We’re on our way to Eli’s parents’ house for the Passover holiday, so I can’t stay long today. But I promised you dessert, one that involves the distractingly delicious combination of chocolate, hazelnuts, and sea salt. That’s not the kind of promise I take lightly. Since time is short, I’m going to give this one to you straight. As straight (straightly?) as I’m capable of giving anything, that is.
These little cakes are a dressed up version of a standard flourless chocolate cake that I’ve been baking for years. I based them on a simple premise: hazelnuts and chocolate together are uncommonly good. Some might even say that they are destined to be together. I’m not sure what it says about my character that it has taken me upwards of five years to grind up some hazelnuts and toss them into this batter, but it can’t be good. It certainly does nothing to boost my already questionable authority in the kitchen. But now that the deed is done, I’m doing my best to get past all that. It’s amazing what a bite of something wonderful from your very own oven can do for your confidence level.
Like most flourless chocolate cakes, this version is one of those melt, stir, and pour numbers, a convenient number to have around when you’ve also got three different kinds of macaroons and a batch of cherry almond chocolate chunkies on the docket. When it comes to holiday baking, I don’t mess around. I normally make this cake in an 8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, but this time, I decided to pour the batter into mini muffin pans, instead. I wanted something that could be eaten out of hand in a couple of bites, something large enough to satisfy, yet small enough to justify reaching, guilt free, for a second. I’ve spooned and forked my way through many a flourless chocolate cake, but flourless chocolate cake as finger food is a first for me. There’s something special about picking it up between finger and thumb, like you would a brownie or a creamy truffle, and biting into what tastes like a combination of both. If you have ever stuck a spoon into a jar of Nutella and brought it directly to your mouth – and if you haven’t, then I suggest you get on that immediately – then you already have a pretty good feel for the flavor of this cake. Only it’s richer. Darker. And with a salty finish that makes the whole thing pop. It’s a deed done right.
With that, I’d better be on my way. Whether or not you’re celebrating tonight, may this spring be a season of new and renewed life for us all. Happy Passover.
Mini Chocolate Hazelnut Cakes with Sea Salt
Adapted from Gourmet, November 1997
I have one very important thing to tell you before you begin: Do NOT over bake these cakes. Do not. Please. If you do, you won’t get that smooth, creamy interior that, in my opinion, is the hallmark of a truly fine flourless chocolate cake. Instead, you’ll end up with a consistency that is decidedly more brownie-like. While that’s not the worst thing in the world, if you wanted brownies, you would just make brownies, right? The key here is to remove the cakes from the oven as soon as a thin crust has formed over the tops. I’m going to tell you the exact same thing in the recipe in just a moment, but it’s so important, that it bears repeating.
4 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate (I use Scharffen Berger, 70%)
1 stick (1/2 c.) unsalted butter
¾ c. sugar
3 large eggs
½ c. unsweetened cocoa powder
½ c. hazelnuts
Coarsely ground Sea salt
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and generously butter a 24-cup mini muffin pan. (You can, as I mentioned, also bake this cake in an 8-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. If you decide to go this route, you will want to butter the pan, line the bottom with a round of parchment paper, and butter the paper.)
Toast the hazelnuts in the oven for about 7-8 minutes, and rub them with a cloth dish towel to remove the loose skins. Once they have cooled, grind them in a food processor until medium-fine. (Mine were on the finer side.)
Chop the chocolate into small pieces, and melt it together with the butter in a double boiler (or heat-safe bowl) placed over a pot of barely simmering water. Stir until smooth, remove the mixture from the heat, and whisk in the sugar. Add the eggs and whisk well. Sprinkle the cocoa powder and the ground hazelnuts over the chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Pour the batter into the pans, and sprinkle a pinch of sea salt onto each one. Bake for approximately 12 minutes (25 minutes if you’re making a single, 8-inch cake), or until the top has formed a thin crust. If your oven runs hot, check them at 10. Cool in the pans for five minutes, and then remove the cakes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 24 mini cakes.
Note: These cakes freeze well, and I actually like their consistency even better once they have been frozen and thawed.