I don't often make tortes, single-layer cakes with the addition of little to no flour. But this one was a hit this past Thanksgiving, and so it goes into the rotation for the holidays and whenever the chocolate beast needs taming.
Let me get straight to the point here. This is a cake for serious chocolate lovers, which I don't necessarily consider myself to be since I usually prefer savory over sweet. The finely-ground nut filling — for which I alternate between hazelnut and almond, sometimes subbing in pecans or walnuts — adds a level of moisture and texture to the overall chocolate experience. Gently folding in whipped egg whites keeps this flourless cake even more light and airy.
All to be grounded by a thick layer of chocolate ganache, a French word for the glaze or frosting. What is ganache? The story goes that a chocolatier's apprentice accidentally spilled cream into the chocolate and was treated as a "ganache," a klutz, idiote (said with proper "Pink Panther" accent), slow and daft. Far from being an error, a beloved glaze was created.
The ganache is so quick and easy I find myself whipping it up to top ice cream or just to dip a spoon into. Did I mention that I am not partial to sugar? But this is a keeper — a deceptively fancy dessert with the flavor of a much richer concoction. I highly recommend using a kitchen scale for measuring and gathering your ingredients before you start baking — it just makes the whole process so much easier. As for toppings, I find them unnecessary since there's the ganache, but for the holidays, gussy it up with frosted currants or cranberries, candied orange slices or perhaps some crushed peppermint candies. And a sweet tooth is born.
Flourless chocolate hazelnut torte with ganache
Makes 1 (10-inch) round cake
Unsalted butter or cooking spray, for greasing the pan
For the cake:
7 ounces/200 grams (about 1 1/2 cups) blanched hazelnuts (or almonds) or hazelnut or almond meal, such as Bob's Red Mill
7 ounces/200 grams good-quality dark chocolate, preferably minimum 60-70 percent cacao
7 ounces/14 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 10-12 pieces
6 ounces (just under 1 cup) granulated sugar
5 large eggs, at room temperature and separated
Optional additions: splash of kirsch or rum, orange zest or vanilla extract
For the ganache:
1 cup unsweetened or bittersweet dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup heavy cream
Fresh whipped cream, for serving (optional)
1. Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Grease and line with parchment a round springform pan (10-inches in diameter with 2 3/4-inch high sides). Grease the parchment; set aside.
2. If using whole hazelnuts, lightly toast the nuts and place in a food processor. Pulse into a fine meal; set aside.
3. Melt the chocolate in a water bath (a small heatproof bowl or pot set inside a slightly larger pot filled halfway with water). Bring to a low simmer and let chocolate melt. Remove bowl from water bath and stir in the butter, stirring with a silicon spatula or wooden spoon until melted. Add sugar and almond meal and stir just to combine. Once mixture is no longer hot, add the egg yolks and any additional flavorings, if using.
4. Whip the egg whites until soft and fluffy. Very gently fold the whipped whites into the chocolate-hazelnut mixture just until blended together, being careful not to deflate the whites. Pour batter into the prepared cake pan and bake, rotating pan after 15 minutes, for 35-40 minutes (start checking for doneness at 32 minutes) or until a tester inserted in the center comes out mostly dry; it's OK if a few crumbs stick to the tester.
NOTE: It's important not to overbake this cake. Let it cool in the pan at least 20 minutes. Unmold and gently place on a cake stand or serving plate. The cake can be made one day ahead, cooled completely and wrapped in plastic wrap; leave on the kitchen counter until ready to top with ganache and serve.
5. Make the ganache: In a heatproof/microwave-safe bowl combine the chocolate and cream and heat just until the cream starts to get warm. Stir chocolate into cream until thick and glossy and well-combined. Pour ganache over the cake and spread it out evenly. Let stand at least 30 minutes so the ganache "sets." Serve with fresh whipped cream, if desired.