Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Hazelnut Torte

The finishing touch: Cream rosettes,
berry jam, and whole hazelnuts
This three-tiered torte is one of my very favorites - definitely, a show-stopper! Although many people claim to be this recipe’s originator, I’m not one of them. Tortes are usually of European origin, but I have no idea who came up with this wonderful recipe. To make the instructions easier to follow, I’ve modified them slightly from the original. As with many tortes, ground nuts take the place of flour, resulting in a light, airy texture. This torte’s nutty taste contrasts fabulously with the whipped cream rosettes and berry jam that finish it so beautifully. 
Through hard experience, I’ve learned to keep only a small quantity of nuts in the kitchen cupboard, and to keep the mother lode labeled and dated in a sealed bag in the freezer. When nuts go stale, they sometimes taste “off,” or even rancid. Take care in storing them. 
This torte is ideal for a buffet. It’s a large and fancy dessert, so I don’t prepare it often. The last time I made it, however, was memorable. As I set the torte on the table, everyone “Ooohed” and “Aaahed” (This cake definitely draws that kind of attention). As we tucked in, happily eating and talking, one of my guests became red-faced - hands clutching throat, eyes bugging out, swollen tongue protruding, upper body wobbling. No one noticed.
“More cake?” I asked my guests. Everyone had seconds except my now purple-faced friend, who choked out an indecipherable “Ccchhh!” “Speak up!” I chided. “I can’t understand what you’re saying when your mouth is full!” I am far too polite and far too discreet to give you her initials, but her name is Shelley Fralic.
(Shelley’s Editing Note: No hyperbole has been spared in this recounting) 
Fortunately, Shelley didn’t keel over and die, because no one would have actually noticed. But she did discover, that unfortunate day, that she had a severe allergy to hazelnuts. Hey! I have a severe allergy to fattening foods, but I’ll still eat this lovely torte anywhere, anytime.
Hazelnut Torte:
To Prepare the Torte:

3 c. skinned toasted hazelnuts, lightly packed, divided
 (see Note)
6 eggs, separated
1-¼ c. granulated sugar, divided
¼ c. fine, dry breadcrumbs
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
⅛ tsp. salt
Preheat oven to 350 deg. F. Grease three 8-in. layer cake pans and line bottoms with parchment paper trimmed to fit. 

Trace outline of pans onto parchment paper

Trim 1/4-in. inside penciled outline of pans

Fit snugly into greased pans

Have all ingredients for the cake batter pre-measured and at room temperature before starting. 

Chop hazelnuts finely, keeping some whole for top of torte

Grate lemon finely using zester

In a medium bowl, beat egg yolks, gradually beating in remaining ¾ c. sugar and continuing to beat at high speed until thick and light colored. 

Separate room-temperature egg yolks from whites

Into well beaten yolks, stir 1-½ c. of the ground nuts, bread crumbs, baking powder, lemon zest, and salt.

Add nuts,crumbs, baking powder, zest, salt to yolks

Chill egg whites. In a large bowl, beat the egg whites until soft peaks form, gradually beating in ½ c. sugar. Continue to beat until stiff. 
Beat chilled egg whites ...
Until stiff. Add some to yolks

Fold about ¼ of the stiffly beaten egg whites into yolk-nut mixture. Fold yolk mixture gently but quickly back into the remaining egg whites. 

Use an under-over folding motion to
incorporate yolk mixture into whites

Spoon into prepared pans
Turn into prepared pans and bake about 20 min. or until tops spring back when touched lightly in the middle. Cool slightly in pans before turning out on racks. Peel away parchment paper while cakes are still warm.

Note: Set aside 
1-½ c. finely ground reserved nuts for mixing into batter, ¾ c. for filling, and ¾ c. to press onto outside of torte.

To Prepare the Filling:

2 tsp. unflavored gelatin
2 tbsp. cold water
2-½ c. whipping cream (35% heavy cream)
½ c. sifted icing sugar (“powdered” or “confectioners” sugar)
½ tsp. almond extract
½ tsp. vanilla extract
Combine gelatin and cold water in small heat-proof dish and let stand 5 minutes. Set dish in a pan of simmering water, heating until gelatin dissolves. Cool slightly. Whip cream and icing sugar until soft peaks form. Beat in almond and vanilla extracts. Slowly pour in cooled gelatin, continuously beating until cream stiffens. Using two bowls, divide whipped cream mixture not quite in half, folding ¾ c. of the reserved, ground nuts into the smaller of the two portions. 

Fold finely ground nuts into stiffened whipped cream

Fill cream between bottom two layers, leaving top third bare

Evenly divide this smaller portion between the bottom two torte layers, spreading almost to the edges. Place third layer on top, leaving bare. Chill at least 1 hr. to stabilize. Reserve remaining whipped cream in refrigerator, to frost sides of torte.

To Prepare the Frosting:

Reserved whipping cream
Reserved nuts
⅓ c. high-quality raspberry, strawberry, or cherry jam
Whole hazelnuts, as required
When torte has been thoroughly chilled, ice sides with whipped cream, extending cream slightly above torte’s top edge. Chill to firm. Using a rosette nozzle, fill piping bag with remaining cream, storing filled bag in refrigerator until needed. When torte has been well-chilled, spread top with cherry jam to ½-inch from edge. Remove cream-filled piping bag from refrigerator, fluting 1-inch rosettes around cake edge, barely touching jam. 

Press finely chopped nuts around cake edge, decorating with jam
and cream rosettes. Press a nut into center of each rosette
Press whole hazelnut into centre of each piped rosette. Using the slightly cupped palm of your hand, press remaining ¾ c. finely ground nuts lightly into cream on sides of torte. Chill several hours. Serves 12.

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