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Archive for Wednesday, February 8, 2006

Pictures don’t lie: Chocolate cake worth baking

February 8, 2006

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In most contexts, I find the whole idea of food stylists annoying. Food stylists are people who arrange and embellish food to make the best (and even a misleading) impression in a photograph or on television. They tinker with lighting and angles and even apply varnish and other products for effect. What you see is not necessarily what you get if you buy a food product or prepare a recipe in your own kitchen.

That said, my generally cynical attitude about food photography disintegrated when I received the February issue of Gourmet. As soon as I saw the cover, I knew that come Valentine's Day, I would be making the chocolate dessert pictured there. This love-at-first-sight reaction is exactly what the food stylists are aiming for. Reel me in, I thought.

The object of my affection was a chocolate-glazed hazelnut mousse cake. As depicted on the cover, the chocolate glaze is a lot glossier than what materialized in my kitchen. I have decided that this is a small sin, considering the reward.

The dessert is decidedly chocolaty, but the hazelnut flavor, which is in the crust and the mousse, keeps the dessert from tasting too rich. The supermarket where I bought the ingredients carried only tiramisu Mascarpone, which means the cheese was laced with coffee, so my reproduction of the recipe meshed chocolate, hazelnut and coffee flavors.

I prepared the cake in a 9-inch springform pan, even though the recipe called for an 8-inch pan. Because the cake is not baked, this worked fine, although you may need to double the crust recipe. Take care not to overcook the shortbread crust, which can make it hard. In my oven, 18 minutes was a bit too long. I would suggest removing the crust from the oven at 13 or 14 minutes.

Chocolate-glazed hazelnut mousse cake

For shortbread base:

2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted (in a 350-degree oven for 5 to 10 minutes) and skins rubbed off

3 tablespoons sugar

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 stick unsalted butter, softened

2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

For mousse:

1 teaspoon unflavored gelatin

(from a 1/4-ounce envelope)

3 tablespoons cold water

1/2 cup chocolate hazelnut spread, such as Nutella

1/2 cup Mascarpone

1 1/2 cups chilled heavy cream

2 tablespoons unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder

3 tablespoons sugar

For ganache:

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream

3 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom of springform pan with parchment paper.

Pulse toasted hazelnuts with sugar in a food processor until nuts are finely chopped. Add flour, butter, cocoa and salt and pulse just until a dough forms.

Press dough evenly onto bottom of springform pan with your fingers. Prick all over with a fork, then bake until just dry to the touch, about 18 to 20 minutes. Cool in pan on rack for 30 minutes. Remove side of pan and carefully slide parchment out from under shortbread, then reattach side of pan around shortbread base.

While shortbread cools, sprinkle gelatin on top of the three tablespoons of water in a heavy saucepan and let stand until softened, about 5 minutes. Heat gelatin mixture over low heat, stirring, just until gelatin is melted, about 2 minutes. Whisk in chocolate hazelnut spread until combined and remove from heat.

Whisk together Mascarpone and chocolate hazelnut mixture in a large bowl. In another large bowl, beat together cream, cocoa powder and sugar with an electric mixer at low speed until just combined, then increase speed to high and beat until cream just holds soft peaks. Whisk one-third of the whipped cream into Mascarpone mixture, then fold in remaining whipped cream until well-combined. Spoon filling into shortbread base in pan, smooth the top, then chill, covered, at least 3 hours.

To make the ganache, bring cream to a simmer in a small saucepan and remove from heat. Add chopped chocolate and let stand 1 minute, then gently whisk until completely melted and smooth. Transfer ganache to a small bowl and cool about 20 minutes.

Run a warm knife around the inside of the springform pan, then remove side. Slide cake off bottom pan and transfer to a serving plate. Pour ganache onto top of cake and spread, allowing excess to drip down sides.

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