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Chocolate Hazelnut Cake

If ever there were a cake to knock the socks off you chocolate lovers, this is it. Picture a light chocolate sponge cake, with a luscious mousse and chopped hazelnut filling, smothered in a decadent chocolate ganache.  We first tried it at Bàcaro, our favorite restaurant in the Cayman Islands where we spend a week each winter. After enjoying it twice in one week, I asked for the recipe and Head Chef Federico Destro generously gave it to me. It was written in metric measurements, but I’ve converted them into the cups more familiar to Americans. However, if you buy a kitchen scale, I recommend using the metric system measurements, since baking by weight is always more accurate than using cups.

Federico’s recipe says it makes 30 portions, but the portions at Bàcaro are much smaller than what I served at my recent dinner party. I cut mine into 24 portions, still a huge amount for most home cooks, but I froze half of the cake for later gratification. It freezes perfectly with the chocolate mousse inside, but wait until the day you serve it to pour on the ganache, otherwise you risk losing that lovely sheen and soft texture.

Make sure you sift the dry ingredients and have the eggs at room temperature before beating them with the sugar. Beat for the required 10 minutes to give them the volume necessary for the cake to rise, since it contains no other leavening.

Pour into a pan that’s been buttered and floured. I also lined the bottom with a piece of buttered parchment paper to help release the cake without sticking.

When it cooled, I cut the cake in half down the middle since half serves 12 people, and cutting it in half then makes it easier to cut it into horizontal layers. You’ll spread the mousse between the two layers.

In my experience, the mousse is the hardest part to make, since it uses Nutella, which is stiff and difficult to incorporate smoothly with the melted chocolate, egg whites and whipped cream.

Blend in just about a third of the egg whites with the melted chocolate and Nutella to get the mixture a little lighter. Keep whisking until it starts to loosen a bit.

Add another third of the egg whites after the initial egg whites have been whisked in. It will still be stiff, but a little easier to whisk.

By the time you add the last third of the egg whites and the whipped cream, it will become much lighter in color and texture.

Spread the mousse over the bottom layer of the cake and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts.

Place the top layer of cake over the mousse, then drizzle some of the diluted espresso coffee over the cake. As you can see, I lined each section of the cake in the pan with plastic wrap, to make it easier to remove one section and leave the rest in the freezer. Place the cake in the freezer for at least 4-6 hours.

After removal from the freezer, carefully cut into 12 sections.

This is the messy part — pouring the ganache on top. The recipe below includes more of the ganache than Chef Destro recommended, partly due to the fact that I’m not a chocolatier and wasted a good bit of chocolate, and partly due to the fact that I’ll take any occasion to eat more dark chocolate!

Here’s the way it’s served at Bàcaro, and you can see how much smoother the outer coating is, when a real professional is pouring the chocolate!

Still, there were no complaints about my version either. Place the cakes in the refrigerator, but set aside about 1/4 cup of the ganache and refrigerate it too. When it starts to harden just ever so slightly, scoop a little out with a demitasse spoon to make a chocolate ball on top, and place a hazelnut on top of the chocolate. I also added a small sliver of gold leaf — totally optional, but don’t forget the whipped cream!

The recipe may seem daunting, but you can make it the day before a dinner party or event, and keep it refrigerated. One caveat though – they look really tempting to husbands grazing for a midday treat. You’ve been warned.

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • FOR THE SPONGE CAKE:
  • 10 eggs
  • 2 cups (300g) sugar
  • ¾ cup (50g) cocoa powder
  • ¾ cup (50g) corn starch
  • ½ cup (50g) all-purpose flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 cup hazelnuts (150 g)
  • 1 cup diluted espresso (250 ml)
  • FOR THE MOUSSE:
  • about 1⅓ cup (300g) dark chocolate
  • 1 13 ounce jar (300g) Nutella
  • 1¾ cup (400g) heavy cream (whipped to medium hard peaks)
  • 4 tbsp sugar
  • 4 tbsp rum
  • 4 eggs
  • FOR THE GANACHE (This is enough for half the cakes, since I froze half the cakes unfrosted. Just double if frosting the entire cake).
  • 2 cups (about 425 grams) heavy cream
  • 12 oz. chocolate (I used three, 4 oz. bars of Hershey's Special Darrk)
Instructions
  1. TO MAKE THE SPONGE CAKE:
  2. Whisk the eggs and sugar at high speed for about 10 minutes.
  3. Sieve the cocoa powder, flour and corn starch and add them to the egg mixture gradually and folding slowly.
  4. Pour the mass into a half-size hotel pan (my pan measured 15" by 10" x 2.5" but the chef used a pan that was 20" x 10" x 2.5")
  5. Bake at 350F for 30-40 minutes or until cake pulls away from sides of pan.
  6. Let cool at room temperature, then wrap with plastic film and store in the fridge or freezer until needed.
  7. Cut the cake in half to make for easier handling, then cut each half in half horizontally, in order to have two layers.
  8. Then put some plastic wrap on the bottom and sides of the pan where you baked the cake, and put the layers inside, with separate pieces of plastic wrap for each half of the cake.
  9. That way, you can easily remove only half the cake and leave the rest frozen for later use.
  10. Each half of the cake made 12 servings, (30 for Chef Destro who cuts smaller portions) so unless you have a crowd of 24, you can keep half frozen.
  11. TO MAKE THE MOUSSE:
  12. Separate the egg whites from the yolks and set aside.
  13. Whisk the yolks with sugar and rum.
  14. Add the chocolate (previously melted) folding it slowly, then add the Nutella and combine (This is the hardest part because the Nutella is quite stiff. But keep at it.)
  15. Whisk the egg whites to hard peak, then gradually fold them into the chocolate mixture (again it's hard because the Nutella is so stiff, but once you have all the egg whites added, it loosens up and when you add the whipped cream, it will be just right consistency.)
  16. Fold in the whipped cream and set in the fridge until ready to use.
  17. TO ASSEMBLE THE CAKE AND FILLING:
  18. Leave the cake in the pan and remove the top layer.
  19. On the bottom layer of the sponge cake, drizzle with half the espresso.
  20. Set half the mousse on top of it and sprinkle with the hazelnuts.
  21. Place the top layer over the mousse and drizzle with the other half of the espresso.
  22. Cover and chill in the freezer for at least 4-6 hours.
  23. FOR THE GANACHE:
  24. Heat the cream, turn off the heat and add the chocolate, stirring to combine until smooth.
  25. TO FINISH THE CAKE WITH THE GANACHE:
  26. Cut the frozen cake in 24 portions, if you plan to serve all at one time.
  27. In that case, double the ingredients for the ganache.
  28. Otherwise, place half the cake in the freezer and cut the other half into 12 portions.
  29. Place them on a perforated rack and quickly coat them with the warm ganache.
  30. Place back in the freezer to harden.
  31. Repeat the coating process once more and place in the fridge until ready to serve.
  32. Save a bit of the ganache to use as a center dollop with a hazelnut perched on it.
  33. If you have any gold leaf, add a small piece to the top.
 

 

Chocolate Buttermilk Cake

Have you got a celebration coming up? If not, consider this afternoon a good enough occasion for a celebration. Forget Norman Vincent Peale. If you want to win friends and influence people, chocolate is where you want to be and this is the route to take. This cake has great flavor and texture, and is the second best chocolate cake around. THE best chocolate cake I’ve ever eaten is a chocolate truffle cake from a local shop here in town (Olive’s) and the hubs is getting it for me for my birthday this week. (Yea!) Only fitting, since I made this cake for his birthday earlier this year.

Most of you don’t live within a quick drive to my town and that shop, so I’ve giving you the next best thing. It’s almost the same recipe as Hershey’s “Perfectly Chocolate Cake” but since I had buttermilk in the house from another recipe, I decided to use that instead of regular milk. Buttermilk adds a bit of a tang, and makes a big difference in the tenderness of cakes. Even if you don’t have buttermilk in your refrigerator, you can create it by squeezing a little lemon juice into regular milk and letting it sit for five to ten minutes.

This ratio of chocolate frosting to cake is crucial, in my humble opinion, but then again, I’m a pushover for chocolate frosting (well, any kind of buttercream frosting, actually).

I melted a little chocolate for the decoration, and also shaved some chocolate to press into the sides of the cake.

If that’s too much chocolate for you (you’re kidding, right?), it tastes delicious with a plain buttercream frosting too, as my granddaughter demonstrates in the video below.

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Chocolate Buttermilk Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • CAKE:
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1¾ cups flour
  • ¾ cup dark cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 tsp pure vanilla extract
  • 1 cup hot coffee, cooled (I use espresso, and add more water to bring to one cup)
  • CHOCOLATE BUTTERCREAM FROSTING:
  • 1 cup butter softened
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup dark cocoa powder
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • ¼ cup heavy whipping cream
Instructions
  1. MAKE THE CAKE:
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  3. Grease and flour two 8" cake pans, and line the bottoms with parchment paper for easy removal later.
  4. Whisk together in a large bowl of a standing mixer (or use a hand mixer) the sugar, flour. cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder and salt.
  5. In a separate mixing bowl, add the buttermilk, vegetable oil, eggs and vanilla, and whisk to combine.
  6. Beat at a low speed, then and slowly pour in the wet ingredients until just combined, scraping sides of the mixing bowl if necessary.
  7. Keeping the mixer at a slow speed, carefully pour in the coffee. Mix until just combined, scraping the sides of bowl as needed.
  8. Pour batter into the prepared pans and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
  9. Remove cakes from oven.
  10. Let cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then flip gently onto cooling racks to continue cooling.
  11. Remove the parchment paper and cool completely before frosting.
  12. MAKE THE FROSTING:
  13. Beat the butter, vanilla and salt together until smooth and creamy.
  14. Whisk together the cocoa powder and powdered sugar, then add the mix and the whipping cream to the butter mixture, a little at a time until mixed together.
  15. Continue beating for 3 or 4 minutes until the frosting is light and fluffy.
  16. Frost the cake, using about ⅓ for the inside of the cake and the rest for the tops and sides.
  17. If you want to decorate as I did, shave some chocolate using a vegetable peeler and press on the sides (It can be messy)
  18. For the top, microwave an ounce or two of dark chocolate with a 3-4 tablespoons of cream.
  19. You may need to add more cream to get to a pourable consistency.
  20. Stir until it is liquid enough to pour, then drizzle in lines across the top.
  21. Using a toothpick or butterknife, swipe across the opposite directions of the chocolate lines, first in one direction, then the other, to get the wave pattern.
 

Black Forest Cake with Birchbark Decoration

I confess. I went off my diet to enjoy two — no, make that three —  slices of this cake. And there’s still a quarter of the cake left. I’ve made it twice now — once for Christmas, when we had a big crowd that consumed all of it. And I made it again last week, when it was just the two of us. But don’t judge – I sliced off a quarter of this cake and took it to my 90+ year-old neighbors to help them celebrate Valentine’s Day. Studded with cherries and hugged by a white chocolate birch bark, this cake would also be perfect to celebrate the upcoming birthday of George Washington – the first president of the U.S.A. who legend says chopped down a cherry tree as a young boy.  You don’t have to embellish it with the chocolate birch bark if you want to make it easy on yourself. Just serve it with the whipped cream frosting and everyone will love it just the same. The cake recipe is from “Alice’s Tea Cup” cookbook, but it’s practically the same as the Hershey’s recipe I’ve been using for decades. Alice’s Tea Cup recipe calls for 1/4 cup sour cream, and I didn’t have it on hand, so substituted plain Greek yogurt instead. The cake is very forgiving and even without the sour cream or yogurt, it’s a delicious cake with a beautiful crumb.

Just a word of caution before baking however. The first time I made this, I put all three cake pans in the oven at once — not a good idea since they came out lopsided. The next time, I baked each cake layer one at a time and it was much more even. When you’re assembling the cake, you could eliminate the liqueur soaking each layer if you’re serving it to young children. But in my opinion, the liqueur adds so much flavor and it’s dispersed enough even for children to handle. I used about 1/2 cup of Cherry Marnier for the three layers, but next time, I’ll increase it to 3/4 cup. If you don’t have Cherry Marnier (I finally finished the bottle I’ve had for more than 40 years), substitute with kirsch or brandy.

The first time I made this, I used amarena cherries from Italy (my favorite), but they are a bit expensive to use in such quantity. This time I bought some jarred pitted cherries that were just fine. After you’ve soaked the layer in liqueur, spread the whipped cream in abundance and dot it with the cherries. Repeat with the second layer, then top with the third layer.

Smear whipped cream all over the sides and top. If you plan to decorate with the white chocolate birch bark, (and I do encourage you to do so. It makes quite a statement.) the perimeter doesn’t have to be perfect since it will be completely covered. Just make sure you have enough whipped cream to help the chocolate pieces adhere.

Making the birch bark is simple. First use a paint brush to “paint” melted dark chocolate marks across a piece of parchment paper. The area you cover in chocolate should be as tall as the finished cake with all the layers and frosting, and slightly wider than the circumference of the cake. After you’ve made the dark chocolate marks, let the chocolate harden. Then melt the white chocolate and let it cool before spreading over the dark chocolate with an offset spatula (I dripped some over the dark chocolate first before spreading with the spatula). This part can be tricky if the temperature isn’t just right. If you spread the white chocolate while it’s warm, or worse yet, while it’s hot, it will melt the dark chocolate and smear it. A little smearing is fine, but you don’t want to lose the characteristic look of the birch bark. If you wait until it’s too cold, the white chocolate will harden and you’ll have a hard time spreading it. I got the idea from “The Cake Girls” – and you might want to check out these directions before trying.

Let the white chocolate bark cool completely. Put it in the refrigerator if your room is too hot. Then slice or break off pieces to use for the decoration. Don’t worry if some of them break in two or three pieces. You can always patch some together on the cake.

I finished it off by piping some whipped cream rosettes on the top. But even that is not necessary if you don’t have the right equipment. Everyone will love it just the same.

Including my husband, who by now has shown remarkable (and uncharacteristic) self-restraint by eating only one slice a day of this cake. As for me, don’t ask. Because unlike George Washington, I may have to tell a lie.

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Black Forest Cake with Birchbark Decoration
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspooon kosher salt
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • ½ cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • ¾ cup hot brewed coffee
  • FOR THE FILLING AND FROSTING:
  • 2½ cups whipping cream
  • ½ cup powdered sugar
  • a jar of sour cherries in liquid (drained), or amarena cherries in syrup (use as many as you like. I didn't measure but I think I used about 1 cup total)
  • ¾ cup liqueur (Kirsch, or cherry marnier, or brandy)
  • FOR THE BIRCH BARK DECORATION:
  • 12 ounces white chocolate
  • a couple of ounces of dark or milk chocolate
Instructions
  1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour three 8-inch round baking pans.
  2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt in large bowl.
  3. Add eggs (one at a time), sour cream, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of mixer 2 minutes.
  4. Slowly drizzle in hot coffee, mixing until the batter is blended. Batter will be thin.
  5. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  6. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out clean.
  7. Cool completely before removing from pan and frosting.
  8. FOR THE FILLING AND FROSTING:
  9. Whip the cream with the confectioner's sugar, adding a little at a time, until peaks form.
  10. Be careful not to whip too much or you'll end up with butter!
  11. Take one layer of the cakes and sprinkle generously with the syrup.
  12. Spread some of the whipped cream on top, and dot throughout with the cherries.
  13. Repeat with the second layer.
  14. Add the top layer and spread the remaining whipped cream on the top and sides.
  15. FOR THE BIRCH BARK DECORATION:
  16. Melt the dark chocolate, either at low heat in a double boiler or in the microwave.
  17. Using a paint brush, brush marks on a long piece of parchment paper, using a measurement that's slightly taller than the three cakes would be with the frosting, and a bit wider than the circumference of the cakes.
  18. Let the dark chocolate cool, then melt the white chocolate, being careful not to overheat, or will "seize" on you. If this happens, try adding more white chocolate, off the heat, and stir vigorously.
  19. Alternately, add a small amount of boiling water, one teaspoon at a time, stirring into the white chocolate.
  20. Let the white chocolate cool, then spread over the dark chocolate.
  21. This can be tricky because if you spread it while it's still warm, it will melt the dark chocolate and you'll lose the characteristic marks of the birch tree. But if you let it cool too much, it will harden and be difficult to spread.
  22. Let the white chocolate cool completely (I put mine in the refrigerator), then cut large chunks of it, and press them against the sides of the cake.
  23. If some of the pieces break off, just patch them by pressing into the sides of the cake.
 

Flourless Coconut and Chocolate Cake

I ate one of these delightfully delicious little cakes in London not long ago, at Yotam Ottolenghi’s restaurant in the Spitalfields neighborhood. I was so glad to see he had included the recipe in his latest cookbook “Sweet,” and set about to make them a couple of weeks ago.

The recipe calls for them to be cooked in either a loaf pan or a round springform pan, but I wanted to make them in individual pans, since I remembered eating one in a small rectangular shape in London. I owned small rectangular pans, but opted to bake them in a pan that is traditionally used for Yorkshire puddings. After filling six of the cylindrical pans, there was a little more batter left over, so I used one of the little rectangular pans.

The cylindrical shape worked out beautifully, while the rectangular one didn’t release properly (I forgot to dust the pan with flour after buttering it and some of the cake stuck to the pan).

Either way, they were delicious, especially smeared with the chocolate “water” ganache. I had to toss out the ganache the first time I made it, since, in my experience, the recipe doesn’t have enough liquid. I made it a second time adding more water, and it was perfect.

Ottolenghi’s restaurants (there are several in various neighborhoods) sell the cakes with coconut shavings as decorations.

But since I had a bit of gold leaf in the cupboard, I chose that instead. This recipe makes an elegant dessert for company, but is rather quick and easy to prepare for everyday family meals too

.

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Flourless Coconut and Chocolate Cake
 
Author:
Ingredients
  • For the Cake:
  • ¾ cup plus 2 T. butter/200 grams unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for greasing
  • 1¼ cups/250 grams granulated sugar
  • ⅔ cup/60 grams finely shredded coconut (note: I put the coconut and the sugar in the food processor to ensure that the coconut was finely shredded.)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1⅔ cup/180 grams almond meal
  • For the Water Ganache:
  • 2 oz./55 grams dark chocolate, roughly chopped into ½ inch pieces
  • 2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 Tablespoon light corn syrup
  • 3 Tablespoons water (note - You'll need more. I tripled this amount.)
  • scraped seeds of ¼ vanilla pod
  • 1½ Tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into ¾ inch cubes
Instructions
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. (180 degrees C.)
  2. Grease (and flour) six or seven small individual pans, or a standard 8½ " x 4½" /900 gram loaf pan or a 9 inch/23 cm round sprinform pan. Set aside.
  3. Put the sugar and coconut in a food processor and pulse until coconut is finely grated.
  4. Place the butter, sugar, coconut, vanilla seeds and salt in an electric mixer with the paddle attachment in place.
  5. Beat on medium high speed, until pale and fluffy, about three minutes.
  6. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
  7. Turn the speed to low, add the almond meal and mix until just combined.
  8. Scrape the mixture into the pan and bake for 40 minutes (maybe 30 to 35 in the small pans) or 50 minutes if using the round pan, or until the cake is golden brown on top and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
  9. Remove the cake from the oven and set aside to cool in the pan before inverting onto a serving plate.
  10. Set aside until completely cool.
  11. To make the Water Ganache:
  12. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl and set aside.
  13. Put the sugar and corn syrup in a small saucepan and place over medium low heat.
  14. Stir to combine (I found this difficult, because it stuck to the spoon, so just let it melt together over low heat until it turns a light amber color.)
  15. Remove from heat and add the water.
  16. Return to the heat and add the vanilla seeds.
  17. Stir gently and continuously until it returns to a boil and the sugar is all melted.
  18. Remove from heat and wait for a minute before pouring the mixture over the chocolate.
  19. Allow to stand for a minute or two, then whisk to combine.
  20. Add the butter, a couple of bits at a time, whisking after each addition.
  21. Continue until all the butter has been added, whisking to combine until the consistency of thick syrup.
  22. Pour the ganache over the top of the cakes, letting it run down the sides a little.