In one week, I shall descend upon the eateries of New York City while in town to celebrate the release of Baked Occasions, the 4th cookbook from my favorite gentlemen bakers at BAKED in Brooklyn, as well as the opening of their second bakery location, in Tribeca. My excitement is mounting by the day, because in addition to these festivities, I will be taking a baking class at Momofuku Milk Bar and visiting a number of new bakeries. One of the places I’m most excited to visit is Eataly, Mario Batali’s Italian food emporium. While I’ve been there a couple of times and it’s always dreamy, there is a new reason to rejoice– they’ve opened a Nutella Bar within the past year. Yes, that’s right– a space 100% dedicated to that wonderfully creamy, nutty, chocolaty spread bestowed upon the world by those brilliant Italians. Needless to say, I plan to revel in all sorts of Nutella-laced delights!
In the meantime, this week’s Baked Sunday Mornings recipe is just the ticket to whet my appetite. We made the Tunnel of Hazelnut Fudge Cake from the Chocolate chapter of Baked Elements, which is a chocolate Bundt cake studded with hazelnuts that hides a gooey, fudgy center inside. When I first read the title, I imagined that it would require some sort of piped-in filling, but it’s actually just a function of under-baking the middle.
This is not the quickest Bundt cake to throw together. It felt like I was prepping ingredients for two cakes: two sets of dry ingredients, two sets of wet ingredients, twice as many eggs as a typical cake. Skinning hazelnuts became the bane of my existence this week– some of them were incredibly stubborn, even after roasting and rubbing on a paper towel. I ended up using about half pre-roasted (and thus pre-skinned) nuts, which I then re-toasted.
Once the many ingredients were prepped, the batter came together very quickly and easily. I was a little skeptical while adding the 3 eggs and 3 yolks one by one– the mixture started to look slightly curdled, but as soon as I added the canola oil and vanilla, it smoothed out in the mixer, transforming before my eyes into a beautiful, thick, satiny batter. You then add the cocoa powder/confectioners’ sugar mixture, followed by folding in the hazelnut/flour mixture. The latter was no small feat– this is a very thick batter that requires some elbow grease to fully incorporate the dry ingredients. The finished batter smelled like Nutella heaven, with its medium-bodied chocolate studded with hazelnut bits throughout.
The book was not kidding when it says that it’s hard to test for doneness. Since you cannot check with the typical toothpick test because of the fudgy center, it says that the cake is *probably* done when it begins to pull away from the sides of the pan or “spring back” on top… Ummmm, there was nothing remotely resembling a spring-back; the top (future bottom) of the cake developed a crackly crust very much like brownies. Instead of springing back, I made what felt like hollow indentations, with a thin layer of “brownie” sticking to my finger. And that cake wasn’t even trying to pull away from the pan in any way. The estimated baking time is 38-45 minutes, but I let it go to 50 minutes while waiting for one of the above signs to reveal itself. It still didn’t look much different, except that the surface was more firm, but I took it out at that point to avoid over-baking. Welllll, once it started to cool, it became clear that the surface and edges were too hardened, and thus a bit overdone. I let it cool in the pan overnight (the prescribed 2 hours would have put me well into the middle of the night), but it was still pretty stuck-looking in the morning and weighed a ton in the pan– it felt like a solid rock.
I used my Heritage Bundt pan, thinking the narrow ridges would help the cake cook more thoroughly on the outer edges. This was my second time using it, and second less-than-stellar result. Its pretty twisted shape makes it very difficult for a dense cake to release from the pan, and lends to over-baking on the edges. I flipped it over before leaving for work, hoping that it would “fall out” by the time I got home… but it didn’t.
I thought for sure that the cake was a lost cause. I had to pry it out with an offset spatula, and I was certain that it would fall out in a pile of chocolate-hazelnut rubble. But lo and behold, it finally released from the pan– all in one piece! I stared at it for a moment in disbelief– I had been sure that I would need to re-bake this week. The question was… was there a fudgy center?? When I finally cut into it, I was able to confirm that it was a bit over-baked on the edges, and the center was a little gooey, but could have been more so. Some spots fell apart in the middle when I cut through it, but most of the cake was salvageable. Had I taken it out at around 45 minutes, it would have been perfect. The Bundt was lovely with a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar, especially with that pretty spiral design.
Still, I was quite pleased with it, though I would make a couple of other adjustments next time: 1) I would chop the hazelnuts in smaller batches to ensure even pieces– some of them were a touch large; and 2) I would use a traditional Bundt pan with a more rounded shape, rather than the sharp-ridged Heritage shape. I brought the cake to work, where it was gobbled up by co-workers, so I took this as a strong sign of a successful cake, despite the imperfections. The book suggests eating the cake cold, which I didn’t have the chance to do, but that should yield a lovely fudgy texture.
If you, too, wish to have chocolate-hazelnut goodness in your life, I can wholeheartedly say that you will love this cake– the excessive prep work and baking anxiety are worth it! The recipe for Tunnel of Hazelnut Fudge Cake lives at Baked Sunday Mornings, where you can also check out my esteemed baking colleagues’ Bundts too! 🙂
© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2014.