Several events of the universe had to align for this post to happen.
The first was that I was hired for the holidays to work at a high-end mail order food company. Through this experience, I was introduced to a wide variety of imported products that I never even dreamed existed. One of those products was Creme de Noisette, or hazelnut spread. The Creme de Noisette came in a tube that gave it the appearance of hand lotion. Only mildly interesting, until a number of these tubes ended up on the discounted employee shelf due to some separation issues (oil separating from solids – if you’ve ever bought any kind of natural peanut or other nut butter, you know what I mean). Once they were available to me for $4 per tube – as opposed to $20 per tube – Creme de Noisette became a LOT more interesting.
The second event was that that post-holiday, we apparently sold out of Creme de Noisette, which I knew from taking several phone calls from people looking for it. Since all three of these calls came in the course of one day, I finally asked the third person why they were looking for it. They pointed me in the direction of this ridiculous cake recipe from annarbor.com (well, really from Epicurious) in which the author had used the Creme de Noisette for the middle layer (and linked to the product on our website).
The third event was just Valentine’s day – no big deal.
Noe and I don’t really go out for Valentine’s Day, but we do use it as an excuse to keep a ridiculous amount of candy on hand and to cook a slightly decadent dinner. This year, since Valentine’s day fell on a Monday – otherwise known as TV night with Sophie and Anthony (ahh, the exciting lives of married couples) – we folded them up into our plans. I prepared Julia Child’s AMAZING scallops with white wine, garlic, and butter for dinner; Soph put together a most excellent spinach salad and procured some crusty bread for sauce-mopping, and I set out to construct the world’s most decadent chocolate cake, complete with a middle layer of $4.00 hazelnut spread.
What I had liked about the cake recipe when I first read it was that the melting of the chocolate was done by mixing it with hit coffee – like the author of the article, I appreciated not messing with double-boilers or microwave. I happily chopped my combination of Ghiradeli and Callebaut semi-sweet chocolate and combined it with a steaming helping of Zingerman’s French Roast.
Truthfully, after that part, my stand mixer did most of the work, until I poured the cake batter into two round pans, at which point I turned responsibility over to the oven.
Even though the knife I inserted in the center came out clean, I still wondered if these cakes were fully baked. They looked very moist and extremely dense. I just kind of went with it, though, cooling them on wire racks and making the ganache frosting.
The ganache was an amazing mixture of more chopped chocolate, light corn syrup (giving the frosting a lovely sheen), butter, and cream. Once again, the chocolate was melted in the hot liquid, simplifying the process. While my liquids were heating, I whizzed some whole hazelnuts around in my mini-chopped to mix with the Creme de Noisette (I thought the filling could use some texture). I spread this mixture thickly on one of the cakes and set the other on top. I then coated the whole thing with that ridiculously shiny ganache.
Pardon my language, but holy shit.
This cake was practically a foot tall. (OK, it wasn’t, but it really was pretty high and mighty.) Coated with that thick, impossibly shining frosting, it looked almost impenetrable. When Anthony DID cut into it, there was a visible layer of Creme de Noisette punctuated with flavorful hazelnuts (I used almost the whole tube of the spread – I may have been a bit more conservative had it actually cost $20.00).
WOW. The dark chocolate flavors of this cake – underscored by the slight coffee note – really packed a punch. The hazelnut was the perfect contrast. Everything was just sweet enough from the sugar, but this recipe really let the deep, rich notes of the chocolate and hazelnuts shine through. And the texture – very moist, not dry at all.
But man, was it rich. In fact, I think this may be the only dessert I’ve ever seen Anthony unable to finish. Granted, the piece he cut for himself was about a fifth of the entire (two-story) cake, but I’ve still never seen him bested before.
If you have a chocolate lover in your life – and you like them – make this cake for them. They will be in your debt indefinitely. You can experiment with different middle layers, but I’m so glad I read the Creme de Noisette suggestion (and had access to discounted supply). For me, it took this from a better-than-average chocolate cake into something really spectacular.