Okay, there seems to be a lot of steps to pull this torte together, and it’s true – it does take a bit of time to assemble, but this classic dessert is worth the effort around the holidays, when you’re looking to impress. Micro-thin layers of hazelnut cake are layered with a rich mocha buttercream and then topped with hazelnut praline and caramel shards, for garnish. You can make this torte up to 5 days before serving it, so when you’re preoccupied with the turkey and trimmings, you can rest easy that dessert is made and looks and tastes fabulous! Yield is 16 servings.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Line four 11 1/2- x 16-inch baking sheets with parchment paper or line two 16- x 24-inch baking sheets with parchment paper.
Trace eight 8-inch circles onto the sheets of parchment paper. (You will get 2 circles on an 11 1/2- x 16-inch sheet and 4 circles on a 16- x 24-inch sheet. Do not cut the circles out.
Put the sheets of parchment back on the baking sheets with the ink sides facing down (so pencil or marker doesn’t bake onto cake).
Whip egg whites to soft peak stage and gradually add 1/4 cup sugar. Whip until stiff peaks form.
Set aside at room temperature until ready to use.
In a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or with electric beaters), whip egg yolks with remaining 1/2 cup sugar until pale yellow and the mixture holds a ribbon when the whisk is lifted.
Stir in vanilla.
Sift flour, hazelnuts and salt over egg yolk mixture and fold in gently by hand with a rubber spatula.
Fold in the whites in thirds until just evenly blended.
Spoon approximately 2/3 cup of the cake batter into centre of first drawn circle and spread evenly to edges of the circle.
Repeat with second circle on same sheet and put the baking sheet in the oven.
Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, until cake springs back when gently pressed.
Repeat process until all batter has been used.
Allow cake discs to cool completely.
Melt chocolate and set aside.
Soften butter to room temperature and set aside.
In a medium saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer, bring the water and sugar to a boil and cook until the thermometer registers 239 degrees F. (softball stage).
While sugar is cooking, whip egg whites with cream of tartar until soft peak stage.
While whipping constantly, gradually add sugar syrup.
Continue whipping until mixture is cooled.
On medium speed, add the butter, 1 cube at a time, until incorporated.
Stir espresso powder into hot water to dissolve and add to the whipping mixture.
Add the melted chocolate, sifted cocoa powder and salt to the whipping mixture.
Keep mixing until smooth.
Set aside at room temperature.
Draw two 8-inch circles on a piece of parchment.
Turn parchment sheet over and butter.
Cook 2 cups sugar with the water and corn syrup until a light caramel colour, brushing down the sides of the pot with water often.
Immerse pot in a bath of cold water to halt the cooking process.
Pour a puddle of caramel into centre of each drawn disc (leave about 1 cup in the pot) and spread with an oiled spatula to fill the circles.
Allow mixture to cool slightly.
Before it has set up completely, cut each caramel circle into 16 wedges with an oiled knife and allow to cool completely.
Butter another sheet of parchment.
Stir 1 cup hazelnuts into remaining hot sugar mixture to coat, the 1/2 cup remaining hazelnuts will be used for garnishing on top of the cake.
Re-heat caramel over low heat if it is too stiff.
Spoon mixture onto another buttered parchment sheet and allow mixture to cool.
Grind hazelnut praline (as it’s now called) in a food processor.
To assemble torte, peel off first cake round and put it on a cake plate.
Ice with a thin layer of icing and top with the next layer of cake (if you wish, you can brush each layer with a little Frangelico liqueur).
Repeat until all cake layers have been used. Ice top and sides of torte.
Press hazelnut praline on sides of the cake to finish.
Pipe icing around top outside edge of torte (reserving just enough to pipe a dot of icing on each caramel wedge).
Arrange caramel wedges around torte, leaning them on an angle so they sort of fan around the torte.
Pipe a dot of icing on each caramel wedge and place a whole hazelnut on each.
Chill until ready to serve.