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High Country Baking: Chocolate hazelnut cake is great for holidays

This cake comes together in three easy-to-follow steps and the filling and glaze are simple and quick. (Vera Dawson
High Country Baking)

Editor’s note: High altitudes make cookies spread in the pan, cakes fall, and few baked goods turn out as they do at sea level. This twice-monthly column presents recipes and tips that make baking in the mountains successful.

How will you spend New Year’s Eve? We’ve decided to dress up, set a fancy table using our best crystal and china, take-out an appetizer and main course from a local restaurant, serve ourselves copious amounts of champagne, and finish our meal with this chocolate hazelnut cake. Bittersweet, sophisticated, with a depth of flavor, lush texture and elegant appearance, it’s memorable … perfect for holidays and special-occasion dinners.

The cake comes together in three easy-to-follow steps and the filling and glaze are simple and quick. I like to make it over a two-day period, making the cake on the first day and storing it, wrapped airtight, in the ‘fridge. On the second day, I cut it into layers, fill and glaze it, return it to the refrigerator, well covered, and serve it that evening, after it’s chilled, or the next day.



Chocolate hazelnut cake

  • Make in an 8-inch shiny metal springform pan
  • Adjusted for altitudes of 7,800 feet and above

Cake

  • 12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 ½ sticks)
  • 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped fine
  • 4 large eggs, separated
  • 1 cup superfine granulated sugar, preferably Baker’s
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons bleached flour, spoon and level
  • ¼ cup hazelnut meal/flour or finely ground toasted skinned hazelnuts
  • ¼ teaspoon salt

Filling



  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, very soft but not starting to melt
  • ½ cup chocolate-hazelnut spread (like Nutella)
  • Pinch salt
  • ¾-1¼ cups lump-free confectioner’s sugar)
  • 1-3 teaspoons heavy whipping cream

Glaze

  • 4 ½ ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped fine
  • ½ cup heavy whipping cream
  • ¼ cup chopped toasted hazelnuts, optional

1. Make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with a rack in the center. Line the pan with a circle of parchment or waxed paper. Generously grease the pan and the paper with a vegetable oil-flour baking spray. Cut the butter into 12 pieces and place them, with the chopped chocolate, in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave at a low temperature, checking often, until the mixture is almost fully melted. (This can also be done in a saucepan over very low heat, stirring constantly).

Remove and stir until fully melted, well blended, and smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.

2. Use an electric mixer to beat the egg yolks with the sugar in a mixing bowl until pale yellow and quite thick. Add the chocolate mixture and stir gently until blended. By hand or using the mixer’s lowest speed, stir in the flour, hazelnut meal, and salt. Stop as soon as they’re incorporated into the batter. Don’t overmix.

3. With clean, cool beaters, whip the egg whites with an electric mixer until they hold stiff peaks but are still moist. Fold ¼ of them into the batter to lighten it, and then fold in the rest until well blended. Be gentle, try not to deflate the egg whites. Check the bottom of the bowl to make sure none of the heavy batter remains. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smooth and level the top, then rap the pan on your kitchen counter a couple times to eliminate any air bubbles. Bake until the edges of the cake are firm and the middle is set but still soft, start checking at 25 minutes. The top may dome and develop little cracks as it bakes. Remove and cool until barely warm. The domed top may shrink as it cools. Invert the pan on a cardboard cake circle or plate and carefully remove the pan sides, bottom, and paper liner. Cool completely.

4. Make the filling: With an electric mixer, beat the butter, chocolate-hazelnut spread, and salt until smooth and light. Start adding the confectioners’sugar (strain it if it isn’t soft and lump-free), beating after each addition until the mixture thickens but is still spreadable (the consistency of a stiff frosting). If it gets too thick, add cream, a little at a time, to thin it to the right consistency. If the cake is domed, trim it so the top is flat. Cut it into 2 equal layers, spread the filling evenly on the bottom one, carefully top it with the remaining layer, and cover the cake while you prepare the glaze.

5. Make the glaze: Place the finely-chopped chocolate in a bowl. Heat the cream (in a microwave or on the stovetop) until almost boiling, pour it over the chocolate, making sure all of it is submerged, and cover the bowl. Wait 3-4 minutes, until the chocolate melts, then stir gently (try not to make air bubbles) until well blended, shiny, and smooth. Set the mixture aside until it’s thickened and cool, but still pourable. Pour half of it over the cake’s top and use an offset spatula to spread it evenly. Spread the rest on the sides of the cake. If using, place hazelnuts decoratively around the top. Let the glaze set. Store the cake, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Cut into thin slices (it’s rich) and serve chilled (for a fudgy texture, our favorite) or at room temperature.

Vera Dawson is a high-altitude baking teacher and the author of two high-altitude cookbooks, “Cookies in the Clouds” and “Baking Above It All” (available at The Bookworm of Edwards and Next Page Bookstore in Frisco). Her recipes have been tested in her Summit County kitchen and, whenever necessary, altered until they work at our altitude. Contact her at veradawson1@gmail.com.


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