Chocolate Crêpe Torte with Hazelnut Buttercream Filling and Candied Nuts

This weekend we celebrate America’s birthday: There will be fireworks, parades, barbeques, and blue, red, and white desserts. Unfortunately I only remembered this fact when I was halfway done with the crêpes for this torte, and there was no way I was going to come up with something new just to comply with the white, blue, and red requirement of the 4th of July celebrations. First of all, the combination of chocolate, nuts, and caramel sounded too good to abandon it, not to mention IT. IS. HOT out there – so hot that even I am thinking twice before turning on the oven.

We are having a gorgeous summer with the temperatures in the 90’s here and I am thoroughly enjoying every minute of it. Ten months out of the year the weather in the Pacific Northwest is nothing to write home about, but the summers are freaking amazing. I’ve wanted to try a crêpe torte for quite some time, and it seemed this hot day would be a good time for it – no need for the oven and at the first glance the process looked pretty quick and straightforward. It turned out it wasn’t the smartest idea after all – it turns out making 30 crêpes does in fact take some time and standing over a hot griddle was probably worse than baking, when at least I can shut the oven door and walk away. But I’m determined: even though I felt like I was stuck in a hot yoga class,  sweat was pouring down my back the whole time, and I burned my fingertips more than once turning the crêpes, I’m happy to report I made it through, and it was worth it!

Even though crêpes are French in origin, they’re a staple in Slovak cuisine as well, and are my go to meal in those “lazy Mother days”. It never occurred to me to add chocolate to them until now, and it was a brilliant idea (thank you, Martha Stewart!). The frosting the crêpes are layered with reminds me of hazelnut gelato I used to love when I was in Italy as an exchange student many moons ago – it is a simple vanilla buttercream with lots and lots roasted chopped nuts swirled in. Although, calling it “hazelnut buttercream with hint of vanilla” would probably be much more appropriate, because I really went overboard with the nuts. Half of the quantity would be more than enough, but oh well, I’m sure the cake it’s going to be eaten 🙂

I had the most fun playing with the candied nuts though – swirling them in golden caramel and making those pretty spikes on them.  I borrowed the idea from Martha again, and had a sweet one on one time with my teenager, who was more than happy to help when he realized there was caramel involved. (Hey, if you want to see your kid, you do whatever it takes, right?!)

Happy 4th, everybody; enjoy the long weekend and stay safe!

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Chocolate Crêpe Torte with Hazelnut Buttercream Frosting and Candied Nuts

Chocolate Crêpes:

(adapted from http://www.marthastewart.com; recipe makes about 30 8-inch crêpes)

  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks, 170 g) unsalted butter; plus more for the pan
  • 8 oz. (225 g) semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 ½ cups (6.5 oz., 195 g) all – purpose flour (I subbed gluten – free flour mix with good results)
  • 1/3 cup powdered sugar
  • pinch salt
  • 2 ½ cup (20 oz., 590 ml) whole milk
  • 6 whole eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Vanilla Hazelnut Buttercream:
  • 2 ½ cup (20 oz., 600 ml) whole milk
  • 3.5 oz. (100 g)  white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1.5 oz. (45 g) vanilla pudding (I used European brand called dr. Oetker, but you can use any cook-and-serve vanilla pudding powder)
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 lb. (450 g, 4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 3.5 – 7 oz. (100 – 200 g) dry roasted and chopped hazelnuts
Dark Chocolate Glaze:
  • ½ cup (4 oz.,  125 ml) heavy cream
  • 1 oz. (30 g) unsalted butter
  • 4 oz. (115 g) good quality bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
  • 1/6 cup (0.7 oz., 20 g) powdered sugar
Candied Nuts:
  • 1 cup white sugar
  • ¼ cup water
  • whole hazelnuts or other nuts of your choice
    + wooden skewers; a wooden cutting board to secure the skewers; and a big cake pan to catch dripping caramel

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Method:
  1. To make the crêpes, melt chocolate and butter over a pot of boiling water and set aside to cool slightly. Pour milk into your blender, add eggs, sugar, and vanilla. Lastly add the flour, and blend until well combined. The batter should be fairly thin, so it’ll distribute evenly on the hot pan. Refrigerate the batter for 30 minutes before making the crêpes.
  2. Lightly coat the non-stick crêpe pan with melted butter. Heat up the pan until really hot, and then pour about 2 – 3 tablespoons of batter into the pan, and swirl the pan quickly to coat the bottom. (If it’s hard to distribute the batter, thin it out with a little milk until it’s easily pourable. Crêpes are pretty forgiving with regards to measurements.)
  3. Cook the crêpe over a medium – high heat until the edges are dry and the middle of the crêpe looks cooked, about 30 seconds to a minute. Flip it carefully and continue to cook for 30 seconds more. Remove crêpe to a plate, coat the pan with a little butter again and continue baking the crêpes in the same fashion, stacking them on a plate. Let the finished crêpes cool at room temperature.
  4. To make the Vanilla – Hazelnut Buttercream,  heat the milk, sugar, and vanilla  in a saucepan. Combine the egg yolks with the powdered pudding. Temper the egg yolk – pudding mixture with a little warm milk, and then pour all of it into your milk in the pan. Cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens, about 2 – 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and immediately press a saran wrap on top of the vanilla crème. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  5. Cream butter in a bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a paddle. With the mixer on, start adding the vanilla crème, one tablespoon at a time (it is important that both the butter and the cooked vanilla crème are the same temp, so the mixture wouldn’t curdle). Mix at a low speed to make a smooth creamy filling.
  6. By hand mix in the chopped hazelnuts. Chill the frosting for about 30 minutes until it is easy to spread.
  7. To assemble the torte: Place one crêpe on a plate. Spread about 3 tablespoons of filling on, covering the entire crêpe all the way to the edges. Place another crêpe on top of the filling. Continue layering the crêpes with the filling, ending with a crêpe. Press the last crêpe down lightly, and put the torte into the refrigerator to firm up, 30 minutes to 2 hours.
  8. Make the chocolate glaze: Heat the heavy cream with butter until almost boiling. Remove from heat and add the chocolate. Let stand for a minute so the chocolate melts, and then add the powdered sugar and stir vigorously to make a smooth glaze.
  9. You can either pour the slightly cooled glaze over the cake, or let it cool in the fridge until it thickens and frost the cake with an icing spatula. Chill the frosted torte while you prepare candied nuts.
  10. To make the candied nuts, stick the tip of a skewer into a whole nut (prepare about ten of skewered nuts in advance). Place a wooden cutting board on the edge of your counter, and put a big cake pan on the floor under the counter to catch the caramel that’ll be dripping from the nuts.
  11. Combine sugar and water in a non – stick saucepan. Cook the sugar syrup until the water evaporates and the sugar turns into caramel. (Do not stir the sugar while it cooks; if you feel you need to, just gently swirl the pan from time to time. Stirring encourages crystallization. Also, keep an eye on the sugar while it cooks, as sugar goes to caramel and then to burned caramel pretty fast. When it starts changing color to amber, immediately remove it from the heat and swirl the pan while it darkens.)
  12. Let the caramel cool slightly, about 3 – 5 minutes. When it starts to thicken, quickly take one skewered hazelnut and swirl it in the caramel, coating it completely. Put the skewer under the cutting board and let the excess caramel drip into the pan on the floor. The caramel cools pretty quickly at this point and the dripping caramel should leave you with a nice spike on the hazelnut. (Judging the proper thickness of the caramel takes some practice, but making these decorations is so much fun. If the caramel in the pan hardens too much, just gently heat it up until you’re able to coat the hazelnuts again.) Let the candied nuts cool under the cutting board for about 5 minutes and then break off the caramel spike to a desired length and carefully remove the skewer.
  13. Decorate the torte with candied nuts and serve.
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