Thursday 29 November 2012

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte with Smoked Sea Salt

Though I know it's meant as a compliment and is very sweet, it makes me nervous when people's expectations of my cooking are set very high. For instance, when people who don't know me have been told to expect something incredibly delicious when I bring something to a party or event. Though I love cooking for people, I do find it stressful.

I spent a faintly ridiculous amount of time trying to work out what to bring to an event I went to this week. It had to be something that I could take in the basket of my bike. I didn't want to assemble, bake or reheat it when I got there. I'd never cooked for any of the guests before and so I had no clue about their likes or dislikes. Yet I wanted each person to feel it was worthy of the announcement: Emma will bring a superb dessert.

I decided that I'd make a Ginger Bourbon Pecan Pie, one of my favourite recipes. Then I realised that I needed to be able to write a post about it, as I've been testing for another project (announced here). That meant trying something new, as I don't have anything appropriate in the wings at the moment. An untested recipe adds another layer of danger to the situation - though I guess it does have a built in excuse for something being less than spectacular.

I thought chocolate would be a safe bet so I turned to Alice Medrich's wonderful Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts and found this 'Queen of Sheba Torte'. This version has been tweaked by Alice so that it's a one bowl recipe with no need to separately whip the egg whites. It's very clever.

A big packet of smoked sea salt has been lingering unopened in one of my cupboards for ages as I didn't quite know what to do with it. When Steph posted her Dark Chocolate Espresso Cookies with Smoked Sea Salt (also, coincidentally, adapted from an Alice Medrich recipe) I realised that I needed to pair it with dark chocolate. I also thought that hazelnuts would work wonderfully with a hint of smoke, so I swapped the almonds for hazelnuts.

On the night, the cake - still in the tin, cloaked in foil with an elastic band belt - joined a pot of double cream, my whisk and the remainder of the Raspberry Caramels in my bag. I tucked it all into my basket and cycled off into the murky drizzle to await their verdict.

While it seemed to go down fairly well, I wasn't totally happy with it. I didn't have any 70% chocolate, so I'd used 85% and added a little more sugar - I don't think it needed it. I also thought that I'd slightly overcooked it and it could do with a teeny bit more smoked salt. So I made a half recipe yesterday in my 6" tin, baked for 18 minutes (this version is in the top and bottom photos, I've put a full recipe below). Just as I finished, I realised I could have used cocoa powder in place of the flour to give it a bit of extra punch - another time. I'm happier with my second attempt (though I think I might have very slightly overdone the salt this time) and I'm looking forward to trying it again tomorrow - apparently it's best after about three days.

Finally, if you pull out a torte that looks like the one below, do not panic. I got rather worried that it looked like a normal cake and keep going back and forth to the kitchen, willing it to sink (definitely a first for me). Thankfully, it shrank, puckered and cracked as it cooled.

P.S. Do try the mixture before you bake it - it's sort of like mousse. Amazing mousse.

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte with Smoked Salt
(adapted from Alice Medrich's Sinfully Easy Delicious Desserts)

70g whole hazelnuts
30g plain flour
170g dark chocolate (I used 85%)
140g unsalted butter, slightly softened
150g light brown sugar
big pinch of fine sea salt
4 large cold eggs (from the fridge)
1 tsp vanilla extract
pinch of smoked sea salt flakes

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Lightly butter an 8" springform or loose-based tin. Place the hazelnuts on a small tray in the oven and toast for a few minutes until they start to smell and darken slightly. If they have skins, rub as much as you can off with a tea towel. Put into a food processor with the flour and blast until they are finely ground.

Place a mixer bowl (or another bowl if using a hand mixer) over a pan of barely simmering water. Chop the chocolate up and tip into the bowl. Stir occasionally as it melts. Meanwhile weigh out the brown sugar and salt and cut the butter into cubes - it should be starting to soften, not squishy. When the chocolate has nearly melted, take it off the heat and stir until it's smooth. Place on the mixer (with the whisk attached) and add the sugar, salt and butter. Whisk on medium until the ingredients have fully combined and the mixture has lightened a little. Scrape the sides down then add the first egg. Whip until combined, then add the next egg. Repeat until they're all combined then add the vanilla and whip for 1-2 minutes on high until stiff and pale.

Add the ground hazelnuts and fold in. Scoop into the pan and level out. Sprinkle the smoked sea salt over the top. Bake for 28-35 minutes - a tester should still bring up a few sticky crumbs. Place on a wire rack and leave to cool fully in the tin. Wrap in kitchen foil and leave for at least one day and up to three before serving. Lovely with a big spoonful of whipped cream or crème fraîche.

(Serves 10-12)

A few related posts:
Sea-Salted Chocolate and Pecan Praline Tarts
Chez Panisse Almond Tart
Pear and Chocolate Crumble


  1. I don't think you can ever go wrong with the combination of chocolate and hazelnut. I'm definitely going to try this was cocoa rather than the flour next time I need a gluten free dessert; it's exactly the kind of pudding that we love in my family.

  2. Please do update on if you try replacing some of the flour with cocoa powder--I'd love to know how that turns out!

  3. This is so pretty! Love the smoked sea salt :)

  4. We made the half recipe torte and it was divine, fit for king, scrumptious, delicious, mouthwatering, delectable, exquisite, gratifying, luscious, tempting and heavenly.
    Thank you for the wonderful recipe!

  5. I love nothing more than a chocolate torte, like a fudgy mousse. Delicious.

  6. Lovely! I don't have this book yet - it's on my Christmas list. I love the addition of smoked salt - perfect.

  7. Wow, that looks fantastic. I will definitely be trying that out over Christmas!

  8. I adore the Queen of Sheba torte! I love it more now that it can be made in one bowl. The hazelnuts and salt are such an interesting twist. Thank you so much!

  9. This is my favourite kind of cake - unadorned, rich, chocolatey and nutty. And with salt. Thank you :)

  10. oh my god. your food looks so beautiful, i want to cry.
    any photography tips, by the way? it's the bane of my blog's existence at the moment. as is my blogger's block.
    i am new to this blogging business, and your blog was one i chose to follow because i have a lot to learn from your readable style and lovely cooking :)
    any advice is welcome

  11. london bakes - It's a classic for a reason. I did think it'd make it into a gluten free dessert if you changed the cocoa - do tell me how it goes if you try :)

    Ana - I will do!

    Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar - Thanks. I still can't work out if I can really taste the smokiness, but it does look different ;)

    Max - I'm so pleased you both enjoyed it so much!

    Sarah - This is pretty fudgy, though it has a bit of slightly drier, cakey bit too, especially if you try it on the first day.

    vanilla bean blog - It's a great book - I want to get some of her other books too. I can't seem to stop adding salt to things, it's getting addictive!

    A Spoonful of Sugar - I hope you do - and please tell me how it goes!

    Stephanie - The Dessert Spoon - It's such a clever method. I really want to know the reason behind the eggs needing to cold.

    breakfastandotherstories - I'm so pleased you like it - I love chocolate and nuts too.

    Dinksy - Naw, thank you! I put some of my general advice about blogging in this post. As far as photography goes, one of the best tips I was given was to find a camera you're comfortable with and really learn how to use it and only upgrade when you need the extra features. Other than that, I think it's personal - take loads of photos, keep practicing and trying new things and work out what works for you. For food I think the most important thing is natural light and no flash. Hope that helps!

  12. this looks incredible! I know what you mean about expectations! I'm always terrified I'm going to feed people something awful or that I've left the baking paper still under the cake!

  13. ugh this looks delicious! I am actually also obsessed with salt in desserts (I made some vegan and gf salted chocolate tarts last week- with a hazelnut crust!)- so this is definitely tickling my fancy haha. I am thinking that to make it gf rice flour could really work as it is only a small amount of flour.

  14. The tasting of the "Queen of Sheba Torte" by Amelie age 10.

    The first sensation is a rich flavour of dark chocolate that dances on my tongue. The nuts wake up my tastebuds. The sweetness of the icing sugar makes the cake more exciting.

  15. Haha Emma! I'm with you there! I have recently begun cooking (professionally!) for a small group each week, and been invited to a few dinners with very foodie, friends of a friend, so I have been searching and panicking of what to make each week too! And yet I have spent practically my whole life watching, reading and baking treats! So I completely understand your feeling! I've learned to trust my instincts, so trust yourself Emma, your taste looks impeccable! No pressure.. :)

  16. Jenny @ BAKE - I hadn't even thought about the baking paper! Though I guess it'd only be a real problem if it was a middle layer. Glad it's not just me that worries :)

    Paola gnom-gnom - Hazelnut crust sounds delicious with a chocolate tart. I don't know much about rice flour but it sounds like a good idea!

    Amellie - I'm so glad you enjoyed it Amellie.

    Liz B - That sounds like an exciting opportunity. Good to hear that you worry too - you're right that you need to trust yourself!

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