11 Mar 2012

Hazelnut Sables

Ideally these cookies should have been made for Valentine’s Day. Since they were not (and let me blame other things and get away with it just this once), I am going to go with the views of people who do not celebrate this day. “Why should one celebrate love just once a year?” “One should make each day special.” “Make your loved ones feel special every single day.” “This is a commercial gimmick created by Hallmark.” “Do you really want to celebrate Valentine’s Day? Really?”  etc by a variety of people who in general consisted of my family and friends of different temperaments.
 But just this once, let me forget the scoffers, the doubters, the cynics. Let me say that heart shaped things should not be isolated just to Valentine’s Day. Let me urge you to make these cookies any time of the day, any time of the year for those very special people (read: friends) with whom you have had some of the best times of your life. Let me say that in particular, these are for S.S. and H.G. who are going to be starting a new journey of sorts. Here’s wishing them love, luck and all kinds of adventures. May your life be full of balloons and magic!

Now, back to the cookies. They are quite simple to make, really. To make the nut meal (ground nuts), always add one teaspoon of sugar or flour to one cup of nuts before grinding. Make sure the nuts are completely ground otherwise it will be difficult to roll out the dough. You whisk together the flour, nuts and spices. Beat the butter and sugar. Add the eggs. Work in the dry ingredients and blend. Then you roll out the dough and refrigerate it for a few hours. Once they are chilled, cut them into any shape you like and bake. Sandwich them, or eat them plain but definitely dust them with some icing sugar first.
 I cut out lots of heart shapes – little hearts, big hearts and hearts with a heart shaped whole in them. I have heart shaped cookie cutters in 3 sizes. I used the largest size to cut out the big hearts, and cut the heart in the middle and the little hearts with the smallest one. Just to make this more fun, some cookies I just coated with milk chocolate, some cookies I sandwiched with strawberry jam. Some I sandwiched with strawberry jam and just to make it more mysterious, I used a chocolate coated little heart to cover the jam shaped whole in the large cookie! This gives people the nicest surprise when they bite into the cookie expecting only chocolate and get a burst of jam instead.
 Hazelnut Sables
Adapted from Dorie Greenspan’s Baking: from my home to yours.
I made ½ the recipe and that gave me about 12 sandwich cookies and lots of little hearts.
1 ½ cups finely ground hazelnuts
1 ½ cups flour
1 ½ tsps. Ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
1 large egg
2 tsps water
1 stick (115 gms) butter (add ¼ tsp salt to the batter if using unsalted butter)
½ cup sugar
¼ cup strawberry jam plus 1 tsp water (optional)
50 gms milk/dark chocolate for coating the cookies (optional)
Icing / confectioner’s sugar for dusting
1)      Whisk together the nuts, flour, spices and salt (if using unsalted butter).
2)      Stir the egg and water in a small bowl using a fork.
3)      Beat the butter and sugar at medium speed using the paddle attachment for about 3 minutes. Add the egg mix and beat for another minute.
4)      Add the dry ingredients and work them in until they just disappear. Do not overbeat. Preferably, use a spatula to do this or, if you are using the mixer, reduce the speed to the lowest setting. If some crumbs remain at the bottom, use your hands to bring the dough together.
5)      Divide the dough in half. Put one half between two sheets of wax paper, flatten it out and roll out the dough until it is ¼ inch thick. Repeat with the second half of dough. At this stage, make sure that the nuts are completely ground. If you are out of wax paper (like me) you can flour your kitchen counter and roll out the dough there.
6)      Transfer the rolled out dough to the refrigerator and let it chill for 2 hours.
7)      To bake, preheat the oven to 375 F or 190 C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon mat.
8)      Cut out as many cookies as you like and as many shapes as you like. If you want sandwich cookies, then cut out big hearts and cut little hearts in the centre of about half of the big hearts (like a peekaboo cutout). These are the top and bottoms of your sandwich cookies.
9)      Place the cookies on the mat leaving some space between them. Bake them for 11 – 13 minutes. They should be golden, dry and just firm to touch. They will harden more as they cool. Place them on a cooling rack.
10)  If you are making sandwich cookies, place jam in a small saucepan and add the water. Bring to a boil over low heat. Let it cool slightly. Turn half of the cookie flat side up and place about ½ tsp of jam in the centre of each cookie; sandwich with remaining cookie.
11)  If you want chocolate coated cookies, melt the chocolate over a double boiler. Dip the front of the cookie in the chocolate. Then place it on parchment paper and allow to harden. This you can use to cover the peekaboo cutout in the sandwich cookie.
12)  Just before serving, dust the cookies with icing sugar.

8 Mar 2012

Chocolate Hazelnut torte

I am in love with hazelnuts. I think its because they taste so nutty when toasted, quite unlike other nuts. When foodie got me a big box of these nuts, I spent months looking for the perfect recipe where the flavor of hazelnuts stands out. This torte seemed perfect – a moist sinful chocolate cake with whole caramelized hazelnuts on top. The chocolate cake is dense yet light and the hazelnuts are beautifully caramelized and crunchy. Goodness in every bite!

Having never made a torte before and being a complete novice at using eggs in baking (being a vegetarian and doing only eggless baking for the greater part of my life) I was a little bit intimidated with this recipe. A torte is like a cake but is based on nuts and eggs rather than flour. This means that you have to melt the chocolate and butter together and then add in the eggs (rather like a brownie). However, the catch is that the eggs need to be separated and the egg whites whipped. My main challenge has always been separating the whites without getting any of the yolk in it (c’mon I have not had any practice whatsoever in the last 23 years!). If you do happen to get some yolk in, the whites just won’t become stiff. Also, it’s good to add a pinch of salt just to help it stiffen up a little bit. Once soft peaks are formed, add in sugar little by little and keep beating until you are able to do the “standing on your head test.” Tilt the bowl completely (180 degree turn) over your head and the beaten whites should not move! 

Also, one good idea while grounding nuts is to toss in a tablespoon of flour along with one cup of nuts. This keeps them fluffy.
Once the chocolate is melted and the egg whites have been beaten with the sugar all you need to do is mix the yolk and sugar together. Then fold in the chocolate and butter into the egg yolks and then fold in the stiff egg whites. I even added some ground nuts to this mix. After this, all you need to do is bake until a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean.
I made this cake even more decadent by simply melting some chocolate and pouring it over the cake before adding the caramelized hazelnuts.

Next time, I would like to do this differently:
1)        I would add more toasted ground or chopped hazelnuts to the cake batter.
2)     For the topping, I would chop the hazelnuts in half as some people do not like the heady taste of whole nuts.
3)     Instead of making a sugar syrup, I would caramelize some sugar using just a splash of water (instead of the amount I used this time) so that it turns completely brown. Then I would toss the hazelnuts in it and allow them to cool and become praline like. I would use this to top the torte.

Chocolate Hazelnut Torte
Adapted from Femina magazine
Total time: 1 hour 20 mins
Serves 4 – 6 depending on your serving size


For the torte:
85 gms dark chocolate
85 gms butter
1 tbsp flour
A pinch of salt
2 eggs, separated
75 gms castor sugar (you can use powdered sugar as well)
½ tsp vanilla essence
3 tbsp ground hazelnuts (I would add more next time)

For the topping:
100 gms sugar
50 ml water
100 gms hazelnuts

1)      Preheat the oven to 180 C and grease and dust a 6 inch cake tin.
2)      Melt the chocolate and butter together in a double boiler and set aside.
3)      Sift the flour. Toss with the ground nuts and keep aside.
4)      Beat the egg yolks with half the sugar. Add the vanilla essence and whisk it mixture.
5)      In another bowl, beat the egg whites (adding a pinch of salt) until soft peaks start to form. Gradually add the remaining sugar, beating all the while until stiff.
6)      Fold the chocolate and butter into the egg yolks along with the flour and nut mixture. Then fold in the egg whites.
7)      Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for 30 mins or until the cake springs from the sides of the pan and a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.
8)      Remove from the oven. Demould when cool.
9)      Melt some chocolate (approx. 50 gms) and spread it over the torte.
10 )For the topping, dissolve the sugar in water over low heat, stirring continuously. When its golden brown, remove from flame, toss hazelnuts and spread over the torte.