Hazelnut and ricotta torte is one of the best cakes I have made: it tastes light though it’s quite rich, with a hint of cheesecake thanks to ricotta, and a crunch of poppy seeds.
What’s a torta when it’s at home?
I’m serious: it is easily one of the nicest little cakes I've ever baked. I'm not entirely certain actually whether it is a cake? A tart? A gateau?
The Italians call it torta which means broadly cake but not quite as we know it, since torta can also be savoury. Also, other European tortas usually refer to layered, filled and frosted compositions so it’s quite confusing.
Whatever you call it, it's gorgeous.
All credit to Jamie
It’s one of the earliest Jamie Oliver’s recipes and possibly one of his best, at least in the baking department.
I could not trace it to any Italian originals, as Torta di Nocciole e Ricotta, commonly featuring online, is a quick ricotta cake with full content of flour and an added handful of chopped hazelnuts and chocolate chips. That sounds plain, while Jamie’s is a sublime, exquisite affair.
It is faintly evocative of baked cheesecake (the only kind that matters in my books). But it has a strong nutty base because there is only a tiny amount of plain flour in it. Plus, the poppy seeds are an excellent addition.
The topping is outstanding: a layer of apricot jam covered with grated dark chocolate, quickly setting to a lovely shell.
You might think there is so much going on it will be overbearing: ricotta and nuts AND poppy seeds AND the top layer! Not at all, in fact it is a very harmonious whole.
It tastes smooth with a poppy crunch, like velvet dipped in golden glitter. It is very rich but tastes light, so you‘re tempted to have another slice, and another. It takes a moderate effort to make but the outcome pays off.
How to make the hazelnut torte
This one is a grown-up cake, none of that bish-bash, mix-everything-together nonsense.
You have to separate the eggs and if you're inept you might want to chill them beforehand, then bring the separated yolks and whites to room temperature.
The buttered tin needs to be chilled in the fridge, so the cake batter doesn’t catch to the sides of the tin too much – a simpler equivalent of baking cheesecakes in a water bath.
It’s also good to weigh out and prepare all the ingredients beforehand so you can add them one by one while the mixer is running. And yes: I’m afraid it will be hard, hard work without an electric mixer or a food processor.
The latter is needed to grind the hazelnuts unless you can buy them ready ground in your locality. Otherwise toast them lightly for five minutes to release the fragrance, then blitz in a spice grinder, a clean coffee grinder or said food processor. Don’t overmix – you don’t want them to turn into hazelnut oil!
The cake base starts with butter and sugar to which egg yolks are added, followed by everything else but the egg whites.
Those need to be beaten stiff, then folded very gently but thoroughly into the batter, so no blobs of meringue are visible.
Then baking, and the cake will puff up and rise impressively, only to collapse and flatten when out of the oven – but that’s how it should behave, so don’t fret.
While it cools a little, warm up the jam with water and I’m afraid it is worth passing it though a sieve. You don’t want huge apricot moguls to mar the surface of such an elegant confection.
I like to grate the chocolate over the jam while it’s still warm, so it melts and sets into a glossy sheet. But if you prefer, wait for it to cool completely, then shower the surface with fluffy chocolate shavings. Either way, the best way to do it is over the sink as grating chocolate makes an absolutely awful mess.
More hazelnut cake recipes
Hungarian flourless hazelnut cake, gluten-free. This hazelnut Hungarian torte is layered with almond buttercream and a topping of apricot jam and chocolate shavings – guess where I got that idea!
Devil's food cake with hazelnut praline by Yotam Ottolenghi. Chocolate and fudgy, frosted with malted cream and hazelnut praline topping, this cake is stupidly good.
More Italian cake recipes
Classic and easy lemon ricotta cake Italian style. This is an easy recipe for baked lemon ricotta cheesecake, light and fluffy.
Orange flavoured ciambella with dark chocolate glaze is Italian ring-shaped breakfast cake. This one is made without butter but with olive oil; serve it for an indulgent breakfast or for dessert.