bitching complaining about the headcheese, karma kicked me with the read the recipe you idiot (even if it’s dead simple) lesson. Ok, I get it.
So round one, the cake, though pretty, was less than satisfactory. Read: so sweet it made me teeth ache. But, the curious method, combined with the swooning aroma of chocolate whirled together with toasted hazelnuts, meant I had to give it a second try, albeit with the unsweetened chocolate for which the original recipe called. The results were, like the method here, totally unlike anything I’ve ever made before, not to mention completely addictive and delicious. The torte, with all those egg whites, is light as air as you might expect, but it also packs a serious, and I mean mega, chocolate punch. All those ground chocolate bits mean molten little pockets peppered through the cake day one, and day two, as the cake sets up and ages, they are transformed into a crumbly chocolate crumb that melts as you chew.
Of course a large part of the charm here, especially after the headcheese drama, comes in the form of this cake’s 1 part fuss to 10 parts impress ratio. I’m thinking this would be a killer dessert to keep in your back pocket for your next dinner party. Being flourless, it would also fit the bill perfectly for gluten free folks, or for Passover – I realize I’m a day late and a dollar short here, but there’s always next year.
Makes one 10 inch cake and serves up to 12.
Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Hazelnut Torte
Adapted from Pure Desserts
- 1 cup, 5 oz toasted hazelnuts, blanched or unblanched
- 7 oz good quality unsweetened chocolate
- 1 cup granulated sugar, divided
- Pinch of salt
- 7 large egg whites
- ¼ tsp cream of tartar
- Cocoa for dusting
- Unsweetened whipped cream for serving
Butter a 10 inch spring form cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Combine the nuts, chocolate, ½ cup of the sugar, and the salt in a food processor and pulse until well chopped, but not completely pulverized – you don’t want a paste. Meanwhile, whip the egg whites and the cream of tartar (use a stand or hand held electric mixer fitted with a whisk attachment) until thick and frothy. Add the remaining ½ cup sugar a little at a time and continue whipping until stiff peeks form.
Fold the chocolate mixture into the egg whites 1/3 at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 35-45 minutes until set and golden. A toothpick inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean save for a little melted chocolate.
Cool to room temperature, then run a sharp knife around the outside of the cake and remove the pan.
Dust the cake with cocoa powder and serve with a generous spoon of softly whipped unsweetened cream.