I'm not the biggest sweet tooth at the best of times, but I do have a weakness for dark chocolate and hazelnuts. If they're combined in one dessert, even better.
If I am ever baking a dessert to have with family and friends, I always lean towards this same combination myself and can't resist using hazelnut meal when whipping up a cake. There is something about flourless chocolate cakes that I simply love. I don't need to stick to gluten free food, but the flavour and texture get me every time.
With Easter around the corner, it's the perfect time to use this love of chocolate and hazelnuts to put together a beautiful Torta Gianduia, which is a traditional Italian flourless chocolate and hazelnut cake. It's a popular one for all the right reasons too. Flavour, flavour, flavour.
To add a little bit of something extra special, and make sure the cake is more celebratory I add poached pears as a nod to autumn and to balance the richness of the cake. In this instance I have used one of the bottles of Vin Santo I bought at Fattoria Di Montagliari, while on a food and wine tour of Tuscany in August last year. Vin Santo is a sweet Italian dessert style of wine and is beautiful. It is perfect to create sweet, yet clean, Vin Santo Poached Pears to top the cake with. Sipping a glass of what I didn't use in poaching the pears, is a perfect dessert match. Don't worry though, you don't need to fly to Italy to get a bottle for this recipe, pop down to Dan Murphy's as they usually have a Vin Santo in stock. If you cannot find it, simply use an Australian dessert wine that isn't too heavy. Ask your bottle shop for help if you get lost in the world of dessert wines and can't work them out for yourself.
As it is Easter, I have played with additional decorations, using Cadbury Mini Eggs and Ferrero Eggs to add more of a festive feel. You can get creative and add something similar, or simply stick with the pears when Easter is over. Either way, this is going to be a huge hit with everyone who sees and eats it.
Despite being an impressive cake, don't be daunted as the recipe is simple and can be made easily.
TORTA GIANDUIA with VIN SANTO POACHED PEARS
Torta Gianduia (double layer cake)
300g dark cooking chocolate, broken into squares
370g unsalted butter, cubed
80g cocoa powder
1/2 cup strong fresh espresso coffee
2 1/2 cups caster sugar
400g hazelnut meal
Extra: butter to grease springform tins
Vin Santo Poached Pears
3 beurre bosc pears, peeled
1 1/2 cups caster sugar
500ml Vin Santo wine
1 cup water
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
1 piece of orange rind
1 cinnamon stick
Vin Santo Syrup
1 cup of the Vin Santo pear poaching liquid
1/2 cup caster sugar
Zest from one orange
Hazelnut spread (Nutella or similar)
Mascarpone and extra orange zest
1. Torta Gianduia - preheat oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Grease two spring form pans (18-20cm diameter) and line the bases. Dust with a little extra cocoa.
2. Combine the chocolate, butter and cocoa powder in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water (keep on a VERY low heat).
Tip: don’t let the base of the bowl touch the water.
Use a metal or silicone spoon/spatula (do not use wood as it retains moisture and can lead to chocolate ceasing) and continue stirring occasionally until everything melts together and is smooth.
Remove from heat and carefully stir in the espresso. Set aside.
3. Use an electric mixer to beat the eggs and sugar until they are just combined.
Use a large metal spoon or spatula to fold in the chocolate mixture, then fold in the hazelnut meal.
4. Pour the mixture into the springform tins and bake for 50 minutes - 1 hour, or until the centre has a slight wobble when the pan is shaken gently.
When ready, remove the cakes from the oven and allow them to cool completely in the springform tins on a wire rack.
Note: Cooling can take up to 2 hours.
5. Vin Santo Poached Pears - While the cakes are baking, or cooling (which ever you prefer!), prepare the Vin Santo Poached Pears.
Simply place all ingredients in a pot and heat over a medium high stove.
Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer for 20-25 minutes or until the pears are just softened, but not too soft. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
6. Vin Santo Syrup - while the pears are cooling, pour 1 cup of the poaching liquid (including the cinnamon stick) into a second pot.
Add 1/2 cup of caster sugar and bring to the boil.
Allow to simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once reduced by half, remove from heat and allow to cool for 1 minute before stirring through the orange zest.
Set aside to cool slightly prior to serving.
7. Assembling - place the first layer of the torte onto a cake stand or cake plate. Top with hazelnut spread and toasted hazelnuts. Place the second layer on top.
Optional - As it is Easter, I added an additional lashing of hazelnut spread to the top of the cake, but you can skip this step as the syrup will absorb into the cake for additional flavour without the extra hazelnut spread as well.
Arrange the poached pears (whole or halved) in the centre of the torte, add any additional decorations, drizzle with the Vin Santo Syrup and serve!
Serving Suggestion: folding some additional orange rind through mascarpone and serving this with the Torta Gianduia with Vin Santo Poached pears is DIVINE. Yum!
A glass of Vin Santo is a must, but if you love hazelnut, then you could choose to enjoy the torte with a nip of Frangelico. Both are perfect accompaniments to this beautiful dessert.
If you are unable to find Vin Santo, look for a bottle of Australian Dessert Wine. Keep your eye out for a dessert wine with 'botrytis' on the label. This is, as awful as it sounds, a wonderful 'rot'/mould that affects the wine grape bunches and leads to a sweet finished product. Dessert wines are an amazing accompaniment to sweets, without being sickly sweet. This will finish off your Easter feast perfectly. Cheers!
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