Gianduja is so good that you can’t help but know there is a God. Although hazelnuts and cocao trees grow continents apart. The former prefer cooler climates (mostly in North America, Europe, Asia, and Australia), whereas the latter cluster in the hotter tropics around the equator.
Of course, the Italians were the geniuses who first tried the inspired match-making.
Well, I did a little match-making recently when I baked a hazelnut torte, doused it with Frangelico and layered it with dark chocolate ganache. Sinful, no? It’s like adult-rated Nutella in cake form.
Regardless of how much the cake calls to me – I resist taking a single bite until I have a good steaming cup of bitter dark coffee steeping in my French press, or a nice espresso being pressed pronto.
This is the Torta di Noccioli recipe, slightly modified, from Lidia Bastianich’s new cookbook, Lidia’s Italy. I left out the chopped chocolate called for in the batter and instead layered these mini cakes with dark chocolate ganache to make a Giandja Torte. Here’s my adaptation of Lidia’s recipe:
For the Cake
1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted with skins rubbed off
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus some for the cake pan
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
6 tbsp. soft butter, plus a bit for the cake pan
3/4 cup sugar plus two tablespoons
2 large eggs
1 tbsp. hazelnut oil
1/2 tbsp. grated orange zest
1 cup milk at room temperature1/4 cup Frangelico or dark rum
1 batch of dark chocolate ganache frosting (recipe follows)
3 toasted hazelnuts for garnish (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour the cake pan. (The original recipe calls for a 10″ springform pan.)
2. Chop the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor until it’s a course meal – not to a powder. Set aside. Whisk or soft together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
3. In a standing mixer with the whisk attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light, smooth and fluffy; scrape the sides of the bowl as needed. Incorporate the eggs, hazelnut oil, and orange zest in several additions, blending each in at a slow speed, scraping the bowl. Then, beat on high speed for a copule of minutes to lighten.
4. On slow speed, incorporate the dry mix in several additions, alternating with splashes of milk. Scrape down the bowl, then beat the mixture briefly on high. Fold in the chopped nuts by hand.
5. Scrape the batter into the cake pan, and smooth the top. Bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 45 mins. The top should be lightly browned and just spring back to a light touch. Be careful not to over-bake, as the cake can tend to be a bit dry. Prick the top of the cake with a fork and sprinkle half of the Frangelico (or rum, if using) over the top.
6. Cool on a wire rack for 1/2 hour or so. Remove the side ring of the springform and the let the cake cool completely. The cake will keep, well-wrapped in plastic, in a refrigerator for up to a week.
7. To assemble the cake, cut the completely cooled (or defrosted) cake into two layers, horizontally, with a cake knife, or large serrated knife (a bread knife works great). If the top layer is slightly domed, or cracked, shave off the top to make it level (or, if you want a domed cake, leave as is). Sprinkle the remaining Frangelico over the bottom layer. Position the bottom layer on a cake stand (or the cake’s final resting place). Spread 1/3 cup of the chocolate ganache frosting over the bottom layer and spread out evenly, leaving a 1/4″ border around the edge un-frosted. Put the top layer on, press down slightly. Using the remaining frosting, cover the entire cake generously. Garnish the top by centering three toasted hazelnuts in the middle of the cake.
For the Chocolate Ganache Frosting
1 cup heavy cream
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
5 oz. 99% dark chocolate, chopped
2 tsp. vanilla extract
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), cut into small pieces.
1. Put the chocolate and butter in a bowl large enough to accommodate 2 cups more of liquid.
2. Heat the cream and sugar together in a saucepan over the medium-high heat. Stir to completely dissolve the sugar, then slowly bring to a slight boil – watching carefully to prevent the mixture from boiling over.
3. Carefully, pour the boiling cream and sugar over the chopped chocolate and butter, immediately adding the vanilla extract. Stir continuously until all of the ingredients are well-incorporated. Set aside to cool.