Fans of my book KAFFEEHAUS (or more specificially, Austro-Hungarian cooking), often ask me when a new edition is going to appear. All i can say is...I'm working on it! Until that day arrives, here is a torte in the Hungarian tradition worth bringing out a $500 bottle of aged Tokaji for. That's what my friend Arto Szabos did last week. He found a rare bottle of the Hungarian sweet wine tucked away in his house, and decided to open it. Arto, whose late wife Ella was one my mentors when I was writing the book, asked me to provide a recipe that would go well with the wine. His friend, Dee Lewis, made this Hungarian Apricot-Hazelnut Torte, which I created for an article on wine pairings in Bon Appétit a few years ago. And, as the picture proves, it turned out pretty well! Make it for a special occasion...or a a special wine.
Hungarian Torte with Creamy Hazelnut Buttercream
The perfect cake for bringing out the apricot and hazelnut notes in a glass of Tokaji, with a melt-in-your-mouth frosting that won’t harden when chilled.
The desserts of Hungary are a delectable component of the Austro-Hungarian pastry tradition. The essential differences between Central European sweets and their Franco-Italian counterparts are ingredients (think lots of ground nuts and poppy seeds) and influences (strudel dough is surely related to filo).
To American bakers, any cake made with a lot of ground nuts or cake or cookie crumbs is considered a torte, even if it contains some flour. In the Central European kitchen, a torte means a fancy cake, nuts or no nuts. Because most of the torte recipes our relatives brought to America from the Austro-Hungarian Empire contained the flour substitutes, we think they are essential ingredients. In the Old World, classic tortes were often made with ground nuts (which were always plentiful in nearby forests), or sometimes bread or cake crumbs (which conserved expensive flour products).
Walnut torte is a recipe that every Hungarian knows, but some bakers use hazelnuts for a change of pace. Our version, slathered with an unusual, pastry-cream based icing and apricot preserves, combines the best of the Old and New World kitchens. Most American kitchens lack a hand grinder, an indispensable utensil for getting the nuts to the proper fluffy texture, so I use a food processor to grind the nuts with flour as a modern alternative. While Hungarian bakers consider leavening a cake with baking powder to be cheating (they use beaten eggs alone), I use it hearer to ensure a lighter crumb.
A sip of authentic Hungarian Tokaji azsú, a botyrized sweet white wine (not to be confused with the tasty, but not equally noble Italian Tokai or Alsatian Tokay), reveals honeyed apricot and hazelnut notes. While there are manyvarieites of the white wine of the Tokaj region, including dry wines, Tokaji azsú is one that has become famous all over the world. The relative sweetness is designated by the number of tubs (puttonyos) added to the base wine as a sweetener--you'll find the amount listed on the label. A three puttonyos Tokaji would be drier than a five puttonyos bottle. You'll find the number of puttonyos (usually from three to six) listed on the label.
Softened butter and all-purpose flour, for the pan
2/3 cup toasted and skinned hazelnuts* (or use 2/3 cup Bob's Red Mill hazelnut flour, available at Whole Foods and many supermarkets, or another brand)
2/3 cup cake flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
2/3 cup sugar
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup apricot preserves
1 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
1 cup toasted and skinned hazelnuts*
I prefer toasted hazelnuts, and not hazelnut flour, here for depth of flavor and texture
2/3 cup milk
4 teaspoons cornstarch
2 large egg yolks
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1/3 cup finely chopped toasted and skinned hazelnuts*
12 whole toasted and skinned hazelnuts*
3 dried apricots, cut into 12 slivers
FOR CAKE: Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350°F. Butter 9-by-2 1/2-inch springform pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment or waxed paper. Dust sides of pan with flour; tap out flour.
Pulse hazelnuts, flour, baking powder, and salt 10 times until nuts are coarsely chopped. (If using hazelnut flour, simply whisk dry ingredients together well.) Process 30 seconds until nuts are ground into flour. Set aside.
Using electric mixer on high speed, beat egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar in large bowl until mixture is very pale and thick, about 5 minutes. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites on low speed until foamy. On high speed, beat until soft peaks form. Gradually add remaining 1/3 cup sugar to egg whites and beat until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/4 of egg whites into yolks to lighten. Fold in remaining whites.
Using wire sieve, sift half of flour mixture over eggs and fold in. Sift in remaining flour mixture, adding any hazelnuts (or hazelnut flour) in sieve, and fold in. Transfer 1 cup of batter to medium bowl. Add butter and vanilla and fold together. Return mixture to remaining batter and fold together, being careful not to deflate batter.
Pour batter into prepared pan and smooth top. Bake torte until top springs back when pressed in the center, about 30 minutes. Transfer pan to rack. Cool 10 minutes. Run knife around pan sides to loosen torte. Invert torte onto rack. Peel off parchment. Turn right side up onto rack and cool completely. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Wrap tightly in plastic wrap; store at room temperature.)
FOR FILLING: Bring preserves to a simmer over medium heat in a small saucepan, stirring often. Simmer for 1 minute. Rub preserves with solids through wire sieve into a small bowl. Cool.
FOR BUTTERCREAM: Mix confectioner’s sugar and hazelnuts in processor. Process until nuts are very finely ground, about 30 seconds. Set aside.
Pour milk into heavy small saucepan. Sprinkle in cornstarch; whisk to dissolve cornstarch. Add egg yolks and whisk to combine. Bring to a boil over medium heat, whisking often. Boil for 30 seconds, whisking until very thick and smooth. Transfer to medium stainless steel bowl set in larger bowl of iced water. Cool completely, stirring occasionally.
Using electric mixer on high speed, beat in butter, 1 tablespoon at a time. On medium-low speed, gradually beat in sugar mixture. Return bowl of buttercream to iced water until chilled and firm enough to spread.
FOR ASSEMBLY: Trim off top of cake to level. Cut cake horizontally into 2 equal layers. Transfer 1 cake layer, cut side up, to 8-inch cardboard cake round or tart pan bottom. Spread apricot filling over. Top with remaining cake layer.
Transfer 2/3 cup buttercream to pastry bag fitted with 7/16-inch-diameter star pastry tip set aside. Spread 1 cup remaining buttercream over top of cake. Spread remaining frosting over sides of cake. Press chopped hazelnuts onto sides of cake. Pipe 12 large rosettes, equally spaced around top edge of cake. Place 1 hazelnut and 1 apicot sliver in each rosette. Cover with cake dome; chill at least 1 hour. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead; keep refrigerated.)
* To toast hazelnuts, spread nuts in single layer on baking sheet. Bake in preheated 350° oven, stirring occasionally, until skins are peeling and nuts are toasted, about 12 minutes. Cool 20 minutes. To skin hazelnuts, in batches, rub nuts in kitchen towel to remove dark skins (don’t worry about removing every bit). Cool skinned hazelnuts completely before using.