Chocolate Beet Cake with Beet Cream Cheese Frosting

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As of late, my five-month old daughter has not been all that interested in naptime. She’s realized the difference between being awake and asleep, and I guess she prefers the waking world. I can’t blame her, especially now that she’s mastered rolling over and hand-to-mouth co-ordination. She’s got places to go and things to chomp on.

Fewer naps have meant less time for me to bake and blog over the last few weeks. But, I think this week’s recipe – and my little girl’s developmental milestones – have been well worth the wait!

So, I present to you… chocolate cake with cream cheese icing. But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill chocolate cake and cream cheese icing. You see, this dessert has a deep, dark secret ingredient. Nestled amidst the decadent cocoa, sugar and butter are…beets. Yes beets – the kind you’d find in the produce department, piled next to the turnips and ginger root

The recipe comes from Joy the Baker. When I first saw it a couple of months ago, I knew it was something I had to try. Beets in baked good certainly seemed a bit wacky, but then again, I love carrot cake and zucchini loaf. Both of these veggie based desserts are delicious and don’t taste anything like salad.

As Joy aptly explained, the beets add a little extra sweetness and moistness to the chocolate cake. And I really loved the gorgeous pink hue they added to the icing. I’ve never been a huge fan of artificial food dyes in baking, so shredded beets offered a natural and eye-catching alternative.

If you’re worried about offending the sensibilities of those with a picky palette, you can always go with a don’t ask, don’t tell policy. Honestly, unless you tell people there are beets in the cake, no one will ever know! But I think half the fun of this recipe is the big reveal after everyone’s enjoyed their slice.

For Joy’s original recipe, I’d suggest going directly to her blog post. It’s pretty lengthy and she describes each step perfectly. I do have a couple of tips to offer.

Firstly, I’d recommend roasting, peeling and shredding the beets the night before you plan on making the cake. This whole process takes about an hour and a half. Unless you don’t mind a full blown baking marathon, I found it more manageable to do a bit of prep work in advance.

In my oven, the beets needed an extra 15 minutes. Just be sure to keep an eye on them. Roast the beets until they’re tender when poked by a fork. Joy suggests grating the beets on the finest grating plane. I found this size too small, as all the beets stuck to the grater. So I opted for the same size plane as I use for grating cheese.

And in case you’re wondering, yes the beet juice will stain your hands. In fact, after you’ve finished grating, the kitchen will likely look like a crime scene out of Dexter.

Secondly, I only used about three and a half cups of powdered sugar for the icing. Joy called for four to five cups, which is a bit sweet for my taste. But you be the judge. Start with less and add more powdered sugar according to taste.

Other than these two suggestions, follow Joy’s recipe and you won’t be disappointed! Enjoy!

 

 

First, you roast the beets

First, you roast the beets

Then, you shred the beets

Then, you shred the beets

Mix your dry ingredients, starring cocoa

Mix your dry ingredients, starring cocoa

Combine the wet mixture with the dry

Combine the wet mixture with the dry

The batter is ready to be popped in the oven

The batter is ready to be popped in the oven

Gorgeous pink beet cream cheese icing

Gorgeous pink beet cream cheese icing

Yum! No one will suspect that beets are the secret ingredient!

Yum! No one will suspect that beets are the secret ingredient!

 

 

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Dolce Amore, how sweet it is

 
A pretty delicious way to start off the New Year!

Dolce Amore. In Italian, this literally means: sweet love. It also happens to be the name of my favourite dessert. And if you’ve ever tasted it, you’ll understand how perfectly titled it is. 

The coffee flavoured confection is very similar to Tiramisu, except for one key difference. Tiramisu is made with mascarpone, a sweet cream cheese. Dolce Amore, however, calls for a whipped cream made with egg yolks, vanilla and sugar. This gives it a lighter density and texture. 

A little Kahlua is the the perfect mate to the espresso

Other than that, both desserts are made with the same basic ingredients: espresso, Savoiardi cookies, vanilla, and liqueur, such as Kahlua. Depending on personal preference, Tiramisu and Dolce Amore can either have the consistency of a cake or a trifle. This is determined by how long you soak the Savoiardi cookies, an Italian version of ladyfingers, in espresso and liqueur. We like our Dolce Amore moist and well-soaked.    

My mother makes the best Dolce Amore that I’ve ever tasted. In recent years, she’s introduced this dessert into our Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve menus. So this year, I played the role of dutiful assistant, sneaking a few photos along the way.   

We make our espresso the old fashioned way, using a little stove top machine. Meanwhile, our fancy Gaggia espresso maker sadly collects dust in the corner.

The basic recipe, made in a 7 to 9 inch spring form pan, serves about 10 people. The recipe can easily be doubled, if you’re using a larger glass or ceramic baking dish. For Christmas, we used a glass baking dish, which served about 15 to 20 people.   

My mother wanted me to convey a piece of advice to all Dolce Amore bakers. Although the presentation is more aesthetically pleasing when you line either the spring form pan or baking dish with unsoaked Savoiardi cookies, this does not enhance the tastiness of the dessert. The dry cookies look good, but are bland. We usually end up casting them aside on our plates, and eating the tasty innards of the cake instead. As you’ll see from the pictures, our New Year’s Eve Dolce Amore was cookie lined, while our Christmas version was not. When serving from a ceramic or glass dish, it’s easiest to cut the cake in square-shaped slices.   

Savoiardi: the Italian ladyfinger

Another helpful hint from my mom, use the amount of espresso in the basic recipe as a starting point. If you find the cookies are too dry, add more espresso. Conversely, add less if you want a firmer, drier cake.   

Mom’s Dolce Amore (Make in 7 to 9 inch spring form pan. Serves about 10 people)   

  • Six espresso-sized cups of espresso (Literally use espresso cups to measure). Allow espresso to cool.
  • About 31 Savoiardi Cookies. (Available at Italian bakeries and most grocery stores) If you choose to line the perimeter with dry cookies, you’ll need about 22 more.
  • One pint whipping cream
  • ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 5 egg yolks
  • 5 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 4 tablespoons of coffee-flavoured liqueur, such as Kahlua. (This is optional. Add more or less to taste)
  • Coco powder, for garnish

Directions

  1. Make espresso, and allow it to cool completely.
  2. Whip sugar, vanilla and egg yolks in an electric mixer until creamy.
  3. In a shallow bowl, combine cooled espresso and liqueur.
  4. Optional step: Line the perimeter of your spring form pan with dry Savoiardi cookies, standing vertically. This will form a visually pleasing supporting wall for the cake.
  5. To make the first layer of the cake: dip each Savoiardi cookie in the espresso mixture, and then line the bottom of the spring form pan with the wet cookies. Once the bottom is covered, spread half of the whipped cream mixture over top of the wet cookies.
  6. To make the second layer of the cake: dip each remaining cookie the espresso mixture, placing them over top of the whipped cream mixture. Spread the rest of the whipped cream mixture over top of the wet cookies. Use a spatula to smooth the top layer of the whipped cream mixture. Cover with plastic wrap. Refrigerate overnight. Dust with coco powder before serving.

First you dip....

 

...then you line...

 

...then enjoy!

Look out June Cleaver

Every Halloween, I feel like I’m fighting an uphill battle. All I want is a clever couples costume. All my boyfriend wants is not to look stupid. Apparently, we can’t have it both ways. I thought I came up with some pretty good costume ideas this year, all of which required little effort. Among the top contenders were America’s most dysfunctional couple, Jon and Kate; and hosts of MTV’s The Aftershow, Jesse and Dan. Both my ideas were rejected, especially the latter. We settled on another dynamic duo: Canada’s own UFC champion Georges St. Pierre, and an octagon referee. I was going to go as GSP.

Unluckily (or luckily) for my boyfriend, he was sidelined with a cold, so I had to fly solo to my friend’s Halloween party. I ended up recycling my sister’s costume from last year, and went as Suzy Homemaker.

Since I was dressing up the pinnacle of Domestic Bliss, I felt the pressure was on to produce a particularly delicious – and spooky – Halloween dessert. After sifting through dozens of recipes, I decided to try my luck with Martha’s Coffin Brownies. However, I decided to ditch the coffin theme. It involved working with marzipan and measuring stencils, and I really wasn’t feeling it. Instead, I used marshmallows, chocolate chips and red icing to make Bloodshot Eyeball Brownies.

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Eye spy a tasty, but tedious, treat!

I’ve tried making brownies once before, and it didn’t go too well. I’m not sure what happened, but I ended up with a tray of burnt pudding. This time, however, I fared much better! Martha’s brownies were pretty quick and easy. The recipe called for chopped chocolate covered almonds, which added a really rich, crunchy texture to the brownies.

The eyeballs were really cute, but incredibly tedious. The red veins had to be painted on the marshmallows by hand, using a tooth pick. Luckily, I enlisted the help of my artistically inclined sister. With her steady hand and keen eye for detail, she saved the day!

I also wanted to bake something to carry as an edible prop when I wore my costume to work on Friday. A colleague of my parents’ gave me her recipe for zucchini loaf, which was absolutely delicious. Over the past few days, I think I’ve made at least six loafs! The recipe is simple, healthy and really tasty. It calls for whole wheat flour, and plain yogurt to reduce the amount of oil. The cake is moist, and rich in cinnamon and clove flavour. I added chocolate chips, which was a hit – at least with everyone except my mom, who’s more of a zucchini purist.

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Here's looking at you!

These are two must-try recipes, especially if you’re dressed-up like a brunette June Cleaver!

Bloodshot Eyeball Brownies

  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for pan
  • 1 teaspoon coarse salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces, plus more for pan
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for marbling
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 8 ounces dark-chocolate-covered almonds, chopped
  • Bag of large marshmallows, for garnish
  • ½ cup of chocolate chips, for garnish
  • Red icing, for garnish
  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter an 8-inch square pan, and line it with parchment, leaving a 2-inch overhang on 2 sides. Butter and flour parchment, tapping out excess.
  2. Combine flour and salt in a small bowl. Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Sift cocoa powder on top of butter, and whisk to combine. Let cool 3 minutes. Gently whisk in vanilla and eggs, then stir in sugars and flour mixture until just combined. Fold in almonds, then spread batter evenly in prepared pan.
  3. Bake until the top is firm and set, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to a wire rack, and let cool for 20 minutes. Remove brownies from pan using parchment overhang, and let cool on wire rack. Once cooled, cut brownies into squares.
  4. Cut marshmallows in half, to form two circular “eyes.” In the center of each marshmallow, insert a chocolate chip, pointy-side down. Use a tooth pick to draw veins in red icing along the side of each marshmallow. Once completed, place one eyeball on top each brownie square.
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It's scary how well the zucchini and chocolate chips go together!

Best-Ever Chocolate Zucchini Loaf

*Makes 2 loaves

  • 3 cups shredded zucchini
  • 1 2/3 cups of granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/3 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 4 eggs
  • 3 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • ½ tsp ground cloves
  • ½ tsp baking powder
  • ½ cup chocolate chips (if desired)
  1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare loaf pans with butter and flour.
  2. Mix zucchini, sugar, oil, vanilla and eggs. Add in remaining ingredients.
  3. Pour into pans. Bake loaves for 45-55 minutes until done (insert knife into loaf, and if it comes out clean, loaf should be ready).

Superwoman doesn’t bake

Last Sunday, I unintentionally fell into a marathon session of cooking and baking. It all started very innocently. I wanted to whip up a quick dinner for my boyfriend, so I decided to make vegetarian lasagna and blueberry crumb cake. Now, anyone who has ever made lasagna properly, knows that it isn’t something you just “whip up.” I learned this the hard way. It actually takes a long time – just shy of two hours, at least for me. There’s thin sheets of pasta to individually boil and dry off. There’s vegetables to sauté, cheese to grate and saucy layers to arrange.

I didn’t even think it necessary to follow a recipe. I figured: who needs a recipe? After all, I am Italian. The dish will practically throw itself together. Wrong, wrong and wrong. Had it not been for my Nonna, who happened to drop by for a visit, my dish would have ended up as a cheesy disaster. In the end, it actually turned out pretty good. The sautéed layers of mushrooms, eggplant, red peppers, zucchini, spinach and ricotta were so good that we didn’t even miss the meat.

Buttery walnut crumble topping

Buttery walnut crumble topping

As for the crumb cake, it was another two-hour effort. Lacking a “paddle attachment,” I was forced to use my ten-tonne mixer by hand. As usual, my butter was cold, so it took forever to cream it with the sugar. My mixing bowl was too small, so flour and sugar spattered everywhere. And the whole process was slowed down because I had to put the heavy mixer down every 40 seconds, to give my burning bicep a break.

Lemon zest infused sugar

Lemon zest infused sugar

I was tired, covered in flour, and finally ready to pour my mix in the baking pan. At that exact moment, my mother trudged past the kitchen, with a towering load of laundry. She took one look at me and my mess, and shook her head. “And you think women with a full-time job and a family can spend four hours on a Sunday afternoon doing this and still finish everything else they need to do?” Not even waiting for an answer, she shook her head again and made a B-line to the laundry room.

My Barney-purple batter

My Barney-purple batter

My multi-tasking mother did raise a fair point. I guess it is a luxury to while away an afternoon cooking and baking. It would be significantly harder to do if you’ve got children to chase after and an entire list of household chores to work through. So we can’t begrudge the modern Superwoman, if she buys a box of ready-made cookies or heads to the bakery to pick up a pie. As I told my mom, right now, I have a bit of time on my hands. So while she wears the cape, I’ll bake the cake!

And as it turned out, the crumb cake was delicious! Another great recipe from Let Her Bake Cake . My cake was purple in hue because I used frozen blueberries, which bleed into the batter. And I messed up the crumble because I mismeasured the butter. But nonetheless, it was the moistest and one of the tastiest cakes I’ve made so far!

Freshly out of the oven, and slightly less purple!

Freshly out of the oven, and slightly less purple!

Blueberry Crumb Cake (From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan)

Topping:

5 Tbsp unsalted butter

1/3 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/3 cup all purpose (plain) flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Moist and blueberry-full!

Moist and blueberry-full!

Cake:

2 cups blueberries

2 cups plus 2 tsp all purpose (plain) flour

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 tsp salt

1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

2/3 cup sugar

zest of 1/2 lemon

6 Tbsp unsalted butter

2 large eggs

1 tsp pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup buttermilk or plain yogurt

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F / 175C. Grease an 8-inch square baking pan.
  2. To make the crumb topping: Put all the ingredients except the nuts in a food processor and pulse just until the mixture forms clumps and holds together when pressed. Scrape the topping into a bowl and stir in the nuts. Set aside until needed, or cover and refrigerate for up to three days.
  3. To make the cake: Using your fingers, toss the blueberries and 2 tsp of flour together in a small bowl just to coat the berries; set aside. In a medium bowl whisk together the remaining 2 cups flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. Set aside.
  4. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl, rub the sugar and zest together with your fingertips until the sugar is moist and aromatic. Add the butter and, with the paddle attachment or with a hand mixer, beat the sugar with the butter at medium speed until light, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs one by one, beating for about 1 minute after each addition, then beat in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour mixture and the buttermilk alternately, the flour in 3 parts and the buttermilk in 2, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. You will have a thick, creamy batter. With a rubber spatula, gently stir in the berries.
  5. Scrape the batter into the pan and smooth the top gently with the spatula. With your fingertips, break the crumb mixture into pieces and scatter over the top of the cake, pressing them down sightly.
  6. Bake for 55 to 65 minutes, or until the crumbs are golden and a knife inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Transfer the cake to a rack and cool.

Freshly Brewed Cake

I don’t condone road rage, but I certainly understand it. You’re tired. You’ve worked an eleven-hour shift – on a Friday, no less. You have a sinus cold that is causing the right side of your face to throb. You’ve run out of Kleenex. There’s construction – everywhere. There are lane reductions beyond every street corner, and no one will let you merge. The highway onramp is backed up for blocks, and when you do make your way on, traffic is blazing at a steady rate of 5 kilometres per hour. And then an airport limousine cuts you off. So yes, I can see how even the most mild-mannered person can get a little worked up during a rush hour commute.

To release all that pent up frustration, some people yell, others curse, and some favour the one-finger wave. I, however, dealt with my Friday afternoon frustrations in a different way: I baked them out. And man, did it feel good!

For the past week, I’ve been sidelined from the kitchen because of a cold. So, I was really baking with a vengeance. I guess that’s why I tackled two birthday cakes and a batch of mini cheesecakes in one night.

Everyone seemed to like the crown of Oreos

Everyone seemed to like the crown of Oreos

This weekend we held a tri-birthday celebration for my sister, grandmother and uncle. I volunteered to bake my uncle’s favourite oreo cheesecake, which I blogged about a few weeks ago. This time, I made both mini-cheesecakes and a full-sized cake. I used the exact same batter, this time pouring it into an oreo-lined spring form pan and baking for about 35 minutes.

Instant coffee adds intense flavour

Instant coffee adds intense flavour

I also tried my hand at a great recipe from The Pioneer Woman for a coffee cake. Now, this wasn’t your traditional crumbly confection. Instead, it was literally a coffee-flavoured layer cake. It was a pretty simple recipe, and the end result was just delicious! The cake was moist and rich in coffee flavour. The icing was flecked with granules of coffee, and it was fluffier and tastier than any other recipe I’ve tried thus far.

The makings of what would become my favourite icing

The makings of what would become my favourite icing

The Pioneer Woman beautifully illustrates each step of her recipe with photos. This way, you can easily follow along and tell if something is amiss with your version of the dessert. Luckily, I got through the whole recipe without a glitch.

In the end, both cakes were a hit. And after all the dishes were done and the candles blown out, my angry Friday afternoon commute was no more than a distant memory.

 

Sporting a fresh coat of frosting

Sporting a fresh coat of frosting

 

Coffee Cake – Literally

For the Cake

2 cups flour
2 cups white sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) regular (salted) butter
3 tablespoons instant coffee (I used Folger’s Crystals)
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 eggs
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons vanilla

For the Icing

1 1/2 sticks (3/4 cup) regular (salted) butter
1 pound powdered sugar
1 to 2 tablespoons instant coffee
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream (add as needed)

I can’t do the instructions justice if I retyped them without The Pioneer Woman’s photos. So check out her fully illustrated recipe here.

Coffee cake, freshly brewed!

Coffee cake, freshly brewed!

Talk About Locally Grown

For the past week, I have been dying to try a coconut cake recipe from Let Her Bake Cake. I went out and bought desiccated coconut and almond extract as soon as I saw the recipe. And I had every intention giving the cake a whirl this weekend. However, I was thwarted by a bag of pears.

Beautiful, freshly picked pears

Beautiful, freshly picked pears

On Saturday, my boyfriend and I went to visit his grandparents, and their beautiful garden. Their front yard is home to perky pink and white asters, two-tone roses and the most delicately scented purple cyclamen. In the back, their vegetable garden is rich with staples like tomatoes and green beans. They also have a pear tree, heavy with its late summer yield. So, to unburden the tree’s branches, my bf and his grandfather picked a bag full of sweet pears – Bartlett, I think.

And being a sucker for all that is home-grown and in season, I had to incorporate those pears into a dessert. After doing a little bit of searching, I found an interesting recipe from chef Mario Batali for Torta di Pere , or Pear Tart. This very old world Italian recipe seemed like the perfect way to showcase my newly acquired pears.

The online recipe didn’t include a picture, which struck me as a little odd, especially since it was featured on the Food Network. The dessert seemed straight forward enough, pears, sugar, a bit of flour, a good helping of Grand Marnier, lemon, milk, butter, salt, baking soda and eggs. Initially, I was a bit surprised by the small proportions of sugar and butter. But the quality of a dessert should not be measured by its calorie count…at least not all the time.

Peeled, cored, cubed and ready to roll!

Peeled, cored, cubed and ready to roll!

So, after what seemed like hours of peeling, coring and cubing the pears, I doused them in orangey Grand Marnier. For some reason, the recipe forgot to explain what I should do with the lemon zest. I went out on a limb and threw it in with the pears.

I found that the batter was the problem child of this recipe. Despite the fact that I carefully followed each step, my creamed butter and sugar seemed to curdle when I added “one whole egg and a yolk.” After sniffing the suspect looking mixture, I decided just to keep going. After all, Mario Batali is an Iron Chef, and wouldn’t steer me wrong. As it turned out, a little flour and milk seemed to bring the batter back to life.

Problem was: there was barely enough batter to thoroughly cover the bottom, let alone the top of my spring form pan. The recipe itself did not warn of this batter deficit. I scrolled through some reader feedback on the website. Paola from Rome suggested making double the amount of batter, and reducing the pears by half. But Rafael from Florida said the proportions worked just fine for his dish. I placed my trust in Rafael.

What's the matter with batter? In the end, nothing!

What's the matter with batter? In the end, nothing!

In the end, Rafael was right. The scant amount of batter formed a perfectly crisp biscuit-type crust, with lots of room for pears to break through. The dessert is three parts pear, and one part crust. Had the pears been riper, the filling would have been sweeter and more flavourful. My version was still ok, just a bit bland. Next time, I’m going to use really ripe fruit and add extra lemon zest to the batter and filling. All in all, not a bad way to use up two and a half pounds of freshly picked fall pears!

Grand Marnier infusion? Yes please!

Grand Marnier infusion? Yes please!

Torta di Pere

  • 2 1/2 pounds pears, cored and cut into chunks
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup orange flavored liqueur, like Grand Marnier
  • 1 lemon, zested and grated
  • 4 tablespoons butter, plus more, for greasing the pan
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • Pinch salt
  • 1/2 cup milk

 

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the pears, half the sugar, 1 tablespoon of the flour, and the Grand Marnier and mix well. I added the lemon zest to the fruit in this step.
  3. In a separate bowl, combine the remaining sugar and butter, cream until light and fluffy. Add 1 egg and the yolk of the other egg and mix well. Sift the remaining flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the flour in halves to the sugar mixture, alternating with the milk. Set the second mixture aside to rest for 30 minutes, divided into 2 quantities, 1 being slightly larger than the other.
  4. Butter a 9-inch round cake pan and turn the larger quantity of batter into the cake pan. Put the pears into the pan, top with the remaining batter and bake for 45 minutes. Let cool and serve in wedges.  I ended up baking the cake for an extra 10 minutes.
Fresh out of the oven

Fresh out of the oven

 

Just add a little vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

Just add a little vanilla ice cream and enjoy!

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?