Did you know World Nutella Day is a thing? Honestly, I wish I didn't. But since my cousin clued me in and had a party and invited me to come, I couldn't very well feign ignorance. Given the auspiciousness of the celebration, baking a cake seemed like a perfectly reasonable way to spend a blustery Saturday. And I knew just the cake for the occasion.
Hungarian nut tortes are really nostalgic for me. They remind me of every golden afternoon I ever spent in a sun-drenched café on the Duna Corso. Momo made one for my 22nd birthday that BLEW MY MIND -- particularly because my little brother sneaked in to hand deliver it at the Missionary Training Center. (For those of you not Mormon enough to fully understand this -- imagine Jason Bourne breaking into the boys camp in Moonrise Kingdom, and then singing like the nuns in Sister Act. With a chocolate cake. It was just like that.) It's been a few years, so I think it's finally safe to tell that story....
This isn't a particularly complicated recipe, but it does have a lot of steps. And if you're completing each of these steps with the not-at-all-able assistance of six small hands that each need to be rewashed every time the attached child decides to lick a finger or pick a nose (not necessarily belonging to that same small child), it can easily occupy you and your tiny sous chefs for an entire afternoon.
Aaaaaanyway. This is an awesome cake. It's gluten free, but just because it's always been that way -- no weird chemistry or strange ingredients required. Traditionally, these are also dairy free, but they can also be a little dry. As I contemplated this dilemma, while looking at my beautiful batter that I really hoped would bake into a moist, fragrant cloud, I asked myself, "WWJD" (which, in my kitchen at least, means "What Would Jutka Do?"). I closed my eyes, reverently reflected on the principles of Hungarian cookery for which my ancestors died (Or nearly died -- Didi had a quintuple bypass, people!). Then, I reached for the sour cream. Obvi.
The result is light and moist, elegant and a little different. It's also super-flexible: delicious with fresh fruit and simple whipped cream, or it can hold its own with a more robust frosting like this one. Whipped egg whites folded into the batter give it a marvelously light, airy texture, but it's sturdy enough to withstand a solid drizzle of liqueur or syrup. I have a hunch you could turn it into a wicked tiramisu. You get the idea....
Hungarian Hazelnut Torte
with Mocha-Nutella Buttercream
with Mocha-Nutella Buttercream
2.5 cups whole hazelnuts
2 tsp. baking powder
a pinch of good salt
2/3 cup sugar
8 eggs, separated
1/3 cup sour cream
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Line the bottom of a 9" pan with parchment paper, and then generously grease the whole thing. If you happen to have a springform pan, use that. But I don't have one the proper size, so I just used a regular cake pan and it was fine.
Toss the hazelnuts on a sheet pan and broil them for a few minutes, shaking the pan once or twice, until the husks are loose and the nuts start to brown. Hettie and Phineas absolutely loved rubbing the cooled nuts between their palms to remove the skins. They made a huge mess, but they probably would have made a mess doing something else, too, so.... Discard the papery skins (or sweep them up from where your kids have already discarded them on the floor) and finely grind the nutmeats in a food processor or powerful blender. Mix the ground nuts thoroughly with the baking power and a nice pinch of salt. Now is a good time to turn the oven to 325*.
Take your separated egg whites and beat them to stiff peaks. In a clean bowl, beat the yolks with the sugar until they get fluffy and change color to a very pale yellow. (Jutka taught me that if you beat the whites first, you don't need to wash your mixer in between. Genius!). Add the vanilla and sour cream to the luscious yolks, then mix in the nuts. Very gently, fold a cup or so of the heavy nut goo into your fluffy whites, then delicately combine the whole thing. Ease this nutty billow into your prepared pan, and bake for about one hour, until the center springs back lightly when touched.
Invert it onto a rack and cool completely before splitting, filling and frosting. I made a dark chocolate-Nutella ganache for the middle, and used this Nutella frosting recipe on top, with a teaspoon of instant coffee added with the sugar for depth. It was SO good ...But if I were going to do it again, I'd skip the ganache and instead sandwich fresh raspberries between thin layers of Nutella, straight up. Because it's hard to improve on perfection, and everything is better with fresh raspberries. And, since I'm being really honest, I didn't actually measure anything for the frosting -- just kinda guessed and dumped. Which I don't recommend, because my texture ended up just a tiny bit funky. But these are details. Trust me: this one's a winner.