After my company catered a party spotlighting foods from the state of Oregon, we were left with several pounds of fresh hazelnuts from the Willamette Valley, the capital of U.S. hazelnut production. We added the nuts to a flourless chocolate cake, and the result was this dark, rich confection with fruity undertones. Maple sugar, which is simply dehydrated maple syrup, is sold at most health food stores, but you may substitute any dry sugar. Serve this cake with vanilla-spiked whipped cream.
Serves 8 to 10
1 cup pitted prunes, soaked in 1 cup water overnight
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
6 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup hazelnuts, toasted, peeled, and pulsed in a food processor until coarsely ground
5 eggs, separated
1 cup maple sugar (see page 69)
1/4 teaspoon salt
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Drain the prunes and put them in the bowl of a food processor. Add the vanilla extract and purée until smooth. Set aside.
Grease a 10-inch round cake pan or an 8 by 11-inch baking dish and line it with parchment paper. Grease the paper.
Place the chocolate in a heatproof bowl, then place the bowl on top of a saucepan of simmering water. Melt the chocolate, stirring occasionally.
When the chocolate has melted, remove it from the heat, stir in the butter, and fold in the prune purée and the hazelnuts.
Using a mixer, beat the egg yolks and the maple sugar for 4 minutes, then fold into the chocolate mixture. Using a clean whisk, beat the egg whites with the salt until they hold stiff peaks. Fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture in 3 batches.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 20 minutes, rotate the pan, and continue baking for 5 to 7 minutes more. The center should still feel slightly soft. Let cool and serve at room temperature. The cake will keep for a couple of days at room temperature, lightly covered with parchment paper.
From Lucid Food: Cooking for an Eco-Conscious Life, by Louisa Shafia (Ten Speed Press, 2009)