When it comes to large family gatherings, no matter how much I humble-brag about my brisket, roasted vegetable sides or the way I know my way around a salad, I am always instead nominated to bring desserts. So, like a certain Phoebe on cup-and-ice duty that I will date myself by referencing, I take things very seriously, in part because I have a lot of rules for Passover desserts. The first is that that whatever dessert I make cannot include even a speck of matzo meal. I’m sorry, I realize this is a sensitive topic and I should tread more carefully, but I find the taste of matzo meal just awful in anything but matzo ball soup. My difficult palate aside, I also figure if I’m going to go through the effort to come up with something new (and hopefully better) in the flourless department, it would be of more use to more people were it also gluten-free, so that’s the second rule. The final rule is that I want the dessert to be good enough that I’d choose it any other day of year. It can’t just be good for a Passover dessert. It can’t just be good for something gluten-free. It has to be objectively good. Really, shouldn’t everything be?
My inspiration this year was a cake I found on Epicurious. Isn’t it a beaut? I knew I had to find a way to make it happen, but I also knew it wasn’t going to be the way it was written. Aside from the fact that it is not actually a Schwarzwälder Torte (a chocolate cake with whipped cream, cherries and often Kirsh, what we sometimes refer to as a Black Forest Cake) and that it contains both flour and powdered sugar (a Passover no-no, unless you find or make cornstarch-free stuff), reviewers seemed very unhappy with the meringues, which were too thin and from what I could tell, not particularly flavorful. I turned instead to the macaroon component of an almond torte I made a few years ago; the torte was a headache but the macaroons ended up having a lovely flavor largely because they contained such a high proportion of nuts. Given the choice, I always prefer meringues that are closer to macaroons.
The result is one of the best cakes that has ever come out of my kitchen — I mean, it’s up there with the Dobos Torte and this hulking mass of chocolate and peanut butter. We love this. It’s not too sweet. The macaroons are soft enough to be cake-y but firm enough to add a great texture, and they’re slicked with just the right amount of bittersweet chocolate before cuddling against tufts of lightly sweetened whipped cream. This is, if you’re not yet convinced you need to make it, in short, a deconstructed-then-reconstructed Nutella stack. Go; go make it happen.
More Passover recipes: Here.
More Gluten-Free recipes: Here.
* Note: Neither archive is exhaustive as there are many-a salads, meat and poultry dishes, vegetable sides and soups that have no offending ingredients.
One year ago: Soft Eggs with Buttery Herb-Gruyere Toasts
Two years ago: Oat and Maple Syrup Scones
Three years ago: Bakewell Tart and Romesco Potatoes
Four years ago: Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Corn Bread and Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Strawberry Coulis
Five years ago: Pasta with Cauliflower, Walnuts and Feta (true story: this is my MIL’s favorite recipe on the site) and Caramel-Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake
Six years ago: Skillet Irish Soda Bread, Lighter-Than-Air Chocolate Cake and Bulgur Salad with Chickpeas and Red Peppers
Serves 8 generously, and up to 12 or possibly even 16 in thin slices (which is what is always demanded at our gatherings, where there are multiple desserts)
Oil or butter for greasing parchment rounds
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
6 large egg whites
2 1/2 cups hazelnuts (about 12 ounces or 340 grams), toasted, then skinned as much as possible*
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract**
6 ounces (170 grams or the equivalent of 1 cup chips) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup water
1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso granules (optional)
Whipped frosting and filling
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy or whipping cream
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon Frangelico or another hazelnut liqueur or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract**
A semi- or bittersweet chocolate bar for shaving (optional)
Make macaroons: Position oven racks in the top and lower thirds of oven and heat oven to 325°F. Outline four 8-inch circles on individual pieces of parchment paper. Turn each sheet of parchment over so your ink or pencil lines don’t seep into the macaroon, place each piece of parchment paper on large baking sheets, and very lightly coat each piece of parchment with oil or butter. (I sprayed mine with a cooking oil and wiped all but a sheer coating away with a paper towel.)
Place hazelnuts, 1 cup sugar and salt in a food processor and blend until finely ground. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large, dry bowl with clean beaters (or a whisk attachment) until soft peaks form. Drizzle in vanilla extract, then slowly add remaining 2 tablespoons sugar. Beat until stiff but not dry. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 1/3 increments (i.e. a little at a time so it doesn’t overtake the fluffy egg whites). Spread 1/4 of macaroon batter evenly within each circle, filling completely.
Bake macaroon layers until golden and dry to the touch — this takes 20 to 23 minutes in my oven. Cool macaroons on their sheets on a cooling rack. You can speed this along by placing them for five minutes each in your freezer.
Make chocolate filling: While meringues cool, heat half of chocolate, water, and coffee (if using) in a small heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring until smooth. Off the heat, stir in second half of chocolate chunks until melted, which should also cool the mixture to lukewarm. Spread chocolate evenly over tops of meringue rounds; it will be just a thin slick on each. Cool until chocolate is set, a process that could take a few hours at room temperature or, again, could be hastened along by resting each disc in your freezer for five minutes, or until firm.
Make whipped frosting and filling:: Beat cream with sugar and liqueur or vanilla in a bowl with cleaned beaters until it holds stiff peaks.
Assemble torte: Gently peel the parchment off the back of each macaroon round. Arrange your first disc on your cake serving plate. If you like to follow proper cake-decorating protocol, you will insert some small strips of waxed paper under the edge to protect the cake plate while you decorate. If you don’t, hey, I too embrace cake imperfections. Spread 1/3 cup whipped cream over it. Repeat with second and third macaroon rounds, then top with final round. Frost top and side of torte with whipped cream. I did this in two parts, a thin “crumb” coat (after which I put the cake in the freezer for 5 minutes to “set” it, although whipped cream doesn’t really set) a thicker final one, with the remaining cream, which led to a neater final result.
If desired, use a vegetable peeler to scrape away curls from a chocolate bar for decoration. Remove waxed paper strips if you used them, and serve immediately or up to a day or two layer. Store in fridge.
Do ahead: Whipped cream confections are generally best on the first day, but we found ours to hold up just fine in the fridge for more than 24 hours. Macaroons alone, or macaroons with chocolate coating, can be baked in advance. Simply keep them separated with waxed paper in an airtight container at room temperature for up to two days. Humidity is the enemy of macaroons, so if you live in a humid environment, you’ll want to store them as little time as possible lest they become sticky.
* I toast hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet at 350 for anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes, rolling them around once or twice. One cool, I roll them around in dry hands over the tray to remove as much of their skins as possible. This is not a popular method. More common is to roll them around in a dishtowel but I find this coats my entire existence (counter/floor/self) with hazelnut skins. You’re probably neater than me, however. A third and even awesome method would be to happen upon toasted and skinned hazelnuts at Trader Joe’s, as I did this week, for a measly $6.99/pound. Finally, if you have already ground hazelnut meal or flour, you can use the equivalent weight of it instead of whole ones.
** Passover legal-ese: If you follow a strict Passover regimen, Frangelico and other liqueurs may not be acceptable, and neither will vanilla extract (although Passover-friendly stuff is available) because they contain alcohol derived from grains. This cake is dairy and many kosher Seders are meat meals, so it would not be acceptable to eat until two hours, or even six hours, after the meal. Which should give everyone enough time to digest your cousin’s brisket, huh? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)
Update: Helene (comment #118) brilliantly made a suggestion for a non-dairy whipped cream alternative: 7-Minute Frosting, which is also sometimes called Marshmallow Frosting. It’s billowy, white, shiny and light and can even be toasted on the outside with a blowtorch for a toasted marshmallow effect, but very easy to make. Here’s my favorite recipe for it. While it holds up well for two days, I do want to warn that it “crusts” (a gross word for getting dry out the very outer edges) after a day or so. It’s very light, might just seem faintly crisp, but the inside will still be pillowy.