This flourless, Piedmontese chocolate-hazelnut cake is something special. It’s basically akin to a rich, fudgey brownie with a whole lot of chocolate and hazelnut flavor thanks to a one-two punch of bittersweet chocolate and toasted hazelnut meal commingling in the batter, plus a layer of a popular spread (cough, Nutella) frosting the top. And it’s naturally gluten-free, so much to love!
I first made this torta for dessert as part of my Italian-focused Easter menu, but we never got to eating it that evening after stuffing ourselves on too much bagna cauda and homemade crusty bread, vinaigrette-tossed roasted beets and carrots, prosciutto cotto and much, much more. Happily, the cake keeps very well in the fridge and was a perfect accompaniment to my morning cup of coffee — I cannot recommend that combo enough, it’s heavenly.
And even though there seem to be a few tricky steps and a whole lot going on at once, let me assure you that it’s quite foolproof. I tried so hard to ruin my first attempt — not adding the toasted hazelnuts until after I had already folded in the egg whites, forgetting to set a timer, and probably something else that I’ve conveniently blocked from my mind — that I’m now pretty much convinced that you cannot ruin this cake.
Torta gianduia (Piedmontese Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake)
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Baking Time: 30 – 35 minutes
Serves: About 6 – 8
- 85 grams (3 ounces or 3/4 cup) hazelnut flour/meal
- 85 grams (3 ounces) bittersweet chocolate disks¹ (or from a bar, roughly chopped)
- 85 grams (3 ounces or 6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cubed
- 85 grams (3 ounces or 1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons) evaporated cane juice or granulated white sugar
- 2 large eggs, separated and brought to room temp
- 28 grams (2 tablespoons) freshly squeezed orange or tangerine juice
- 1 packet (32 grams or about 2 tablespoons) Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter² or your favorite chocolate-hazelnut spread, room temperature
- Chopped hazelnuts (about 1 – 2 tablespoons) for garnish, optional
For the pan:
- Unsalted butter
- Cocoa powder (Dutch-process or natural)
- Parchment paper
Preheat Oven and Prep Pan:
Set oven rack on center level and preheat oven to 350°F. Grease sides of a 6″x3″ round cake pan with removable bottom and dust with cocoa powder (tap out excess), line bottom of pan with a circle of parchment; set aside.
Toast Hazelnut Meal:
Sprinkle hazelnut meal evenly over a small, rimmed sheet pan (about 10″x15″). Toast in the preheated oven for 5 minutes, stir, and toast for 5 minutes more — it’ll be lightly browned in spots and fragrant. Set aside to cool.
Melt Butter and Chocolate:
While hazelnut meal toasts, melt butter and chocolate. In a small, heatproof bowl (preferably metal, I use a 2-quart stainless steel one by Endurance/RSVP) or the top of a double boiler, combine chocolate and butter. In a small saucepan (I use this 2-quart pan) over medium heat, warm about 1” of water (make sure there’s at least 1/2” of space between the water and bottom of the bowl when it’s placed over the top) until it just barely reaches a simmer. Reduce heat to low and set bowl with chocolate over top. Stir chocolate mixture and heat just until about 75% of the chocolate is melted. Remove bowl from heat and slowly stir until smooth. Set aside to cool for about 5 minutes.
Mix Cake Base:
While chocolate mixture cools, whisk together egg yolks and evaporated cane juice in a medium bowl until lightened (about 2 minutes by hand) — it will initially be very stiff and thick, but eventually thin out and become much lighter yellow. Whisk in orange juice and cooled, toasted hazelnut meal. Whisk in cooled chocolate-butter mixture.
Beat Egg Whites and Fold Into Batter:
In a small bowl, whisk egg whites until they hold stiff peaks. Fold egg whites into cake batter (no need to be super gentle).
Bake and Cool:
Transfer batter into prepared cake pan, and bake in preheated oven for about 30 – 35 minutes or until middle is no longer wiggly (no need to insert a toothpick in center, middle will still be a bit fudgey). Cool in pan for 30 minutes before running a thin spatula around edge and removing from pan (I don’t bother taking the pan bottom off at this point). Cool completely.
Garnish and Serve:
Once cake has cooled, remove parchment from bottom of cake (if desired). If using a pack of Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter, knead packe until warmed and well-combined. Spread nut butter over top and sprinkle chopped hazelnuts over top (if using). Cut slices and serve. To store, loosely cover cake with plastic wrap and store in the fridge; for best texture, bring to room temp before serving.