OK. I know I already told you that I’ve made the best dish of 2013. But this. This, my friends, is the best dessert of 2013. To die for tasty. If you need that show-stopper dessert that’s a little bit different from the usual, turn directly to this little layered macaron torte from Smitten Kitchen (love this blogger, by the way!).
I made this as a little housewarming gift and what a huge hit! It’s four thin wafers of hazelnut macarons slicked with bittersweet chocolate and layered between barely sweetened whipped cream. Finally, showered with chocolate shavings. If you love nutella, you will absolutely fall in love with this torte. And on top of all that, it’s gluten-free! I totally love that it’s not too sweet, but still hits that celebratory note that all desserts should strive for.
Now, don’t get intimidated by the long recipe. It’s really quite straightforward, but just with a lot of steps. It took me three hours total, but there was a lot of doing other things (baking bread, catching up on episodes of Scandal, laundry, etc). So I imagine for the experienced bakers out there that you could probably condense this down to about 2 hours, maybe less.
After assembly, let this torte set up in the refrigerator for a couple of hours. The crispy macaron layers will absorb some of the moisture from the whipped cream and will become a little cakey and chewy (in the best way that cookies are chewy!), but with a great nutty texture.
I made a few modifications to the original recipe (of course!), like decreasing the sugar, adding a smidge of almond extract to the whipped cream, and making 6-inch rounds (to fit my pastry box) – with the 6-inch rounds, I ended up with 6 total macaron layers, plus a few extra mini “cookies” for munching! This is a very good thing. You could definitely build a 6-layer tower, but I stuck with the 4 layers. Also, I decided not to frost the sides, just between layers and the top layer ala Miette style, which I think looks so chic! And, well, I’m kinda lazy. Putting this baby together took all of a couple minutes.
Chocolate-Hazelnut Macaron Torte
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Cooking spray for greasing parchment rounds
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
6 large egg whites
2 1/2 cups hazelnuts (340 grams), toasted, then skinned as much as possible* (super cheap at Trader Joe’s)
1/4 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces (170 grams or the equivalent of 1 cup chips) bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used Trader Joe’s 72% bittersweet Pounds Plus Belgian chocolate bar)
1/4 cup water (I used cream because I had some leftover from making the whipped cream below – waste not, want not!)
1 teaspoon instant coffee or espresso granules (optional)
1 1/2 cups chilled heavy or whipping cream
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract (1 tablespoon Frangelico or another hazelnut liqueur)
1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract
A bittersweet chocolate bar for shaving (optional)
Make macarons: Position oven racks in the top and lower thirds of oven and heat oven to 325°F. Outline six 6-inch circles on individual pieces of parchment paper. Turn each sheet of parchment over so your ink or pencil lines don’t seep into the macaroon, place each piece of parchment paper on large baking sheets, and very lightly coat each piece of parchment with oil or butter. Don’t worry if you reverse the sheet and can’t see your markings. After oiling, the markings will be more clear. (I sprayed mine with a cooking oil and wiped all but a sheer coating away with a paper towel.)
Place hazelnuts, sugar, and salt in a food processor and process until finely ground. Be careful not to turn it into hazelnut butter. Using electric mixer, beat egg whites in large, dry bowl with clean beaters (or a whisk attachment) until soft peaks form. Drizzle in vanilla extract. Beat until stiff but not dry. Fold nut mixture into egg whites in 1/3 increments so that the egg whites don’t deflate. Spread macaron batter evenly within each circle to a height of ¼-inch thick, filling completely. An offset spatula would be very helpful here. Smooth the tops of your macaron to create an even top. After baking, the macaron rounds will have expanded to 6.5-inch rounds.
Bake macaron layers until golden and dry to the touch, about 20 to 30 minutes. Rotate trays half way through. Cool macaroons on their sheets on a cooling rack.
Make chocolate filling: While meringues cool, heat half of chocolate, cream (or water), and coffee (if using) in a small heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring until smooth. Off the heat, stir in second half of chocolate chunks until melted, which should also cool the mixture to lukewarm. Spread chocolate evenly over tops of meringue rounds; it will be just a thin slick on each. Cool until chocolate is set, a process that could take a few hours at room temperature or, again, could be hastened along by resting each disc in your freezer for five minutes, or until firm.
Make whipped cream: Beat cream with sugar, vanilla and almond extracts, and/or liqueur in a bowl with cleaned beaters until it holds stiff peaks, but isn’t curdled and dry looking.
Assemble torte: Gently peel the parchment off the back of each macaron round. Arrange your first disc on your cake serving plate. Spread a portion of the whipped cream over it. I just kind of eyeballed it. Try a fourth or a sixth of the cream between each layer. Whatever is your preference. Repeat with second, third, and fourth macaron rounds. If you decide to assemble all 6 layers, you might need a little more whipped cream.
If desired, use a vegetable peeler to scrape away curls from a chocolate bar for decoration. Serve immediately or up to a day or two layer. Store in fridge. (Rather than immediately, I preferred it served 2 hours after refrigeration).
*Toast hazelnuts in a single layer on a baking sheet at 300 degrees F for anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes, checking them every 5 minutes. Roll them around once or twice so they toast properly. You want them nice and toasty tasting, but not brown-brown. Once cool, roll them around in dry hands over the tray to remove as much of their skins as possible. You don’t have to be too careful about removing all the skins.