May 30, 2013

Toasted Pistachio & Chocolate Torta

Chocolate and pistachio are one of those magical culinary combinations that taste as if they were destined to be together, BFF's, for example.  The original recipe for this Torta called for almonds, which I'm sure would be excellent as well.  However we recently toasted pistachio's in culinary school and I am telling you, there is nothing, nada, zilch, zero which can be compared to the crunch of a toasted pistachio.  The taste evolves into this deep, roasted, nutty goodness that's just begging to be combined with chocolate.
However....oh lordy however...let me tell you one thing.  If you are planning to toast your pistachios, plan on not making any plans for the rest of the afternoon.  I was lucky enough to find shelled pistachios, but still you're only half way there.  First you must remove the skins before they go into the oven.  This is no easy feat and should require loads of patience (at 4 months pregnant AND with a toddler constantly pulling at your leg it's just not something that flows easily these days).  But if you're trying to quit smoking, this is an excellent exercise if you need something to keep your hands busy.  Regardless, it's SO worth the effort I promise.  At least try it once in your life to appreciate how sultry the taste of a roasted pistachio really is.
Toasted Pistachio & Chocolate Torta
makes one 9" torta


12 ounces whole pistachios, shelled
1 1/4 cups sugar, divided
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (I used chocolate chips)
8 ounces unsalted butter
6 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
2 tablespoons Frangelico
Cocoa powder, for sprinkling


Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.  To remove the skins from the pistachios, bring a medium sized saucepan filled halfway with water to a boil.  Meanwhile, fill a medium sized bowl with ice water and keep near by.  Once the water comes to a rapid boil, quickly add the shelled pistachios and boil for about 30 seconds.

Quickly remove the pistachios from the boiling water using a slotted spoon and place them in the bowl of iced water.

Allow them to sit for a few minutes, then again using the slotted spoon, transfer the pistachios to a clean dish towel that is laid flat on the counter.

Using the palm of your hand, continually roll over the pistachios.  Do this action several times and the skin will easily slide off (well, most of the time. Some you will have to peel off).

Place the de-skinned pistachios in a colander and give them a quick rinse to remove any small remaining pieces of skin.  Shake off excess water.

Transfer pistachios to a cookie sheet lined with aluminum foil.  Be sure they're placed in an even layer and not too over crowed.  I used two sheets since they didn't all fit on one. Roast the pistachios for about 10 minutes, stirring halfway through until they've slightly darkened in color.  You should be able to smell their nutty aroma and you'll know they're done.

Meanwhile, maintain oven temperature at 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 9" round pan with a removable bottom as set aside.

Allow the pistachios cool for about 5 minutes.  Grind the nuts in a food processor in three batches, pulsing each batch with 2 tablespoons of sugar, using 6 tablespoons in all.


Place the chocolate and butter in a heat safe bowl over simmering water and melt together (or in micowave).  Set aside.

Beat the egg yolks in a large bowl with an electric mixer until lemon-colored, about 5 minutes. Gradually beat in 10 tablespoons of the sugar.

Add the chocolate mixture, stirring to mix well.
Add the ground pistachios and stir to incorporate. Add the 2 tablespoons of Frangelico and stir to combine.
In a clean metal bowl, beat the egg whites with the remaining 1/4 cup sugar until they form firm peaks.
In two additions, fold the egg whites into the chocolate mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and smooth the top. Put the pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 1 1/2 hours or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 15 minutes before removing the sides of the spring form pan, then cool completely. 
Dust with cocoa powder and slice.

recipe adapted from Alexandra's Kitchen

May 23, 2013

Nutella & Hazelnut Babka

If you've never heard of Babka, don't worry, I hadn't either.  Well, that was before the notorious Seinfeld episode where he and Elaine are in a bakery trying to buy a dessert to take to a dinner party:

Traditionally Babka originated in Poland and was typically made for Easter Sunday (I'm a few weeks late I guess...) however in the US it's typical to find chocolate and cinnamon versions of Babka in Jewish bakeries. 

The most common characteristic of Babka is in the way in which you handle the dough.  It's doubled and twisted, then left to finish proofing in the pan, allowing the twists to plump nicely taking the shape of the pan.  Traditional Jewish Babka is also covered with a streusel topping before going into the oven, giving it a lovely crunch once baked.

I figured if Jerry & Elain were in such a tizz over this Babka, I should attempt one myself.  Plus being 4 months pregnant I have an extreme aversion to anything carb-ie...I was getting ready for an exercise class the other day and all the sudden I thought to myself, oh I really need some sweet and sour sauce.  You never know what cravings are going to pop up in your carb-crazy conscious.  This week for me, it was Babka.

As I mentioned, typical Babka is usually either chocolate or cinnamon, but I had a jar of Nutella in the pantry that was just screaming to be used.  Otherwise I would have ended up devouring it one night watching endless re-runs of Storage Wars. 

Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised to realize how easy Babka is to prepare, however it's somewhat time consuming (needs about 3 1/2 hours proofing time, but well worth it).  Because it puffs up so much in the pan you don't have to worry about your twists being too perfect, really the yeast fills in the gaps for you.  You can compare the texture and taste to a cinnamon roll (well a hazelnut version in this case) with layers that effortlessly pull apart, yet the Babka is still slice-able (new word!)

Nutella & Hazelnut Babka
makes one 9 x 5 inch loaf
printable version


For the Babka:
2 tablespoons instant yeast
3/4 cup lukewarm milk
6 tablespoons salted butter, room temperature
6 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
3 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 egg lightly beaten PLUS 1 tablespoon water to egg wash top of loaf

For the Filling:
one 13-ounce jar Nutella
1/2 cup toasted hazelnuts (with skins removed), coarsely chopped

For the Streusel:
1/4 cup cold salted butter, cubed
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup brown sugar


Sprinkle the yeast over the warm milk in a small bowl.  Stir and set aside for about 5 minutes or until the yeast is starting to foam and get a bit bubbly. 

Meanwhile, in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, whip the butter until light and fluffy. Add in the sugar and continue beating on medium speed until again, light and fluffy.

Beat in the vanilla and the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well between each addition. 

Remove paddle attachment and replace with the dough hook.  Add the salt and flour.

Mix to combine and then add the milk and yeast mixture.

Bring the dough together on the lowest speed, then allow it to knead on speed 2 for about 4 minutes. You should have a soft and golden coloured dough.

Place the dough into a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow to rest in a warm place until almost doubled, about an hour to an hour and a half depending on the temperature of your kitchen and the quality of the yeast.  Mine took about an hour, but Dubai is a pretty warm, humid place even in the dead of your location will play a role also.
Once the dough has risen, roll out into a 15" circle/square on a lightly floured surface.  OR as close as you can get to either.  Mine was a bit of a morph between the two.  Just get it big and flat and around 15" wide.


Spread the entire jar of Nutella onto the top of the dough, leaving 1/4" boarder.  I used an offset spatula to make this step easier.  Then sprinkle with the toasted hazelnuts.
Roll the dough up tightly like a jelly roll:

Using a sharp, long knife, slice the roll lengthwise into two sections:

Twist the two sections together (I pinched the ends to keep the twist in place as it will try to unravel itself).

Then roll the twist into a tight spiral:

Turn the spiral onto its side and place upright into a greased pan lined with parchment paper.  Press down lightly to help take the shape of the pan.  Cover with a lightly greased piece of plastic wrap and allow to rise again until the dough takes the shape of the pan, about 1 hour.  *Put in a warm, dark place such as the oven or microwave if you live in a dry climate.

Once the dough has risen again, prepare the struseul topping.  Place the butter, flour, and brown sugar inside a food processor *I used my mini-chop since it's not a large amount, besides pulling the food processor out of the cabinet means having to move 50 other things in it's thank you!

Pulse the mixture until it resembles coarse sand.  Poke Babka a few times with a toothpick and use a pastry brush to cover the top with the lightly beaten egg/water mixture:

Cover with the struseul topping, pressing down lightly to help stick.

Bake in a preheated 350 degree F oven for 50 minutes.  Once you are able to handle the Babka, remove from pan and continue to cool on a wire rack.

Ohhhh this one is dandy!  And wasn't that easy?  I think you could probably fill with just about anything and it would be amazing. 


 Babka recipe adapted from for Mommy
technique from Simplesmente Delicia