For the month of January Jelena from A Kingdom for a Cake invited us to start this year with a dreamy celebration cake. She challenged us to make the Esterhazy cake a.k.a the Hungarian dream. What better way to start the year than with a sweet dream?
A sweet dream? I could not agree more. The Esterhazy torte is a Hungarian pastry made of five layers of hazelnut sponge cake and hazelnut buttercream, all topped off with a gorgeous starburst of chocolate. If you like hazelnuts (or Nutella, Fererro Rocher, or Frangelico), then this is the cake for you!
The torte was created in the 19th century and named after a member of the Austrian Empire’s Esterhazy dynasty, which, incidentally, has a Canadian connection. When I mentioned to a colleague that I was making this cake, he asked me if it was a recipe from Saskatchewan, because there is a town called Esterhazy there. Well! It turns out that in the late 19th century, a number of Hungarian immigrants settled in southeastern Saskatchewan and the town was named after one man who claimed to be a descendant of the Esterhazy family – a claim that was never recognized by the family, but that nonetheless got a town named after him!
But back to the torte: containing a dozen eggs and over a pound of hazelnuts, it’s not exactly an everyday cake, nor is it all that simple or quick to make – but it is fully worth the effort. Because I’m a total sucker for anything with hazelnut and chocolate, I added some cocoa powder to the buttercream filling between the soft cake layers, which made it taste like a Ferrero Rocher chocolate.
Jelena, thank you for a great challenge and a totally amazing cake – I’m really glad to have gotten the chance to discover it!
Adapted from Food for Thought. Makes one 10″ round cake, serving 10-12 generously, but you could easily get 16 smaller pieces (it’s a rich cake!). Feel free to halve the recipe to make a 6″ or 7″ round cake. This is a minimum 2-day project, as the cake is best if it rests overnight before being served.
First, prepare the hazelnuts for the sponge cake layers, buttercream, and sides of the cake. Spread 500 g whole raw hazelnuts on a baking sheets and place in a cold oven. Turn the oven on to 350˚F (325˚F convection) and roast until the skins of the hazelnuts turn very dark brown and begin to split, and the hazelnut meat is golden (about 15 minutes). Place the roasted nuts in a clean tea towel, gather up the edges, and rub to remove the skins. Let cool.
Roughly chop 100 g roasted hazelnuts for garnishing the sides of the cake, and set aside. Put the remaining 400 g roasted hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until very finely ground (but don’t go so far as to turn them into hazelnut butter). The ground hazelnuts will be used in the sponge cake layers and the buttercream filling.
Hazelnut Sponge Cake Layers
Lower the temperature of the oven to 325˚F (300˚F convection). Separate the whites and yolks from 12 large eggs. Set the egg yolks aside for the buttercream. Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until frothy.
250 g granulated sugar
seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
Slowly add the sugar to the beating egg whites in several small additions, then once all the sugar is added, increase the speed to high and beat the egg whites until stiff peaks form.
In a medium bowl, mix together:
250 g ground hazelnuts
80 g all purpose flour
pinch fine sea salt
Add the nut mixture the the egg whites and without completely deflating the egg whites, fold with a spatula until combined.
Trace 10″ circles onto 5 large pieces of parchment paper. Turn the paper over and place one piece on an upside-down baking tray. Spoon about 180-190 g of the hazelnut batter into the traced circle and spread it out evenly. Bake the layer in the preheated 325˚F (300˚F convection) oven for 14 minutes, until golden brown and no longer sticky (it will be soft). Remove the cake layer and parchment paper from the baking tray and place it somewhere flat to cool. Wait until the baking tray is cool before repeating with the remaining batter to make 5 layers total. I baked two layers at a time on two separate baking sheets to speed up the process.
Allow the cake layers to cool completely before continuing. They can be made a day ahead, in which case simply stack them, still on the parchment paper, and then cover the top layer with another piece of parchment.
In a medium heat-proof bowl, combine:
12 egg yolks
250 g granulated sugar
seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean
Beat with an electric mixer (or by hand if you have lots of stamina) until very light and thick. Place the bowl over a pot of simmering water à la bain marie and cook, stirring constantly with a whisk, for 15 minutes. It should be about the thickness of pudding and register around 160˚F on an instant read thermometer. Set the egg yolk mixture aside to cool completely to room temperature.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream 300 g soft unsalted butter until light and fluffy. Add the cooled egg yolk mixture and beat on medium to combine. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl with a spatula and beat again on high until light and thickened.
150 g ground hazelnuts
20 g sifted cocoa powder
Beat until well combined, thick, and creamy. Set aside about 1/4 cup of the buttercream for the sides of the cake and use the rest to fill the layers.
Peel the sponge cake players off the parchment paper. Place one of the layers on a clean piece of parchment or waxed paper and spread one quarter of the hazelnut buttercream (about 1 cup) right to the edges of the cake. Repeat with three more layers of cake and filling, then place the 5th layer of cake upside down on top of the stack (this will make the top of the cake smoother).
Place the cake on a baking tray, top it with another piece of parchment paper, and place a second baking tray on top. Press down on the cake gently but firmly, then weight down the top baking tray with whatever you have on hand. Place the weighted cake in the fridge to chill for an hour. There was no way this was going to fit in my fridge, so I put it out in the cold garage.
In your smallest, cutest pot, combine:
3 tbsp apricot jam
1 tsp water
Bring to a boil, then press through a sieve.
Spread the warm jam over the top of the cake with a long offset spatula, using the jam to smooth out any bumps or creases. Chill the cake until the jam is set, then spread the 1/4 cup reserved buttercream around the sides of the cake.
For the topping, melt over very low heat:
50 g dark chocolate
2 tsp vegetable oil
Stir until just melted and smooth, then pour it into a piping bag with a small round tip or small Ziplock bag with a small hole cut in one corner. Set aside but keep warm.
In a medium bowl, make the glaze by whisking together:
400 g icing sugar
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp vegetable oil
Add up to 60 ml warm water, 1 tsp at a time, until the glaze is creamy and thick but spreadable. This will make more than you need, but better to have more than less.
Pour about half of the glaze over the top of the cake and use a large offset spatula dipped in warm water to spread it evenly to the edges of the cake in an even layer. Add more glaze if you need it, but you don’t want too much to be dripping down the sides of the cake. Before the glaze has a chance to set, pipe a spiral of melted chocolate from the center to the edge of the cake.
This part got away from me a little, but to make the starburst/spider web decoration, use the tip of a sharp knife to draw 6 evenly spaced lines radiating from the center of the cake outwards, then 6 more lines in between them radiating from the edge of the cake in towards the center. Make sure to wipe off the knife after drawing each line.
Clean up the sides of the cake with an offset spatula, then press 100 g roughly chopped roasted hazelnuts to the sides of the cake.
Put the whole cake in the fridge to chill for about 24 hours. To serve, peel the parchment/wax paper from the bottom of the cake, place it on a serving platter, and cut into wedges with a large knife dipped in hot water.
The cake actually gets better with age and will keep up to 7 days, covered, in the fridge.