A Single Layer of Heaven

As I mentioned in my last post, I finished the "week without cooking" (sounds like shock therapy to me!) with a birthday dinner for our friend Pat.

His actual birthday was a month ago but, with all the kids visiting them along with travel and work obligations, this was the first time all four of us were available to get together. On the positive side, it can be really nice to extend the celebratory period!

I let Pat pick the menu and was especially keen to know what he wanted for his birthday dessert. "Something chocolate with hazelnut." Once he said that, I knew just the cake!

Of course, as luck would have it, our lovely Scottish craftsmen called at the beginning of the week to schedule the installation of our new butcher-block counters... I began to worry that the kitchen would be unusable... How would this affect dinner? I could always slap something on the grill, but I really needed the oven to make the birthday cake!

As it turned out, they got the counters done in one day (the 9-foot long backsplash-cum-spice rack is still on its way...) and the stove/oven was usable. I was so happy... and quite relieved.

Pat got a Torta Gianduia for his birthday. Gianduia is one of my favorite flavor combinations - chocolate-hazelnut creaminess! I am always disappointed when I get a gianduia chocolate bar with little chunks of hazelnut in it. Maybe I am wrong (feel free to correct me), but I think it needs to be smooth, creamy and crunch-less...

This is a truly typical Italian cake - rich, dense and not too sweet, even considering the amounts of chocolate and sugar that go into it! It uses milk chocolate gianduia bars, which I get from Olio and Olive. Each recipe uses three bars, so I usually buy in bulk, get a discount, and save the remaining bars for the future. If you are lucky, you may have a chocolatier or gourmet grocery in your area that sells this wonderful chocolate.

The recipe calls for a double boiler to melt the chocolate and butter together, but I find that a large metal bowl over simmering water works best, as you can continue to mix the batter in that.

The cake came out beautifully. In addition to the nuttiness of the gianduia chocolate and the hazelnut flour, it has wonderful caramel overtones. A small dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream is all that in needs to top it off!

It was the perfect ending to a lovely meal:
  ~ white bean and sage spread on pita breads
  ~ steamed and chilled artichokes with homemade saffron mayonnaise
  ~ rack of lamb (my mother's recipe) with a red-wine reduction
  ~ fresh English peas sautéed with radicchio and endive
  ~ torta gianduia
I can assure you that no one went home hungry that night!

So, Pat, once again to you we say, "Buon compleano!"

...and to you, dear readers, "Buon appetito!"

~ David

Torta Gianduia

10.5 ounces gianduia chocolate
12 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon ounces sugar
2 ounces (a scant 1/2 cup) roasted and skinned hazelnuts
5 teaspoons flour
5 large eggs, separated
Pinch salt

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter a 10-inch cake pan and line the bottom with a lightly buttered round of parchment.

Using a double boiler, or a bowl set over simmering water, melt the chocolate, butter and sugar together. Remove from the heat and let cool a few moments.

In a spice grinder or small food processor, pulse the hazelnuts and the flour into a fine hazelnut flour. Do not over-process or you might end up with hazelnut butter.

Add the hazelnut flour and the 5 egg yolks to the chocolate mixture and incorporate well.

Using an electric mixer, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until stiff peaks form. Add a third of the beaten whites to the chocolate mixture and whisk in to loosen the batter. Gently fold in the remaining whites until no white streaks are visible. Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 28-30 minutes.

Remove from the oven and let cool 10 minutes. Using a thin spatula, go around the sides to loosen the cake, then turn out onto a cake rack to cool completely. Serve at room temperature with lightly sweetened whipped cream.

Serves 8-10.


  1. Ah, chocolate and hazelnuts.. such an incredible combination that never gets old! Like the blue spatula/brown batter combo!

  2. I love those new counters! A very nice backdrop for what looks like a terrific cake. I will have to order some chocolate bars! The whole meal sounded terrific. Happy birthday Pat!!!

  3. Beautiful cake David! I love that you pictured step by step instructions for us. That menu you have listed is amazing. I want to make and eat everything on it!

  4. I remember having a cake like this on my last trip to Italy. OMG!!! I'm going back this summer for my 50th (Venice on my birthday....YAY!) and who knows, maybe it will be my birthday cake too! Another wonderful post David!

  5. Paula - thanks so much! Are you able to get gianduia down there? I hope so - you will love this cake!

    Susan - I love the new counters - they are exactly what I needed for bread baking, pasta making and crust rolling...

    Anna - thanks! Maybe I should post on homemade mayonnaise soon. It is so easy and you can flavor it in so many ways. DO you think I should post on the rack of lamb, too?

    Karin - who could believe you will be hitting 50! Has anyone form Vital Records seen you? They will tear up your birth certificate and give you a new one that says you are 30!

  6. David, please do post on the lamb! I would love to see that :)

  7. I will definitely post on the lamb, Anna - it shouldn't be too long! ~ David

  8. Oh David, this is beautiful! S's birthday is coming up in a couple of weeks and I was looking for something different. Thanks for this.
    By the way, I LOOOOVE that gianduia bar you used! I get it in my neighborhood at an Italian deli.

    I agree with Anna, please post the lamb!! :)

  9. oh yes! this is the kind of chocolate cake I adore! So full of flavours, and the simplicity! Beautiful!

  10. Magda - I am SO jealous that you can get the ginaduia chocolate in your neighborhood! And, if you make this for S's birthday, I hope he likes it!

    Anh - it is probably my favorite kind of chocolate cake, too... dense and moist and not too sweet!

  11. David, you are the BEST!!! xo

  12. Everyone should get 1 week worth of birthday celebration :D I've never had that chocolate before, i bet its dee-lish-cious!

  13. Haha, the package of that chocolate is so cute! This looks amazing! Such easy steps to follow, I love it!

  14. Pencil - or should I call you Ms. Kitchen? - I sometimes think a week is too short and that we should celebrate our birth month! If you can find this chocolate, try the cake!

    Cathleen - the cake is really quite simple, and oh so tasty!

  15. Single layer of heaven is quite possibly the perfect title for this cake. It looks absolutely decadent - something my fiance would absolutely adore! It's on my must-list :)

  16. Thanks for reading, Yasmeen! I hope your fiancé likes it!

  17. Since I couldn´t find gianduia I made some hazelnut truffles...linking to this post!

  18. Thanks, Paula - the truffles look amazing! Maybe I need to reconfigure the cake so that it wont' be so hard to find the ingredients?


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