Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte - Train Cake!

Warning: this cake is not for the faint hearted! Even though I made this into a fun cake, it's a pretty rich one and probably more appealing to more mature palates. ;-) It's gluten free (so long as your chocolate is GF) by virtue of only having 5 ingredients: butter; sugar; eggs; chocolate; and hazelnuts.

Of course, having so few ingredients means you need lots of them to get the volume of cake. ;-)10 eggs! I've halved the recipe as the original makes quite a bit of cake - I had too much for my tin and had to make a spare (oh how sad).

Since it's a very simple cake you need to ensure you use good chocolate - though there is sugar there's more chocolate, and the hazelnut intesifies the chocolate flavour, so don't use anything you wouldn't be happy eating. I often go for Lindt or Callebaut, just because that's how I roll, but as you can see this time round I went with Whittakers, which was perfectly acceptable.

Step number one is roasting and removing the skin from the hazelnuts. Beware: these do not take very long to cook. See exhibit 1 in the centre above - burnt! Poor Mr Cake (in a valiant attempt to restore my sanity - a lost cause) traipsed down to the supermarket while I plucked out the truly blackened nuts and biffed them out. Most were redeemable, but I would recommend checking often as they cook, just in case your oven is a bit on the zealous side, like mine.

Once they are successfully roasted (they don't look that different, but the skins dry out and start to flake off) put them in a clean teatowel and use it to roll them around and rub them against each other - this is the best way I've discovered of skinning them. It doesn't matter if they're not perfect, but the skin isn't the best and since it comes off pretty easily this is well worthwhile.

Then you either pop them in a food processor or blender, or chop them up. If you are using a machine (which is much easier and quicker - it probably takes me (with knife skills that leave rather a lot to be desired) about 15 minutes to do this my hand - it took about 10 seconds in my blitzer. I really like getting a good nutty texture so don't like them to be ground too fine - so a couple of quick pulses is plenty.

The cake batter starts with creaming butter and sugar - pretty run-of-the-mill stuff. Soften the butter a little (at this time of year leaving it on the bench for a while should be enough, but I am usually too disorganised for that and give mine a quick - 10-20 seconds only! - zap in the microwave) and beat it up to be nice and fluffy.

The chocolate gets melted (and you should do this maybe before you beat up the butter and sugar, as it should cool a little so it doesn't melt the butter and destroy the fluffiness you just put all that effort into creating) and added, and all of a sudden you have a bowl of chocolatey deliciousness (as opposed to the buttery sugary deliciousness, which I can resist sticking my finger into, just).

All the eggs - so many! - get beaten up (poor eggs).

And then you add them, a bit at a time and beating in between, to the mixture. Doesn't it look glorious?

The nuts get folded in - sort of swoop the spatula round the edge then lift up the batter and fold it over. The idea is to keep all the air in it - as there are no additional raising agents, the rising in this cake is dependent on the trapped air expanding.

Now, this is a cake that stands up very well all on its own - a simple round cake topped with a couple of berries and served with cream, ice-cream or vanilla yoghurt is quite spectacular enough that it doesn't need any further adornment. Buuuuut, it would be such a shame to ignore any opportunity to use this awesome train tin, don't you think?

Mr Cake gave me this for Christmas a few years ago - and I don't get to use it nearly enough, but our lovely neighbours, who have kids, invited us over for dinner, and I thought it was the perfect opportunity - you can't really get away with showing up with a candy-laden train cake for a normal grown-up dinner, but I figured the kids would like it. Plus, the neighbours already know I'm a bit odd when it comes to food, having received things like cupcakes with tasting slices taken out of them. ;-)

Nordicware make all sorts of amazing tins - flowers, bugs, a pirate ship, a stadium, a beehive, to name a few - and they are fantastic, because you can put very little or no effort into presentation and still come out with a highly impressive cake. The one thing you have to pay attention to is greasing; if you don't grease well, not only will the cakes not come out intact, but cleaning will become a huge nightmare (and this is not the most fun thing to wash to start with, it doesn't need to get harder!). I use an aerosol spray - just canola oil - spray generously, and then use a silicon brush to ensure the oil is evenly coating the surface and not pooling anywhere.

Once you're all oiled up, spoon the mixture in - if you're using one of these detailed pans make sure to spread it to the edges, so that all the details are filled with batter. I used a little too much - you can see on the cooked ones how it overlaps the edges slightly. You can trim the bottom if you need to, though, so don't panic if your cake rises more than you expect.

Clearly my greasing paid off - eight of the nine carriages came straight out, which actually took me a bit off guard, and the last just needed a gentle wiggle to loosen it. This picture isn't the best but hopefully you can see the details on the carriages anyway. Because this is such a dark cake I like to pick out the details with piping - I used white chocolate as I have it so it was the easiest option, but any pipeable icing will do. The details show up better on lighter coloured cakes.

I used about 150g of white chocolate melts (I don't like the taste that much but there's so little on each piece of cake you don't really taste them, and they behave pretty well compared with real chocolate) - melted in the microwave then spooned into a piping bag. Every time I do this I remember after I've filled the piping bag that a small round piping tip gets much better results (a more consistent line) than just a snipped-off end - but it works this way!

I literally just pipe lines along some of the edges and line details on the carriages - tracing, woohoo!

And then my OCD displays itself a little - behold, two bags of pebbles! I actually used to have four tall dessert glasses full of pebbles as an interior decor feature in one of my flats - I spent a good couple of hours sorting the green, orange, red and blue pebbles from about 10 bags to get enough. They sat on my mantlepiece for about a year and a half, I think, then when I moved I was going to throw them out (they were getting a bit faded) and one of my new flatties decided they were still edible. I wouldn't be so keen, myself - even sans dust they would have tasted pretty icky, I should think. Ewwwww...

These were 'fresh' pebbles, though, so that's okay - and I sorted the other colours into bags for later use. This is definitely the part where the try kiddie appeal comes in - works for grown-up kiddies, too. ;-)

Some jaffas for the cargo carriages and voila! A train. It's pretty long when all assembled and the only thing I have large enough for it is this giant marble slab - it weighs about 20kg, so we were very pleased we were only heading next door! It would make a great party table centrepiece, though, running down the middle of a table.

If you're going with a more classic-looking cake, a dusting of icing sugar and maybe some berries is really all it needs - the cake is so rich icing would likely make it too much, too rich. And there are only certain circumstances where you can pull off covering your cakes in pebbles. 

Would you rather eat a grown-up looking cake, or would you be the one with eyes firmly set on the jaffa carriage? ;-)

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte
200g hazelnuts
200g 70% dark chocolate
200g butter
150g sugar
5 eggs

Preheat oven to 160 C. Grease or spray a 20cm round tin, or a shaped cake tin.

Spread hazelnuts on a tray and bake for 7-10 minutes, until the skin is dry and flaky. Remove and roll in a teatowel to remove the skin. Pulse in a food processor or chop until coarsely ground.

Melt chocolate and set aside to cool slightly.

Cream butter and sugar. Add chocolate, beat, and then gradually add beaten eggs. Fold in hazelnuts. Pour into pan, spreading evenly with spatula.

Bake for 30 minutes (less for small shaped cakes like mine), and then turn oven off and leave in oven with door ajar for a further 30 minutes.

Wait until cool and turn out of tin. Dust with icing sugar or decorate as desired to serve.

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