Fighting the Good Fight

It’s amazing how people can rationalize just about anything. Take me, for example. Over the years, I have developed a fairly ridiculous set of food-related precepts. #1: Treats purchased at a charity bake sale don’t really count against your daily caloric intake, since they’re for a good cause. #2: A slice of cake eaten during one sitting is chalk full of calories. But, when you cut that very same piece of cake into multiple little “slivers” and eat them over the course of an evening, the calorie count plummets. #3: Jogging helps counteract precepts #1 and #2.

Recently, I have discovered that olive oil is a delicious substitute to butter in cake recipes. It provides added depth of flavour and aroma, and it gives cake a moist texture. And it just so happens that olive oil is associated with a host of healthful benefits. It contains monounsaturated fat, a healthier type of fat that can lower your risk of heart disease by reducing the level of bad cholesterol in your blood. According to the good folks at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, if you incorporate two tablespoons of olive oil into your daily diet, you could reduce your risk of heart disease.

So, by baking with olive oil, I am helping fight the battle against heart disease. Let’s just call it my bake-riotic duty.

I answered my call of duty this week by baking a hazelnut torte from chef Lidia Bastianich’s cookbook, Lidia’s Italy, which was featured on Martha’s website. Aesthetically, this is my ideal cake. It’s devoid of icing or filling, and it’s absolutely simple and homey. The cake looks like something one of my Italian aunts or cousins would easily whip up in advance of company. Unfortunately, this definitely wasn’t an easy baking process for me. But I’ll get to that in a minute.

The cake was flecked with finely chopped pieces of semi-sweet chocolate, which was the perfect partner to freshly grated orange zest. Not only did the roasted hazelnuts bring a flavour infusion, they also gave the cake good texture. Altogether, it was a subtle and refreshing dessert for an August evening, especially when paired with a tiny scoop of vanilla Häagen-Dazs.

While I loved the cake, the baking process was a little rough. First of all, I don’t own a whisk attachment for my blender. So, I just used my regular mixers. As a result, I had an incredibly difficult time creaming the butter and sugar. The recipe only called for six tablespoons of butter and a cup plus two tablespoons of sugar, and these proportions would not meld together for me. Adding to my troubles, I forgot to let the butter sit, so it was pretty cold. After trying – in vain – for at least twenty minutes, I threw in an extra three tablespoons of butter, in an effort to speed up the creaming process. After about half an hour, I settled with my slightly gritty mixture.

Secondly, I was so frazzled by my creaming debacle, that I also forgot to let my milk sit out at room temperature, so it too was cold. And to cap my trifecta of missteps, I threw a variety of wet ingredients into the mix all at once, rather than adding each one individually and blending at a low speed.

So basically, I was prepared for a torte-related disaster. Thankfully, the baking gods smiled down on me, because the cake turned out just fine!

Hazelnut Torte

  • 6 tablespoons butter, room temperature, plus more for pan (I ended up adding about 3 tablespoons more butter)
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted and skins removed
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon finely grated orange zest (I used the zest from a whole medium-sized orange)
  • 1 cup milk, room temperature  
  • 1/4 cup semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped
  • Confectioners’ sugar, for garnish (if desired)
  • Rich vanilla ice cream for serving (if desired)
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 10-inch spring form pan; set aside.
  2. Place hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor; process until coarsely chopped and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together butter and sugar until light, smooth, and fluffy, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Add the eggs, olive oil, and orange zest, mixing well on slow speed after each addition.
  4. With mixer on low speed, add flour mixture in 3 parts, alternating with milk and beginning and ending with flour; beat until just combined. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat on high speed about 2 minutes; fold in nuts and chocolate.
  5. Pour batter into prepared cake pan, smoothing top with a spatula. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean and the top is light brown and just springs back when lightly touched, about 45 minutes.
  6. Transfer cake to a cooling rack; let cool 30 minutes. Remove outer ring of pan; let cool completely. Cut into wedges and serve dusted with confectioners’ sugar or whipped cream, if desired.
Roasted hazelnuts en route to the food processor

Roasted hazelnuts en route to the food processor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A little confectioner's sugar, just for good measure

A little confectioner's sugar, just for good measure

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chocolate, orange and hazelnut - what more can you ask for?

Chocolate, orange and hazelnut - what more can you ask for?

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