Friday, April 10, 2020

Hazelnut Torte and a few memories

One thing you have to say for Europeans, is that they know how to make superb and interesting cakes, especially the Germans and Austrians. I know I’ll take some heat for that last part, but I believe it’s the case.

We’ve been fortunate enough to make two visits to Vienna (researching my novel, Cemetery of the Nameless), and I feel absolutely secure in saying that the level of cake baking in this city is of the highest order. Especially in the First District — the old heart of this great city — there are literally dozens of konditorei (pastry shops), each one seemingly better than the last. Every café, of which Vienna also has no lack, serves beautiful torten to moon over while enjoying a cup of Melange, the archetypical Viennese coffee. And then there’s the Sacher torte…

SIDEBAR: The Viennese love their coffee and they make it many different ways, and every one I’ve tried has been wonderful. As we were preparing to visit this city for the first time way back in 1995, I did a lot of research beforehand. Of course I ran into articles about the city’s “coffee culture”, which is where I first heard about Wiener Melange, the most ubiquitous cup to be found, but two others really piqued my interest. First was Wiener Eiskaffee (more about this some other time), and the other was Kaisermelange.

This specialty coffee is made with an egg yolk beaten with a little honey into which is poured a generous shot of espresso, then a small tot of cognac (usually), and sometimes topped with a bit of whipped cream — or schlag as the Viennese call it. Wait a minute? Did he say egg yolk? In coffee? Whoa!

Of course, I immediately decided I had to try this at the first opportunity. I was not disappointed. It is a lovely mixture. It does not need a lot of honey, but it does need a very fresh egg yolk. Here’s what looks like a decent recipe for it (, but a word of warning: I suspect you really need to be in Vienna with a slice of wonderful torten to enjoy this to the fullest. I now return you to our regularly scheduled blog post…

What is different about this hazelnut torte is that it doesn’t include flour or butter. The ground nuts and breadcrumbs stand in for it. Normally for cakes you cream butter and sugar together, the idea being that the air beaten in will expand as the cake cooks (aided by the rising action of baking powder) and give the eggs and flour a chance to “harden” during baking which supports the cake after it cools. There are a lot of complicated chemistry-type things going on, but this gives you a rough idea of what happens.

With this torte, the heavy lifting is accomplished by the eggs and butter as the “air holder” and the eggs whites provide the matrix to hold everything up as the cooking hardens the structure. And that’s the reason the cake will collapse back down a bit as it cools. It’s to be expected. You haven’t done anything wrong. This cake is just not as “robust” as a typical cake made with flour.

But boy, is it good!

The combination of equal parts hazelnuts and walnuts is at the heart of the flavour of this torte. I tried making it once just using hazelnuts, and while tasty, it just didn't measure up. If you have some way to grind your nuts fresh, go for it. It will make a difference in the flavour.

One final word, my brother-in-law, Scott Meynig, used to say Germans enjoy their cake on the stale side (he lived in Germany for a few years which is where he met my sister). In this case, a day or two helps this cake. I never bake it, frost it, and then serve it on the same day. It does improve the structure to let it sit for a day and also helps keep the whipped cream from making it a bit soggy. But make sure you wrap it or the crust will dry out too much.

Hazelnut Torte


1 cup sugar
12 eggs yolks
¼ lb ground hazelnuts (or filberts)
¼ lb ground walnuts
2 Tbs bread crumbs
8 egg whites
3 cups whipping cream
3 Tbs sugar
1½ tsp vanilla
3 packets whipped cream stabilizer

  1. Preheat oven to 350°. Have all ingredients at room temperature – except the whipping cream!
  2. Using a mixer, beat the egg yolks, then add the sugar gradually and continue beating until the mixture is light yellow and very creamy.
  3. Mix together the two nuts and the bread crumbs, then mix gently into the egg mixture.
  4. Beat the egg whites until stiff, but not dry, then fold them very gently into the other ingredients until well-blended.
  5. Cut a bottom liner from parchment paper for a 10" springform pan, then pour in the cake batter (no need to grease the sides) and bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Try to keep vibrations in the kitchen to a minimum. This cake falls easily! Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. When cool, cover tightly with cling film.
  6. The next day, remove the cake from the pan and cut into at least two layers. Whip the cream with the sugar, stabilizer and vanilla and frost your cake. After cooking, the cake will have dropped a fair bit in the centre.* What we do is put more whipped cream in the centre of the lower layer and more in the centre on top to even out the final level of the cake. This way you don’t have a ton of whipped cream on the top which is the only other way to level it. If you cut the cake into 3 layers, this works even better.
  7. We usually sprinkle more ground hazelnuts over the whipped cream which gives the cake a really nice appearance.
  8. Chill thoroughly before serving. This will keep, if sealed tightly, for about 3 days, but I bet it won’t last that long!

*I might also suggest trying Wilton Bake-Even strips. These are fabric strips that you dampen and then faten around your baking pan. The cake that’s in contact with the metal sides of the pan naturally cook faster, the primary reason cakes turn out uneven. For this recipe, the cake rises nice and high, but as it cools, the centre drops down, sometimes by nearly inch, hence my recommendation about the filling up above. Bake-Even Strips will help with this. The cake will still drop a bit in the centre, but not as much. They work a treat on any cake, by the way, and are well worth buying if you bake a lot.


Karel said...

It was Super Yummy!

Rick Blechta said...

So glad that you liked it!!

Vicki delany said...

Looks absolutely fabulous. Plus you’ve made me want to go to Vienna