Monday, February 24, 2014

a (very good) italian cake of sorts - part II

Hazelnut Almond Focaccia Cake, with Mascarpone Cream and chopped Hazelnuts
I'm not usually one to brag outright, but this cake is really, very good! As mentioned in the previous post,  I was looking for a dessert to share with our new Italian friends.  Initally, I thought I should make something quintessentially "American" to share, but frankly apple pie is not my forte!  The Spiaggia Cookbook provided the perfect solution, as it often does.  Spiaggia opened its doors in Chicago, on Michigan Ave in 1984.  Chef/Partner Tony Mantuano is a James Beard Award recipient for Best Chef, and the menu at Spiaggia speaks for itself. 
The Spiaggia Cookbook
The original Spiaggia dessert
The original creation by Spiaggia is absolutely elegant, and slightly more complicated than what I was looking for this weekend.  While I do enjoy more involved recipes that require painstaking attention to detail,  this wasn't the time.  My version of Chef Mantuano's decadent cake is actually quite good, despite it's more rustic presentation. The taste combinations of the slightly sweet, slightly crispy hazelnut cake, topped with creamy mascarpone, and crunchy hazelnuts is hard to beat, and for that I can only claim inspiration.

equal parts cake, and cream
Hazelnut Almond Focaccia Cake, with Mascarpone Cream and chopped Hazelnuts
-adapted from The Spiaggia Cookbook

*this recipe makes 2 cakes, and enough cream for both- you can halve the recipe, or even better, layer the cakes for a slightly more impressive presentation.  Keep in mind, you can make this recipe yours by making smaller cakes (almost like cookies), or by using pure whipped cream for a more delicate topping.


for the cake
1/2 cup hazelnut flour
1/2 cup almond flour
2 cups flour - I used Cup4Cup for my gluten-free version, but all-purpose flour will also be fine
1 1/4 cups confectioners sugar
1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp sea salt

for the mascarpone cream *mascarpone is an Italian cream cheese, less tangy than the american version, it's most often associated with Tiramisu
8oz Mascarpone Cream
1 pint heavy whipping cream
1 tsp vanilla
1 tbls sugar

hazelnuts, roughly chopped - about 2 cups

Pre-heat the oven to 350F

Combine the almond, hazelnut, and all-purpose flours in a large bowl.  Add the confectioners sugar, and salt.  Mix thoroughly using a fork, or a whisk.  In a stand mixer (or with a handheld) beat the butter until it is light and creamy, about 5 min,  then add the vanilla and beat for another minute until combined.

Slowly add the flours to the butter,  and mix-on low speed - just until a soft dough forms in the bowl.  
Remove the dough from the mixing bowl and place it on a lightly floured workspace -divide it into two equal portions.  Roll each portion into about an 11" disk.  It should be near1/4 inch thick.  I like to use my bakers mat as a guideline, but experienced bakers may just be able to "eye it". 

Transfer the dough disk to a lightly greased baking sheet.  Bake until just golden brown, about 20 -25 minutes.  Remove the cake from the oven and let cool completely (at least 1 hr) before moving the cake from the baking sheet.  It will still be fragile, so please handle with care.

While the cake is baking in the oven, you can make the mascarpone cream.
In a clean mixing bowl add 1 pint of heavy cream.  Using the whisk attachment,  mix on high speed until the cream is whipped into stiff peaks.  Add 8oz of Mascarpone cheese, 1 tsp vanilla, and 1 tbls of sugar.  Return the mixer to high speed, until the the mixture is light and creamy.  Taste the cream, and feel free to add sugar if you prefer it to be sweeter. 
mascarpone cream
Once the cake has cooled completely, move it to a cake plate.  I recommend something with a bit of an edge, as the cake slides easily.
Using a rubber spatual, spread a thick layer of the mascarpone cream onto the cake. 
Sprinkle the chopped hazelnuts over the cream. You can add as much, or as little (but who would) as you like.  If you have time to let the cake sit for an hour or two before serving - its just that much better.  It gives the cream a bit of time to soak into the cake just ever so slightly.

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