Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Buon compleanno, James!

It was my husband's birthday on Friday (August 30th), but due to our schedules I didn't get to make his birthday cake until yesterday (Labor Day).  In another lifetime, I used to make desserts for my brother's Italian restaurant (warning: my brother's restaurant is NOT vegan), and sometimes James would help out.  One of his favorite cakes was the Torta Gianduja from Nick Malgieri's Great Italian Desserts. So, this seemed like the opportune time to veganize it!

Torta Gianduja is a chocolate-hazelnut cake, and the chocolate ganache frosting makes it super rich.  The tough thing about this task?  The recipe calls for eight eggs, separated, and the whites are whipped to give the cake lift.

I probably should have consulted the vegan cooking gurus (by digging around in their books) for advice, but I decided to wing it instead.  I replaced the eggs with half an aseptic pack of silken tofu and four eggs worth of Ener-G Egg Replacer.  I figured the tofu would substitute for the richness and body of the yolks in the batter, while hopefully the Ener-G would give the necessary lift.

You're supposed to cut the cake in half to make two layers; well, that wasn't happening.  I don't think I got enough lift out of the egg replacer, and the cake was pretty crumbly.  Rather than destroy the thing, I gave up sawing it in half and just proceeded as a one-layer cake.

Final verdict?

Totally delicious.  The cake was dense, fudgy and hazelnutty, and the whipped chocolate ganache frosting was sweet and yummy.  James loved it, my kids loved it... all was right with the world.  (I skipped the optional chocolate glaze; I'd probably do it if I was making this for a fancy dinner party.)

Torta Gianduja (adapted from Nick Malgieri's Great Italian Desserts)


Cake Batter:
1-1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted (you can get the perfect size bag of these at Kroger's, pretty cheap)
7 oz semisweet vegan chocolate
3/4 cup granulated sugar
12 Tbsp vegan butter (I used Earth Balance)
1/2 of 12.3 oz aseptic package of silken tofu
4 eggs worth of Ener-G Egg Replacer
3/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Chocolate Filling:
12 oz. vegan chocolate
1 cup almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)
4 Tbsp vegan butter

1/4 cup vegan Brandy or Rum for brushing on cake (see Barnivore for help!)

Chocolate Glaze (optional):
6 oz. vegan chocolate
3/4 cup almond milk (or your favorite non-dairy milk)


1.  Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Grease a 9" or 10" round cake pan, line with parchment paper or wax paper, grease the paper, and then dust with flour.  Shake out the excess.  Set aside.  While the oven is preheating, you can toast the hazelnuts.
2.  Meanwhile, melt the chocolate in the microwave or over a double boiler.  Set aside to cool to room temperature.
3.  Put the toasted hazelnuts and 1/2 cup of the sugar in your food processor.  Pulse repeatedly to grind the nuts and sugar into a paste.  This may take about two minutes or so.  Add two tablespoons of the Earth Balance about halfway through the grinding.  Remove the mixture from the work bowl and set it aside to cool a bit.
4.  In a large bowl, beat the remaining Earth Balance with a hand mixer until soft and smooth.  Add the cooled hazelnut paste and mix until smooth and fluffy.  Then beat in the melted chocolate,.  Finally, beat in the tofu in chunks.  Mix until well blended.  On low speed, mix in the flour.
5. In a separate bowl, mix the Egg Replacer with water with the hand mixer until very frothy and lightSlowly drizzle in the rest of the sugar (1/4 cup) while beating on high speed.  Gently stir this frothy mixture into the chocolate-hazelnut batter in the other bowl.
6. Pour the batter into the cake pan and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes, until firm in the center and puffed.  Cool in the pan for about 5-10 minutes, then unmold onto a rack to cool.
7.  While the cake is baking, make the chocolate filling:  Heat the almond milk to a boil in medium saucepan over medium heat.  Stir in the chocolate (chop it or use chips), let it sit for about two minutes so the chocolate can melt, then stir again until smooth.  Then stir in the Earth Balance. Stir until smooth, then set aside for about TWO HOURS or longer to cool and thicken slightly.  Just before assembling the cake, beat the filling with an electric mixer until light and fluffy.  I had to throw my filling into the fridge for about ten minutes (while I almost destroyed the cake trying to saw it in half) to set up, and then beat it again. It will be runny-ish, but should hold up pretty well to spreading on the cake.
8.  Put the cake on the plate your want to serve it on, then take the rum/brandy and brush it over the top of the cake.  Use about 2/3 of the chocolate filling to spread on the tops and sides of the cake,.  Refrigerate the cake. You're supposed to be able to pipe the remaining filling onto the final cake as decoration; I could not get it stiff enough, even after chilling in the fridge for a couple hours.  We just glopped some on top of our slices and enjoyed the extra chocolate goodness!
9.  For the optional chocolate glaze, you're going to follow the same basic procedure as for the chocolate filling, except there's no butter in this. Boil the almond milk, stir in the chocolate til smooth, then set aside to cool to room temp.  When you're ready to put it over the cake, pull the cake out of the fridge and pour the glaze over the cake. This can get messy.  Just do your best.  Chill the cake for another 15 minutes to set the glaze.
10.  Finally, take the reserved chocolate filling (maybe try making it with coconut oil for part of the Earth Balance, then chill? Might set up better...) and put it in a piping bag.  Decorate the edges and then, if you want to be all Italian and stuff, write Gianduja in cursive across the cake.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.

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