The hazelnut is not an ingredient one immediately associates with Italian cookery, yet they are definitely rooted in our food culture: or instance, I have never come across a gelateria that does not have nocciola (hazelnut) flavour, one of the best actually (and, as you know, gelaterie are everywhere in Italy), you can often spot a roasted hazelnut atop pasticcini, the diminutive Italian pastries, and biscuits, a signal that what you are going to taste contains the nuts. There is Frangelico too, a hazelnut liqueur from Piemonte that can elevate anything it is drizzled over to new heights, and, well, then there is Nutella, one of the most famous Italian foods, a mix of chocolate and (not so many) hazelnuts and other, more or less, insalubrious ingredients. If you travel to central Italy, in particular in the Tuscia region of Lazio and in Umbria, you will see vast, intensively cultivated hazelnut groves, which contribute hugely to the local economy but that are also cause for concern. What was once a minor crop has become very important, to the point that Italy is now the world’s second-largest producer, for better or worse. Here an article in Italian too.
Hazelnuts, especially when roasted, have a buttery, sweet flavour, with subtle chocolate undertones. They are showcased in this traditional cake from the hilly Langhe region in Piemonte, a paradise for wine, white truffles, beef, stuffed ravioli and rich desserts. It is a flat, dense, slightly chewy, rich cake, with an intense hazelnut flavour, enhanced by a little coffee and liqueur, and not too sweet – one of those typical Italian plain cakes, unshowy but a real joy to eat.
I made it from a book already mentioned a few times on this blog, “La cucina del Piemonte collinare e vignaiolo” written by Piedmontese food expert Giovanni Goria, a splendid work and it has been a revelation.
I halved the quantities, with minor adjustments on ingredients and technique.
The cake must be a couple of centimetres high, no more – this is important.
Torta langorola di nocciole
a 22-23 cm cake or tart tin with, buttered and lined with parchment. Wrap it in some tin foil, to prevent any leakage, if it has a removable base
Pre-heat the oven to 180 static, medium rack
100 g 00 flour
a pinch of salt (my addition)
75 g caster sugar
1 scant teaspoon baking powder (8 g in the original source, about 2 teaspoons, which I think is too much)
150 g skinned, roasted hazelnuts
2 small eggs (the original recipe has one and a half), beaten
50 g butter, melted and cooled
half an espresso cup of strong coffee
half an espresso cup of milk
half a tablespoon of light olive oil
1 tablespoon rum (I used Frangelico)
one teaspoon vanilla extract
Place the flour, salt, sugar and baking powder in a food processor and whiz to mix. Add the hazelnuts and grind them to a fine, crumbly mix.
Add the eggs, melted butter, coffee, milk, oil, liqueur and vanilla and mix.
Transfer the batter to the tin and bake for about 30 minutes or until the cake is firm and brown
Cool on a rack. Dust with icing sugar.
Splendid with a cold moscato.
Here other splendid recipes from the book I mentioned, all from Piedmonte