Italians know that the best hazelnuts in the country come from Piedmont. Even more specifically, they come from the Langhe region, south of Turin: a beautiful and appetising place, seemingly created just for food- and wine-lovers. From gelato to gianduiotti chocolates to even, yes, Nutella, hazelnuts are well used in the local cuisine. But my favourite use for them is this humble hazelnut cake, which was once just an autumn and winter specialty: a way to use up excess nuts at the end of the season.
The classic torta di nocciole is dense with toasted hazelnuts, giving it a texture that is crumbly and even dry (a good excuse to pair some creamy Zabaione with it). Going slightly against tradition, I like to use raw hazelnuts that I pulverise in a food processor just before baking for a moister cake, rather than toasting the nuts or using pre-prepared hazelnut meal. Some like to include a spoonful or two of cocoa powder, but I prefer the nutty flavour of hazelnuts with just a splash of espresso added to the batter.
Recipe excerpted with permission from Tortellini at Midnight by Emiko Davies, published by Hardie Grant March 2019, RRP $35.00 Hardcover. —Emiko
(9 oz) raw, shelled hazelnuts
(3 ½ oz/ 2/3 cup) plain (all-purpose) flour
1 1/2 teaspoons
(4 ½ oz/ ½ cup) unsalted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
Preheat the oven to 180ºC (350ºF) and grease and line a round spring-form cake tin (approximately 23 cm/9 in in diameter).
Pulverise the hazelnuts in a food processor until fine or like the texture of sand. Place in a large bowl with the flour and baking powder.
Beat the butter and sugar together in another mixing bowl until creamy and pale.
Separate the eggs into two large mixing bowls and whip the whites to stiff peaks. Add the yolks to the butter and sugar and mix. Next, add the dry ingredients, then the cooled espresso and milk, and stir with a spatula or wooden spoon until just combined. Finally, fold in the egg whites.
Gently pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 30–35 minutes, or until the top is springy and deep golden brown – a toothpick inserted into the middle of the cake should come out clean. Remove from the oven and leave to cool completely before removing from the tin. This cake keeps well for up to 3 days – store any leftovers in an airtight container or covered in plastic wrap in a cool place.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.