This is a wonderfully easy cake to make, redolent with the flavours and scents for which Piedmont in Italy is famous – think Nutella! Hazelnuts are called tonda gentile delle Langhe – the ‘sweet round nut of the Langhe’ – and with a bit of chocolate, you have the match made famous in Turin – gianduja. This torte is a classically moist, rich dessert. The darker the chocolate you use, the more intense the flavour. I prefer snappy dark 70% chocolate, though you could use less or even more. The hazelnuts give the cake a wonderfully toasty flavour, while the vanilla and hint of coffee balances all those dark chocolate chunks.
It’s also a very versatile dessert. Serve it simply dredged in icing sugar or with decadent whipped cream on the side or flanked with a scoop of chocolate hazelnut ice cream or a drizzle of warm chocolate sauce. In Piedmont, they often serve the cake with a coffee zabaglione.
1. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160ºC fan/gas mark 4 (350ºF/320ºF fan).
2. Lightly butter and flour a 23cm (9-inch) round spring-form cake tin.
3. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt, and add the chopped hazelnuts and the chopped chocolate.
2. In the mixer, cream the sugar and butter together until light, smooth, fluffy and white. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Incorporate the eggs one by one along with the olive oil and vanilla extract at slow speed, scraping the bowl then beating at high speed for a couple of minutes to lighten.
3. On a slow speed, incorporate the dry ingredients and buttermilk/milk/plant milk alternately, starting and finishing with the dry.
4. Scrape the batter into the cake pan – it should have a soft-dropping consistency – and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until a tooth pick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. The top should be lightly browned and just spring back to a light touch.
5. Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes or so, remove the side ring of the spring-form and let the cake cool completely.
6. The torte will keep in the refrigerator for a week, well wrapped in cling film (plastic wrap) or for a month in the freezer.
1. All ingredients should be at room temperature.
2. When I’m baking I always use a timer as it’s so easy to lose track of time. Once you’ve put the cake in the oven, put the timer on for 5-10 minutes less than the cake should take to cook and then check regularly.
3. If you think the cake is browning too quickly, particularly at the edges, cover it with an aluminium foil tent.
4. You’ll note from the picture that I’ve baked mine in a square rather than the recommended round one. The two pieces on the plate will become four and the cake will be sliced and distributed at one of our many cycle club events. It’s always easier to bake cakes for events in square or rectangular tins. Whereas if you’re going to serve it as a dessert, circular looks nicer from a presentation perspective (as shown above).
5. I have also served the cake as a dessert smothered in hazelnut chocolate ganache. Toast 60g (2oz) hazelnuts in a dry frying pan shaking them around frequently for about five minutes, or until they are lightly browned, then allow them to cool completely. If the nuts have skins, put them in clean tea towel after toasting and rub them around – this will remove most of the skins. Cut them in half. Chop 120g (4oz) 70% dark (bitter-sweet) chocolate and put in a saucepan with 125ml (½ cup) of double (heavy) cream over a medium-low heat. Once the chocolate has melted, whisk to combine and then add 1 tbsp of Frangelico hazelnut liquor (optional), then leave to cool. Pour cooled ganache over the cake, spreading lightly to create a smooth, shiny surface, and stud all over with hazelnuts.
6. This cake is at its best when served at room temperature.