I love hazelnuts but I don’t necessarily enjoy the process to remove their bitter skins. It’s tedious and messy. Imagine how excited I was when I happened upon hazelnuts all pristine and perfectly skinned. I don’t consider myself a lazy baker but I’m all over anything that makes my life easier. I found these beauties weeks ago while in the midst of my Christmas Cookie Countdown. Knowing how much baking was ahead of me – hundreds of cookies would be going in and out of my oven over the weeks leading up to Christmas – I welcomed the shortcut skinned hazelnuts offered. I don’t think I want to know how much I paid for them (I never looked at the price), but with an uncanny ability to rationalize a purchase when need be, I told myself that the extra $ spent would be worth the time saved.
Fast forward to today, and the hazelnuts were still sitting in my freezer. All my best intentions fell by the wayside and those skinned beauties never made into a single recipe – until now. And what a perfect recipe to showcase their unique nutty flavor. I have never baked – or tasted – a “tunnel of fudge” cake before today. My personal thanks goes out to Ella Helfrich for inventing this magical cake while competing in the 1966 Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest. She won second prize for her recipe which also earned her a place in the annals of recipe development. Since then, many others have taken a swipe at the phenomenon that creates a subway of fudgy goodness that runs through the center of a Bundt cake. It was actually a version of this American classic created by Matt Lewis of Brooklyn’s Baked fame that caught my attention. I was intrigued by that whole “tunnel of fudge” thing, but mostly I was jazzed to find a great use for my hazelnuts.
This is a rich, dense, and deeply chocolate flavored cake. And oh does the flavor of hazelnut shine through. For some reason, I was anticipating a light and creamy center – almost like whipped cream. Somewhere along the way, that is the picture I had developed in my mind of what a tunnel of fudge cake was. Not so. Not at all like a molten chocolate cake either. No, the center of this cake is thick, and almost chewy – in a good way. You have to taste it to get it – and I highly suggest you try this cake.
Two final thoughts. Frosting is absolutely not necessary on this cake. As a matter of fact, I think it would kill it. And second, I – and Matt – recommend using a high-quality cocoa. I used Valrhona.
Everyone likes surprises – especially of the chocolate type. Cut into a slice of this cake and find out what all the talk is about.
Tunnel of Fudge Cake with Hazelnuts
3/4 cup unsweetened , high-quality Dutch-process cocoa powder, plus more for dusting the pan
2 cups (9 1/2 ounces) skinned hazelnuts *
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups confectioners’ sugar, plus more for dusting the top of the cake
2 1/2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs
3 large egg yolks
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
*If you have hazelnuts that are not skinned, follow this simple process then continue with the recipe.
Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Generously coat a 10-inch Bundt pan with nonstick cooking spray and dust it with cocoa powder.
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the hazelnuts until they are very finely chopped and slightly powdery. Transfer the ground hazelnuts to a medium bowl and whisk in the flour and salt.
Sift the 2 cups of confectioners’ sugar into another medium bowl with 3/4 cup of cocoa powder. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the granulated sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Scrape down the side of the bowl. Reduce the speed to low and beat in the whole eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, until just incorporated. Add the vegetable oil and vanilla extract and beat until the batter is uniform in color, about 1 minute. Add the cocoa mixture and beat until incorporated. Using a spatula, gently fold in the hazelnut mixture until no streaks remain.
Scrape the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top. Bake the cake in the middle of the oven for 40 to 50 minutes, until it starts to pull away from the side of the pan and the top just springs back when you touch it. The center should still be soft. Let the cake cool on a rack for at least 2 hours. It may crack and sink slightly. Invert the cake onto a plate and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Yield: 1 10-inch cake
Source: Adapted from Food and Wine, December 2012