If you're of the opinion that a surefire way to delight everyone is by lavishing them with chocolate, this is the dessert you want. I love a traditional layer cake with all the bells and whistles, but as a dinner party dessert it seems a little too much. Not that this is healthy or restrained--it just feels right.
While I toyed with the idea of a homey pear crisp or an overtly seasonal cranberry upside down cake for my party, I finally came to the should-have-been-obvious conclusion that a non-chocolate dessert runs the risk of being just a wee bit disappointing.
You're probably expecting me to launch into the "this cake is so rich you only need a few bites" spiel, but I'm not. After having light appetizers, boeuf bourgignon, mashed potatoes and golden beet salad, I polished off my whole (admittedly not huge) slice. It's simply that good, but I also think it's because this particular cake isn't just a slab of chocolate. A cup of hazelnuts, roasted and finely ground, add texture, complexity and a bit of contrast to the semisweet chocolate. Love, love, love.
Oh, by the way, there's also 1/4 cup of Frangelico (the hazelnut liqueur that looks like Friar Tuck), and the topping is fresh whipped cream flavored with nothing more than another hit of the liqueur. I advise not skipping the cream--it offsets the rich chocolate just perfectly.
Flourless Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake
Adapted from this recipe at epicurious.com.
This recipe (from Bon Appetit, January '08) worked beautifully as written. However, I have a couple notes to offer: Please roast, peel and cool the hazelnuts before grinding them for the cake! Cook on a baking sheet at 350 for about 10 minutes (shaking once) or until lightly browned and fragrant. Immediately wrap in a dish towel and let steam for 5 minutes. Then rub them around in the towel to remove as much of the skins as you can. You may have to fiddle around and pick through many of them, and you can't expect to get every bit of skin (here's an even better little guide). You'll want to do this because the skin can be bitter. If you can't find chocolate labeled 60% cocoa, combine different percentages--I used about 2/3 54% and 1/3 70%. Use high quality chocolate. One of the best things about this cake is that you can make it up to 3 days ahead. It needs several hours to chill, and some say the chocolate flavor magically improves overnight.
12 ounces 60% cacao bittersweet chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into chunks
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup Frangelico or other hazelnut liqueur, divided
1 cup finely ground roasted (see headnote) hazelnuts (ground in processor; about 5 ounces)
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1 cup chilled heavy whipping cream
Chopped toasted hazelnuts for garnish
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9-inch-diameter springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper round. Wrap outside of pan tightly with 3 layers of heavy-duty foil. Combine chocolate and butter in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 45 seconds and stir. Repeat. Microwave for 20 second intervals, stirring after each one, until smooth. Watch carefully to avoid burning (or reduce the microwave's power if it's particularly aggressive). Set aside and cool slightly.
Whisk eggs, golden brown sugar, and 1/4 cup Frangelico in large bowl to blend. Add chocolate mixture and whisk until smooth. Stir in ground hazelnuts and 1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt. Transfer batter to prepared pan. Place springform pan in large roasting pan and place in the preheated oven. Pour enough hot water into roasting pan to come halfway up sides of springform pan. Tent springform pan loosely with foil. Bake until cake is set in center and top is not quite dry to the touch, about 1 1/2 hours (top of cake will remain shiny and sides will have pulled away from the springform pan; a cake tester won't come out clean--it will have moist crumbs). Remove cake from roasting pan; remove foil from top and and place on a rack. When cool enough to handle, remove foil from outside of pan and cool completely. Cover with foil and refrigerate cake at least 3 hours, preferably overnight. You can make the cake up to 3 days ahead.
Using electric mixer, beat whipping cream and remaining 1/4 cup Frangelico in medium bowl until soft peaks form. Release pan sides. Keep the cake on the pan base and transfer to a larger platter if you want to bring the whole cake to the table. Cut cake into wedges. Transfer to plates. Top with whipped cream; sprinkle with chopped toasted hazelnuts. Serve cake chilled, directly from refrigerator.