This cake is practically perfect in every way, as Mary Poppins would say. I could eat this traditional Italian dessert, aptly named Torta Caprese from its Island of Capri origins, every day. And I mean EVERY day. Depending on the region of Italy or just plain preference, the nut of choice in this cake varies. I’ve seen variations of this wonderful dessert that used ground almonds or ground walnuts, which I’m sure are both delicious.
But as I am from the Piedmont region, the birthplace of the chocolate and ground hazelnut union otherwise known as Gianduja, hazelnuts are clearly my weapon of choice. For this very reason, I was drawn to the adapted recipe I saw in a lovely cookbook titled Italian Country Cooking: The Secrets of Cucina Povera, by Loukie Werle.
As it turns out, this cake comes to us the same way that Post-It Notes did, by way of a ‘happy accident.’ Originally intended to be an aerospace adhesive strong enough to keep planes together, the glue on the back of Post-It Notes turned out weak and pressure sensitive and well, perfect for how we now use it. In the same way, our Torta Caprese was supposed to be an ordinary flour-based chocolate cake until ‘somebody’ at ‘some’ point’ messed up. Folklore varies on what really happened. Either someone accidently swapped out the flour for ground nuts or forgot the flour altogether. In other words, who knows? It’s all speculation for sure.
The important thing, as with the Post-It Notes, is that it all turned out ok. Actually, better than ok. Perfect, I’d say.
Now I will add that I’ve seen some versions of this cake online that approach blasphemy. Of course I’m being dramatic here, as I am at the mercy of my deep affection for this cake, but I firmly believe that added ingredients like Amaretto Liquor or Grand Marnier or rum or orange peel or the kitchen sink, for that matter, can only distract. This torte stands just fine on its own. It is very brownie-like in its richness and moistness, except much lighter and with the most wonderful texture thanks to the ground hazelnuts. Like I said before, it’s practically perfect in every way.
Well, maybe that’s only reserved for Mary Poppins, but I think you know what I mean.
making flourless chocolate & hazelnut cake
Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place a sheet of parchment paper on top of the bottom of a 9- to 10-inch springform cake pan and fit the round side over it.
Generously butter the parchment paper and the sides of the pan with 1 tablespoon of unsalted butter.
Place 1 stick of unsalted butter, 6 oz. of dark semisweet chocolate, and 1 cup of sugar in a double boiler (or a medium-sized stainless steel bowl set over a small pot of boiling water)
until the butter and chocolate have melted. Remove from the heat and mix until the mixture is smooth. Cool to room temperature.
Pour 1 ¼ cup of ground hazelnuts or almonds in a 10-inch nonstick pan and heat on medium-high heat.
Stir continuously with a wooden spoon until the ground hazelnuts or almonds start looking slightly toasted and you smell a most wonderful toasty aroma. Remove from the flame and allow to cool.
Separate 5 large eggs. Once the chocolate mixture has sufficiently cooled, add the egg yolks, one by one. Make sure that each egg yolk is fully incorporated before adding the next. Add the cooled ground hazelnuts or almonds.
Beat the egg whites with ¼ teaspoon of salt and 1/16 teaspoon cream of tartar until stiff peaks form. Click here for a quick tutorial on how to get these peaks nice and stiff.
Fold in the chocolate/nut mixture, one third at a time, just until no white steaks remain.
Pour into the prepared springform pan and place in oven.
Lower the oven temperature to 350°F. Bake for 40-60 minutes, or until the cake starts to shrink away from the sides and tests clean. Cool on a rack, and then remove the sides and gently remove the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake as you slide it on a platter.
Top with powdered sugar or with some fresh whipped cream or coffee ice cream. Yum. Makes 8 servings.