Monday night, 6.00pm. I’m sitting on the couch in a T-shirt and shorts, absentmindedly peeling an orange whilst the sun dips below the horizon. The scent of citrus lingers in the air, and my fingers tap aimlessly on blackened keys. For the first time since starting this blog I’m admittedly suffering from the condition known as writer’s block. Well… not to say that I’m producing a work of literary genius, but it’s definitely more attractive to read a blog post when it’s meaningful and orderly, as opposed to randomly assigned ideas in broken format.
So, chocolate. Clink. My ice-cubes spin in watery space, intermittently hitting the frosted glass with muffled sound. Predictably, this makes my mind wander towards thoughts of Summer heat: sand, flies, wafting humidity and volleyball by the ocean. A bit like yesterday, as a matter of fact, when a few of us gathered by the seaside for fish, chips and ice-cold ciders on the first 30 degree (86 degrees f) day of the season. That season being Spring, not Summer… the first week of which has brought a hailstorm, power cuts and everything in-between. Today was surprisingly a balmy 26 degrees (79 degrees f) with scattered patches of cloud and low humidity. Tomorrow’s forecast is cloud and rain. Go figure.
What’s any of this got to do with the recipe post for today? Well… nothing really. But since I’m already reading like a weather report I might as well start rambling about climate change, greenhouse emissions, accompanying ozone depletion and El Niño. Yep, I know. You’re not here for jumbled social commentary. You want rich, dense chocolatey goodness in a recipe format. So that’s what you’re going to get.
The recipe that you’ll find below is for a chocolate hazelnut cake that has recently become quite a hit in my office environment. In fact, during the sampling process there were actually cries of “Holy Mackerel Laura!” through my office door. As I can’t recall another occasion where I’ve heard that expression in my immediate vicinity, I thought it’d be appropriate to christen this confection as my ‘Holy Mackerel!’ Cake. That title didn’t quite make it to publication though… mostly because it’s associated with oily fish. Title, take two: Chocolate Truffle Cake. Much better.
This cake heavily leans on a recipe for Nutella Cake by Nigella Lawson, and like all of Nigella’s recipes it’s moist, decadent and complex in flavour. As it’s name suggests, it’s pretty much a boozy praline truffle in cake form, as there are layers of smooth hazelnut and bitter chocolate with a spiced rum finish.
Enjoy this cake in small slices with a dollop of cream, extra hazelnuts and shards of crisp praline. For the coffee-and-cake people amongst you, I’d also suggest a smooth shot of espresso… the warmth and bitterness cuts beautifully through the rich density of the cake.
Hazelnut Truffle Cake
Makes one cake
- 6 eggs, separated
- 120g unsalted butter
- 100g melted organic 70% dark chocolate
- 400g/1 jar chocolate hazelnut spread (Nutella or Oxfam Organic)
- 100g (plus 50g extra, reserved) fresh hazelnut meal
- 1-2 tbsp good quality rum
- 1 quantity dark chocolate ganache (recipe below)
- 1 cup hazelnut praline (recipe below)
Preheat your oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Grease and line a round 23cm spring-form tin.
Whisk egg whites until soft peaks form, then set aside. Melt dark chocolate and butter gently over a double boiler (glass bowl over a pot of simmering water) until smooth. Remove the bowl from the heat, and beat in the chocolate hazelnut spread. Once smooth, set your chocolate mixture aside to cool slightly.
Using a fine sieve, sift your hazelnut meal into a bowl. Discard any larger pieces that have gathered in the netting, then weigh the remaining meal. If the total is under 100g, repeat the sieving process with your reserved meal until you have the appropriate quantity.
Add the sieved meal into your chocolate mixture with the egg yolks and rum. Fold the mixture together well with a spatula, and leave it to cool a little if necessary.
Once at room temperature, beat in a large dollop of egg white to lighten the mixture. When you can no longer see any defined white patches, gently fold in the rest of the egg whites a spoonful at a time. Discard any liquid that may have separated from the beaten whites.
Pour the mixture into your lined spring-form tin and bake for 40-60 minutes, depending upon the heat of your oven (mine is not fan-forced so I ended up baking it for about 55 minutes). When done, the cake should have risen slightly and a defined crust should have developed on the surface. A skewer inserted into the centre should come out with just moist crumbs attached.
Cool your cake in the tin over a wire rack. When it’s at room temperature, cover the tin with plastic wrap and place the cake into the fridge to chill for at least 1 hour or preferably overnight. Chilling the cake makes it much easier to ice whilst also easing the process of removing it from the tin. Don’t attempt to peel the bottom lining off your cake whilst it’s still warm… it will collapse, and so will your baking confidence.
Dark Chocolate Ganache:
This quantity of ganache ices the top of the cake only, which to me is more than enough. If you wish to also cover the sides, I’d suggest doubling your ingredients.
- 120ml thickened cream
- 120g organic 70% dark chocolate, finely chopped
- a splash of rum (if desired)
Gently heat your cream over a double boiler on a low simmer. When it begins to steam (not boil) remove the bowl from the heat and carefully incorporate your chocolate and alcohol. Mix well with a balloon whisk, ensuring that you agitate the bottom of the bowl to remove any melted chocolate. Keep whisking until your mixture is smooth, evenly coloured and glossy (there should be no visible oil or grainy particles in the mixture; if you see these, your ganache has ‘split’. See ‘notes’ for instructions on how to fix it). Set aside to cool slightly.
As mentioned above, try to ice your cake whilst it’s still reasonably cool. It allows the ganache to set quicker (stopping an overflow on the edge) whilst also preventing any possible overheating which will again result in split, oily ganache.
Once your cake is on a presentation plate, spoon a dollop of ganache into the centre. Spread it from the centre to the edges in firm, even strokes using a palette knife or rubber spatula. Add more ganache as needed until you have a smooth, even surface, then leave the ganache to set slowly on your counter top (I find that placing the cake directly into the fridge at this point encourages cracks to develop). Once set, refrigerate until required. Just before serving, scatter over your hazelnut praline.
Please note: This recipe involves the handling of very hot sugar syrup (to caramelize, sugar needs to reach around 160 degrees c/320 degrees f) which is almost impossible to quickly rinse or rib off the skin upon contact. It causes nasty burns and significant blistering, so don’t allow yourself to become complacent at any time in the cooking process.
- 1 cup raw organic hazelnuts
- 1/2 cup white caster sugar
Preheat oven to 180 degrees C (350 degrees f). Place your hazelnuts on a dry baking tray, then toast them in the oven for 10 minutes or until the skins start to crack and peel away from the kernels. Remove the nuts from the oven and allow them to cool slightly. When easy to handle, place the nuts onto a clean tea-towel or piece of kitchen paper and rub them gently to remove the skins.
Prepare another baking tray by lining it with some greaseproof paper. Set this, and your skinned hazelnuts, aside.
Place your caster sugar into a heavy-based, dry saucepan over moderate heat. Cook, without stirring, until you see the sugar on the edges start to liquidize and bubble. At this point you can stir it gently with a fork until the mixture is free of any sugar granules. Use a clean pastry brush dipped in water to brush down any crystals that form on the sides of the pan.
Allow the mixture to simmer. Don’t be tempted to stir at this point as you might cause the sugar to seize. You will eventually see a dark toffee stain spread throughout the liquid sugar in patches. When this occurs you can gently agitate the pan until the entire mixture is a dark shade of gold. Add in your toasted hazelnuts, tossing to coat. Tip your mixture onto the lined baking tray, shaking it slightly to separate any clumps of nuts (remember this is hot sugar, don’t be tempted to use your hands). Leave it to set for at least half an hour.
To serve your praline, you can either blitz the lot in a food processor for a moderately fine crumb, or as per my photographs, just chop it roughly on a board. In either case, I’d recommend leaving some hazelnuts whole for both texture and presentation purposes.
I’d also suggest adding your praline just before serving the cake, as any residual moisture in the ganache will gradually melt the sugar (especially if condensation collects under cling wrap). Store any remaining praline in a cool place within an airtight container.
- Ganache is made by combining cream and chocolate together into a smooth emulsion. Continued whisking breaks down the fat in both ingredients, allowing the particles to integrate. However, overheating the mixture can destabilize the emulsion which results in ‘splitting’.
- Split ganache is recognizable by it’s oily, granular nature. Take a close look at your mixture; if it’s split you’ll be able to see a layer of oily cocoa butter floating on the surface. Don’t panic though, I usually find that I can fix the mixture in one of the following ways:
- If your mixture is still warm: add in another big spoonful of pure, cold cream. Whisk it in until the mixture returns to a shiny, smooth consistency.
- If your mixture has cooled: gently heat about 50ml of cream until it starts to steam. Add it into your mixture a little at a time, whisking continuously until the mixture recovers it’s smooth, shiny consistency.
- Use an electric hand whisk to try and vigorously re-emulsify the ingredients. This sometimes works as a last resort.
- If none of the above have saved your mixture then… well, you can try adding a little liquid glucose but I’d probably just bin the lot and start again. Sorry.
- To prevent splitting, make sure that your cream is not overheated prior to adding your finely chopped chocolate. Whisk it well, and don’t leave your mixture unattended or the chocolate may melt unevenly (creating patches of oil, which might not re-emulsify) or seize (which will leave little chunks in your finished ganache).
- If your mixture has seized, microwave the ganache in very short (15-20 second) bursts until there are no remaining solids in the mixture. Whisk well until it recovers its smooth, even sheen.
- Substitutes: If you prefer almonds to hazelnuts, this cake works extremely well with the substitutions of almond meal and whole almonds in the praline. You can even experiment with Amaretto for a complete almond truffle experience. Yum. If you dislike the thought of using bought chocolate hazelnut spread, you can easily substitute it for a homemade version as follows (thanks to the amazing recipe writers at all of these sites):
- Vegan, milk-free, lower-calorie chocolate hazelnut spread (with honey in place of sugar)
- Vegan chocolate hazelnut spread (with soy milk and powdered sugar)
- The whole shebang chocolate hazelnut spread (with condensed milk and dark chocolate… well, at least you know exactly what’s in it, right?)
- A real Italian version… buon appetito! (with hazelnut oil, cream and honey)
- It goes without saying that any leftover chunks of this cake transform extremely well into truffles. Just mash your remaining cake crumbs in a bowl, add a little more liqueur if desired, then roll the mixture into balls. Coat your truffles in crushed, toasted nuts, leftover ground praline, organic cocoa powder, toasted coconut or more melted organic dark chocolate. Deliciously easy.
- Oh, and if you want to prepare for the possibility of a Zombie Apocalypse, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention has a whole host of online resources available for free. Check them out here (remember the double tap) whilst also reading about other interesting things such as… climate change! Yep, you’ve already had your chocolate goodness. Now I’m back to social commentary (no, not really).
Foot (not hand) note: the photo above was taken by Aaron on a recent stormy September night. The blustery rain of the afternoon turned into hail, and after some intermittent clatter on our windows the lights spluttered out. Power cut. After some lighting of candles, we sat huddled on the couch, happily eating chicken salad whilst sipping on cold berry cider with chilled fingers. Ice cubes clinked against glass, swimming in crimson, and despite the 4 degree (39 degrees f) temperature we felt warm in the flickering candlelight.
Three hours later, we returned to the land of technology and were welcomed by two successive episodes of Community. Awesome. Oh, and though my writer’s block seems to have turned into writer’s diarrhoea, the cider we drank was delicious… freshly crushed boysenberries, transformed into Boysencider by the guys and girls at the Old Mout Cidery in Nelson, New Zealand. Definitely recommended. With or without the power cut.