Sunday, March 22, 2015

Hazelnut Rocher Cake

The chocolate-hazelnut combination is Italy's signature. It is one of their many culinary gifts to the world.

Without it we wouldn't have Baci, Ferrero Rocher or Guylian shells. My grandparents would be clueless - what would they give out at Christmas?

There'd be no Nutella and I'd lose out on one of my favourite gelato flavours. My after-school toast would've been so much less exciting - 9 times out of 10 I'd combine peanut butter AND nutella. It was easier than choosing between them...

Now that I really think about it, chocolate-hazelnut (or gianduja as it is know in Europe) is no different to North America's chocolate-peanut butter combo. But somehow it is so much more sophisticated.

I picture chocolate-hazelnut with a long curly moustache - one that needs expensive wax to maintain. Chocolate-peanut would probably have one of those striped multicoloured beanie caps with a propeller on top. It finds its way into wrapped chocolate bars more than fine boxed pralines like Ferrero. It comes wrapped in orange instead of gold. I could understand the jealousy there...

However, I'd admit that I love them both the same.

The small difference is that I find peanut lends well to both milk and dark chocolate, whereas hazelnuts really shine with milk chocolate.

Dark chocolate can sometimes overpower the delicate flavour of hazelnuts to the point where they just meld into one flavour and the contrast is lost. Having said that, there's no lack of dark chocolate in the sponge of this lovely cake, but it is balanced well with the milky filling.

Let me explain...

This recipe for Hazelnut Rocher Cake showcases the gianduja combo in all its glory.

This whole cake is one big chocolate balancing act. You'll need three types of chocolate plus cocoa.

The sponge is moist - really really moist. It features dark chocolate and cocoa powder to balance out the sweetness in the cake. Moistness comes from water this time - not milk.

The milk chocolate paste in the middle is like fudge. You'll want to bank this recipe just for the filling.

I don't use milk chocolate often, but in this case it is the perfect fit. It's fudgy and morish and really enhances the hazelnut flavour in the cake.

The addition of some white chocolate reinforces that milky taste. The milk solids content lends a creamy flavour as well as a chewy texture.

No frosting needed here because the cake is so moist. Let's do just as the Italians would and keep it simple and sophisticated - curly moustache all the way!

It is equally as important not to under-bake this cake as it is not to over-bake.

Since it is made with water, it can taste floury or pasty if under-cooked. Use the tried and true good 'ol skewer test - if it comes out clean, it's done.

Thank you, Italy

Hazelnut Rocher Cake
Makes 8-10 servings

For the sponge:
100g dark chocolate, chopped
2/3 cup (150ml) boiling water
7 tbsp (100g) unsalted butter
1 cup (220g) packed light brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (25g) cocoa powder
1 tsp baking powder
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (50g) ground hazelnuts

For the filling:
4 tbsp (56g) unsalted butter
1/3 cup (80ml) milk
150g pure milk chocolate, chopped
50g pure white chocolate, chopped
2 tbsp (12g) cocoa powder
pinch of salt
½ cup (80g) icing sugar

Preheat your oven to 350°F. Line two 8-inch round baking pans with parchment paper.

Combine chopped chocolate with boiling water. Let stand for a minute before whisking until melted and smooth. Set aside to cool.

Cream butter with brown sugar and vanilla extract until pale and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Beat in eggs, one at a time. After the last egg is incorporated, beat on high speed for a minute until the mixture is smooth, creamy and pale.

In a separate bowl, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add ground hazelnuts and whisk to combine. Add flour mixture to the butter mixture alternately with the cooled chocolate/water mixture until combined.

Divide batter evenly between pans and bake 23-27 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

For the filling, melt butter and milk in a small saucepan over medium-low heat and bring just to a simmer. Add both types of chopped chocolate and let stand before whisking until smooth and glossy. Whisk in cocoa and salt. Whisk in icing sugar and beat constantly until thickened like fudge. Spread filling between cooled cake layers and dust with cocoa powder.

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