April 8, 2013

Incredible chocolate-hazelnut meringue torte - in miniature

It was love at first sight.  I saw this cake on Smitten Kitchen and knew I wanted (needed) to make it as soon as possible.  I made a small 6-inch version, scaled down for a weekend family dinner for three.
Inspiration is everywhere.  I see so many wonderful sweet and savory dishes on blogs, cooking shows, in magazines, and from restaurants and bakeries that I want to emulate and try at home.  I'm making more progress lately but with so many possibilities and aspirations, things usually get added to my "to-make" list where I hope to get to it...eventually.  Well, this cake just moved me - straight into the kitchen - and would not be relegated into the annals of my to-do list.

I'm being a little overly dramatic but in all seriousness, I wanted to make and taste this torte, or layer cake, not only because a very reliable source says it's amazing but also because it has many of the components I love in a dessert - chocolate, nuts (hazelnuts are one of my favorites), and a contrast in texture... 
Layers of hazelnut meringue, bittersweet chocolate, and whipped cream (it's good just like this!)
And I'm glad I followed my instincts because what I discovered is one of the best things I've ever baked.   I think this torte is a show-stopper, a restaurant-quality dessert that I never would've thought I could make myself a couple of years ago.   And it was actually easy, at least not much more work than making a traditional layer cake.

Not only does it look amazing, the taste is a knock-out combination of flavors in your mouth.  I love the layers of soft nutty meringue, separated by thin, ever-so -slightly hardened sheets of bittersweet chocolate, that's all coated with creamy hazelnut-kissed whipped cream.  It is a hazelnut and chocolate lover's dream!
For a long time now, I've been thinking about attempting a multi-layer almond and hazelnut torte very similar to this one.  I believe it's called a "marjolaine cake", the rectangular kind made with layers of nut meringue, alternating with layers of chocolate ganache and coffee or some similar buttercream.  I've had my eye on a recipe from the Flour Bakery cookbook as well as one from America's Test Kitchen (both are that list of mine).  When I saw this cake, I thought it was a far simplified, lighter, version of the marjolaine cake that I keep thinking about.  Turns out, this is the recipe I've been waiting for! 

Now, about the name of this torte.  Deb calls it a "macaroon" torte but I just can't help but think coconut as in those flourless cookies when I hear the word.  It's also a dacquoise but whether you call it that, or macaroon, or meringue (like I'm tagging it), we're talking about a stacked cake made up of these layers created by combining nuts (in this case, plenty of hazelnuts) with firmly whipped egg whites.  The alternating layers of chocolate and creamy coatings of whipped cream complete the package.
The torte is surprisingly easy to slice, as the meringue is soft (and chock full of hazelnuts)
I will certainly be making this again and most likely, in the full, 8-inch, size.  I reduced the recipe down by half (though I made a little extra whipped cream) to make this 6-inch torte because I baked it for a Saturday night dinner and we  were not planning to be home beyond the next day to take advantage of leftovers.  Cakes with whipped cream are usually best eaten the day they're made but I've had success storing another Smitten Kitchen cake featuring whipped cream in the fridge for 24 hours or so and that's the case with this cake too.  I can personally attest to its quality within the 24 hour timeframe.

A special cake is very appropriate today because it's the 2nd anniversary of this little blog!  You know I clearly have a thing for chocolate and hazelnuts. Without purposely intending to, I just naturally gravitate towards this type of cake for special occasions.   For the blog's first birthday a year ago, I made a somewhat similar chocolate-hazelnut meringue cake and there are other hazelnut cakes in the archives.
I am still really enjoying this little blog endeavor, which has proven to be a fun hobby, a scrapbook of sorts, and the catalyst for so much learning.  I've tried many new things I never would have if not for this blog.  This torte is the perfect example of that!  Beyond baking, it's also encouraged me to be more adventurous in the kitchen in general.  I've been experimenting more on the savory front, learning to mix things up and make tasty and healthier dishes to share with my family.  Dinner time has been a lot more interesting!  I love being in the kitchen and feeling the satisfaction of feeding my family well and making discoveries along the way.  I also love seeing these little posts come to life!

The original recipe by the amazing Deb at Smitten Kitchen makes an 8-inch round torte.  I divided the recipe generally in half, although I made a bit more whipped cream so I'd have a little extra frosting to work with.

The torte is actually quite easy to make when you break it down into steps.  I know it's annoying when people say things are "easy" when what we probably really mean is "do-able" because cooking and baking, like anything else, requires effort.  You do need to plan in advance, shop, and do prep work and cooking, but it is absolutely do-able and the result is certainly worth it!

The process starts with hazelnuts - lots of it.  Grind 1 1/4 cups of toasted hazelnuts with half a cup of sugar in the food processor.  I used a mini grinder (hand blender attachment) and I would not do that next time.  Even at half the recipe, this is a large volume.
I whipped 3 large egg whites (with a tablespoon of sugar and a bit of vanilla) to stiff peaks.  There's not much sugar to stabilize the whites so watch carefully and don't over whisk or it will break and be too dry.  That part always makes me nervous so I watch it closely.
Fold in the nut mixture (I did it in 4 batches), trying your best not to deflate the whites too much.
Divide and spread the mixture onto four 6-inch rounds drawn onto parchment paper that's been lightly greased with cooking spray (use paper towel to even out and wipe away excess). 
Bake in a 325 degree oven until the meringues are golden and dry to the touch (it will feel soft, not hard).  I rotated the baking sheets about half way through baking and my layers were done in 15 minutes.  Bare in mind, this is for a 6-inch torte and every oven is slightly different so check on it early and look for signs that it's done.
Transfer the baking sheets to cooling racks.  After a bit, I removed the baking sheets and lifted the parchment rounds onto the racks to cool.

To make the chocolate filling only requires 3 ounces of bittersweet chocolate (good counter-balance against the sweet meringue/macaroon layers) and 2 tablespoons water.  I added 1/2 teaspoon of instant espresso powder as well but that's optional.  Deb thinks cream would soften the chocolate and I think she's totally right.  The chocolate layer ends up being ever so slightly hardened, which I love because the meringue layers are actually quite soft (particularly as it sits with the whipped cream though the chocolate does a neat trick of acting as a sort of insulation, I think).
Slather a thin layer of chocolate on top of each cooled circle of meringue.  I'll let my special helper demonstrate!  My little guy got in on the act and his extra touch made this dessert all the more memorable.  I've mentioned before that while my son is an avid eater, he is not very interested in the domestic arts like his mom so I get very excited when he makes an appearance! 
I was really happy to have my big guy's help.  He did an excellent job!  I think the chocolate layer tasted particularly good thanks to him.  Thank you, J!
Now we're getting close to the finish line.  I whipped 1 cup of heavy cream with 2 tablespoon of sugar and 2 teaspoons of Frangelico until stiff (in case you're wondering, the flavor of the Frangelico is quite mild and I think you could use more). 

I decided to make a little extra whipped cream (half recipe would have started with 3/4 cup of cream) because I had a feeling I'd need a little extra to fill in and make the cake look neat.  I ended up using most of it.
To assemble, carefully peel off the parchment paper from each meringue round (the chocolate layer needs to be dry and hardened before doing this) and add whipped cream on top of each layer.  Then, top the entire torte (top and sides) with the whipped cream. 

I followed Deb's instructions to do a thin crumb coat all around and sticking the whole thing in the freezer (it's small enough to fit in mine) for 5 minutes before adding a final, thicker, coat.  This is the best I could do.  I'm not too hung up on cake decorating (because I have no talent or patience for it).
Garish the torte with some grated bittersweet chocolate and/or chopped hazelnuts, like I did in this case.  I suppose, if you are so inclined, you could reserve a little whipped cream and pipe some designs on top. 
The cake is surprisingly easy to slice through because the meringue is soft, almost cake-line in texture thanks to the high proportion of hazelnuts.  I use a serrated knife - a little bit of a sawing motion at first and then I press straight down without a problem.  My fork had no problems digging through either!
No doubt, I will be making this again!  I'm already thinking up the next occasion.  I'd like to try it with almonds instead of hazelnuts but if you are a fan of hazelnuts like we are (the little guy is not a big fan but he still loved this cake despite the mouthfuls of nuts), you know you can't beat the strong punch of flavor and fragrance it gives and how delicious it is mixed with chocolate! 
It is soooo good!


Chocolate-Hazelnut Meringue Torte
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen (this is a small 6-inch version, or half the original recipe)

- One four-layer 6-inch round torte; Approximately 6 servings -

For meringue layers:
Cooking spray for greasing parchment rounds
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups hazelnuts (about 6 ounces), toasted and skinned*
1/8 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
* I'm lucky enough to find and buy pre-skinned toasted hazelnuts, which I lightly toast again in a 350 degree oven for about 10 minutes.

For chocolate filling:
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate (or 1/2 cup chocolate chips), coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder, optional

For whipped cream filling and frosting:
1 cup chilled heavy cream
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons Frangelico, another hazelnut liqueur or 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Optional garnish:
Chopped hazelnuts, grated bittersweet chocolate

Meringue layers:
Position oven racks to the top and lower thirds of the oven.  Preheat to 325 degrees.

Take 4 pieces of parchment rounds (or cut from parchment paper) and draw 6-inch circles on each using the bottom of a cake pan.  Turn each sheet over (so that the pencil drawing faces down) and place onto baking sheets.  Lightly spray each parchment with cooking spray then wipe with a paper towel to evenly distribute and wipe away excess. 

Grind hazelnuts, 1/2 cup of sugar, and salt in a food processor until finely ground.  Transfer to a bowl.  Beat egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Whip until soft peaks form, then add vanilla and remaining 1 tablespoon of sugar gradually.  Whip until whites are stiff but not dry (be careful not to over do it or whites will break).  Very gently, fold nut mixture into the beaten egg whites in 4 increments, trying not to deflate the whites too much.  Divide and spread the batter evenly among the 4 parchment circles using an offset spatula (again, don't over work it).

Bake until layers are golden and dry to the touch (it will feel soft but dry), roughly 15 minutes in my oven.  Carefully rotate the baking sheets halfway between baking and keep an eye on them.  Remove from the oven and let sheets cool on the cooling rack.  You can speed up the cooling process by placing them in the freezer for about 5 minutes. 

Chocolate filling:
Place two-thirds of chocolate, all the water and instant espresso powder (if using) into a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water.  Stir until smooth and remove bowl from the heat.  Add remaining chocolate and stir until melted.  The chocolate mixture should be lukewarm.

Divide and spread a thin layer of chocolate over each macaroon layer.  Let sit until chocolate sets.  You can, again, pop them in the freezer for 5 minutes to quicken the process.

Whipped cream:
Beat cold heavy cream with sugar and liqueur or vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a clean whisk attachment (I like to chill the bowl and whisk beforehand).  Beat until cream holds stiff peaks.

Gently peel the parchment off the back of each meringue round.  Place first layer onto cake stand or serving plate.  Tuck pieces of wax or parchment paper under the edge for easy clean-up later (if not, it's also easy to just whip away fallen whipped cream).  Spread a bit less than one-quarter of the whipped cream over the top of the first layer and repeat with the second and third layers.  Frost the top and sides of the torte.  (For better results, first crumb-coat the torte by applying a thin layer of whipped cream over the top and sides, then chill the cake in the freezer for about 5 minutes before applying a second, thicker coat).  You may have a small amount of whipped cream remaining (I think it's better to have extra to work with).

Garnish the cake with some chopped hazelnuts and/or grated bittersweet chocolate.  Remove wax or parchment paper around the torte, if you used it. 

Serve torte immediately or store it in the refrigerator.  Torte can be stored in the refrigerator for about 24 hours.

* See Smitten Kitchen for the full-scale recipe, as well as for details, instructions, advice for making this torte.  Thank you Deb for this wonderful recipe!


  1. You made such a beautiful torte! WOW! I've seen this recipe of Deb's and never would have dreamed of pulling it off...but you did. Truly stunning!

    1. Thank you so much, Averie! I saw it on SK and had to make it - I just adore chocolate and hazelnuts together. And it is not difficult to put together - there's no doubt you could do it! : )

  2. Happy Blog Anniversary! What a perfect torte to celebrate with. It looks like a lot of work but wow the outcome sure is beautiful. You've really convinced me to want to make this :)

    1. Thanks, Natalie! These long recipes make the job seem like a lot of work but it's really not all that bad. You should absolutely make it!!

  3. This looks completely stunning. Probably the prettiest torte or cake I've ever seen! You truly did SK's recipe justice. Beautiful my friend.

    1. That's very sweet of you, Sally! Thank you! : )

  4. Happy birthday to your blog! This is a beautiful cake and I love those wonderful layers. What a perfect torte to celebrate the special day. Now, I want to head to the kitchen and make this cake!

    1. Yes, please make this cake! : ) It's amazing how it all comes together in the end. SK does not lead us astray.

  5. Happy 2 years!! So exciting. :) And such a lovely cake. I just went nuts with (no pun intended) hazelnuts this weekend. First with my hazelnut ice cream that I've made before, and in a savory pasta dish. They're so good and just lightly sweet!

    1. Thank you!! And yum on the hazelnut ice cream! I adore hazelnut or gianduja gelato. It's on my list of things to make but I'm always a little slow in getting to things that my little one is not a big fan of. I love nuts in general, not only (definitely) in desserts but sprinkled over savory dishes. Everything is better with a little crunch. : )

      P.S. - I also love chestnuts...do you? My mother use to make a delicious chicken & chestnut soup - maybe your husband's family had a similar version?

    2. I thought I replied to you, but I don't know where it went! Well, I was saying that I have never tried chestnuts and I'm not sure what to do with them. Maybe you can share a recipe? His mom has not made a chestnut soup for me, but I'm not sure if she has been holding out. :)

    3. lol! So funny about the "holding out"...! My mother hasn't made that soup in years; I think it's too much work!

      I wish I was a real cook and could share a legit recipe or two but I just love to eat chestnuts (when they're in season) plain. I don't know how to roast them successfully so I literally just boil them and chow down. : ) I've bought jarred ones (around holidays) and used them as a topping on top of chicken dishes. I like it on top of soups, too. I also buy the kind that come in a pouch and snack on them regularly.

  6. This is definitely a celebration cake! Its the kind of cake that when you see it you automatically say, "Wow!" So, really, this cake celebrates not only your blog birthday (happy birthday, Playing with Flour!) but also celebrates your adventurous cooking spirit and your obvious talent!

    1. Wendy, thank you for your kind words! I don't think I deserve that much praise but I thank you so much. : ) The cake is not hard at all relative to the outcome.

  7. Congratulations on Playing with Flour's second anniversary! This is the only dessert blog I read regularly and the recipes always seem so inviting. Thanks for sharing so many delicious recipes.

    1. Karen - what an honor...and how scary! I don't really like to think about anyone other than me (or my husband) reading this - I hope there are not a ton of typos and mistakes! Seriously, thank you for checking this little spot out regularly. I hope it's a little bit of entertainment. : )

  8. Happy blogiversary! And what a beautiful cake to celebrate this awesome day!

    1. Thanks so much, Eva! I love any excuse to make, serve, and eat cake!

  9. Absolutely a stunner! Happy Blogiversary my dear.

    I saw this on Deb's site and yours turned out so beautiful :)

    1. Hi Kiran - thank you! Don't you just love Deb! Everyone does for good reason. I have not only discovered this cake but also learned how to make Italian tri-color cookies and an amazing chocolate cloud cake from her. I am forever grateful for those recipes alone!

  10. Happy 2nd Blogiversary, Monica! What a perfect cake to celebrate a big milestone! OMG, the layers are AMAZING. I'll need a whole day to make this gorgeous cake. :) I wish I have a piece!

    1. Thank you, Nami! I love the layers, too. It is an incredible tasting cake - not at all too sweet and chock full of hazelnuts and a hint of dark chocolate. I wish I could have another slice right now too...

  11. Hazelnut kissed whipped cream - the chocolate - all of it - I have to make this one! It is just beautiful. Can't wait for a birthday or something for an excuse! Lovely blog - thanks!

    1. I got a little dramatic there with the wording because I was so excited by this cake! : ) Thanks for stopping by, Tricia!

  12. Happy blog anniversary! Your torte looks and sounds absolutely divine!

  13. Happy two-year blog anniversary, Monica!! Hooray for you! what a perfect way to celebrate; this cake is one i too had seen on Smitten Kitchen and have always wanted to make. It looks just beautiful, and i like that you translated it down to a 6-inch version (i sometimes prefer smaller b/c it's easier to store/eat.) love it.

    1. Thanks so much, Shannon! I have Deb to thank now for another wonderful cake recipe. It's so awesome! I really liked making it in the smaller version - very manageable...

  14. This is also on my to-do list - it is making my mouth water! Great job, and happy blog anniversary!

  15. I have been searching for a cake recipe my mother use to make. The actual written recipe disappeared and my mom has not really been very helpful in trying to recreate it. I THINK THIS IS IT! I am so excited to try it! My mom always called it Mocha Cream Torte but it was meringue cake in layers and definitely had hazelnuts. I think the biggest difference is my moms recipe did not have a strong chocolate flavor in it. I think she added coffee/chocolate flavor in the whipped cream which I am going to try and duplicate. Thank you!

    1. That's wonderful - I really hope this recipe is a good basis for you to recreate your mom's cake! : ) It sounds totally delicious (and for what it's worth, this cake is amazing so if it is similar, I can see why you'd want to recreate yours). The flavor of this cake is definitely full-on hazelnuts as opposed to chocolate. That said, a mocha whipped cream sounds amazing and makes total sense; I recently made "hazelnut balls" that's a hazelnut cake with mocha buttercream. : ) Anyway, thank you so much for the comment. If you do make the cake, or your version of it, I'd love to know how it turns out.

  16. Oh wow this recipe looks delicious, love anything hazelnut. Thanks for sharing.


  17. Thank you so much for posting this recipe. It has become a favorite of my partner and of my kids. I would encourage anyone who is intimidated by this recipe (I was because I have very little baking experience) because it's surprisingly easy to make but it really looks and tastes iimpressive.

    I wondered if you have tried this with the Almond flour? Did you like it?

    (Also, I know this is really nit picky so im sorry! I feel the need to comment that "macaron" is the spelling for the meringue-based french dessert; "macaroon" is the spelling for the cookies)

    1. Thank you - this cake is amazing and one of our favorites. I have tried an almond version (this post: http://www.playingwithflour.com/search?q=almond+torte); it is very good but the hazelnut - if you love hazelnuts - has such an intense flavor. We prefer this hazelnut version. : )



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