Is it a brownie or is it a cake? Regardless of that quandary it is sheer deliciousness. The caramel-dipped hazelnuts couldn’t be simpler, and they make what would otherwise look like a plain chocolate cake (not that there’s anything wrong with that) into something straight out of a Christmas boutique cake store. And even better, it's gluten free, so more people can revel in the festive feeding frenzy.
Ingredients - serves 12
- 200g dark chocolate, roughly chopped
- 300g blanched hazelnuts
- 150g dark muscovado sugar
- 150g golden caster sugar
- 6 eggs, separated
For the ganache
- 250g dark chocolate
- 220ml double cream
- 30g salted butter, softened
For the hazelnut spikes
- 200g golden caster sugar
- About 20 blanched hazelnuts
- 23cm/9-inch loose-bottomed cake tin, greased and lined with baking paper
- Wire cooling rack
- Paper clips
Preheat the oven to 170°C/150°C fan/Gas 3.
Slowly melt the chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pan of barely simmering water.
Blitz the hazelnuts in a food processor until roughly chopped, then add the sugars and blitz again to a fine sand. Blitz in the egg yolks and one white; this will be a very stiff batter indeed. When well incorporated, beat in the melted chocolate and set to one side.
Put the egg whites into a clean bowl and whisk them until they are at a medium peak. Spoon a quarter of the egg white on to the batter and beat in to incorporate, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites. Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 35–40 minutes. A skewer inserted in the centre should come out reasonably clean, but the best indication of doneness is a smooth top with perhaps a few cracks, and a subtle springiness to the cake when gently prodded.
Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool completely in the tin.
To make the ganache, place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl. Put the cream in a small saucepan and heat on high until it begins to bubble around the edges. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate and leave for 30 seconds to melt it, then, with a whisk, stir until smooth. Beat in the butter until incorporated, then pour on to a plate to cool until spreadable.
When the cake has cooled, remove it from the tin and place it on a cake stand or platter. Spread the ganache generously over the entire surface – as neatly or as messily as desired.
To make the hazelnut spikes, place a wire cooling rack on the worktop with a short side hanging over the edge by an inch. Place a sheet of baking paper on the floor directly underneath – this will catch any drops of caramel. Place a medium saucepan over a high heat and allow it to get hot. Add a quarter of the sugar and allow that to slowly melt, then add another quarter, and continue until you have used all the sugar – you may have a few lumps of sugar here and there, but the majority of it should be liquid. When the caramel turns a gorgeous amber, remove from the heat and allow to cool and thicken to the consistency of golden syrup – if it sets too solid, melt again over a low heat.
Take a paper clip and straighten one end – you need one end to be hooked and one end straight. Drive the straight end into one of the hazelnuts, then dredge that through the thickened caramel, coating it very generously. Hook the paper clip on to the wire rack and allow the caramel to drip, like a stalactite, towards the floor and set hard. Repeat with all the hazelnuts and allow the caramel to set. When hardened, use a pair of scissors to gently snip the fine threads of caramel off the more robust, decorative spikes. Arrange the hazelnuts, spikes pointing up, in the centre of the cake.