The hazelnut is such an underrepresented nut. Most often seen in American cuisine as a flavor additive to coffee or as part of the heavenly combination of nuts and chocolate known as Nutella, hazelnuts have been cultivated in Europe and Asia for thousands of years. They’ve been heralded as a gift from the gods by the ancient Chinese and used in marriage ceremonies in ancient Rome. They definitely need to be celebrated more often in modern days than just a dollop of Nutella on your morning toast!
There are many different variations of what a hazelnut cake can contain: hazelnuts, much like almonds, can be ground up into a powder and used as a meringue-like flour to make light, fluffy, gluten-free cakes. They can also adorn the exterior (and interior) of a cake as candied, crushed nuts, or as a part of a Nutella-based cream filling. (mmm, now I want Nutella cream filling…) Whichever way you eat it, hazelnuts are a nutritious and delicious addition to a rich dessert that can give a cake both light airiness and a dense, earthy, nutty flavor.
I’ve already highlighted Mario Batali’s powerhouse Italian ristorante Babbo twice on this blog, and I know I’ve said I want to diversify the places to visit on National Food Holidays, but when a dessert comes as celebrated as Babbo’s chocolate hazelnut cake, you have to stand up and pay attention. Hazelnuts have become very popular in northern Italy, and this hazelnut cake exemplifies that, celebrating the different flavors and textures of the hazelnut by using the nuts both as an addition to a flour cake and as the flavoring ingredient to the accompanying gelato. The result is an amazing mix of hazelnut and chocolate all throughout the dessert, combined with an orange sauce to bring some bright tartness into the dish. It’s insanely chocolatey and rich, but the cake also never lets you forget that it’s a hazelnut cake at its heart. With a dessert so delicious and true to its nature as this, I couldn’t just let Babbo slip through for the sake of diversity this time.
110 Waverly Pl (between Mac Dougal St & W Washington Sq)
“I love the pure, direct flavor of hazelnuts in my Hazelnut Cake from The Babbo Cookbook. A simple dusting of cocoa powder or confectioner’s sugar is all that is needed to adorn this gem; all the better to let the rich, heady aroma of hazelnuts shine through.”–Babbo
“Every dessert, however, will make you stupid with happiness. A bright lemon-ricotta cake with glistening garnetlike blackberries. A super pairing of pistachio and chocolate in a semifreddo. If you want to eat chocolate-hazelnut cake by yourself, you’ll have to have it delivered to the bathroom and lock the door.”–New York Magazine
Some reviews from Yelp.com:
“For dessert, we had the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Orange Sauce and Hazelnut Gelato. The cake was soft and filled with yummy chocolate. The gelato is smooth and hits the spot. “–Kimberly K.
“The dessert was also good and we had the gelati assortment, cranberry crostata, saffron panna cotta with quince, and the chocolate hazelnut cake. I liked the gelati the best and the flavors were all pretty interesting. There is something about eating gelati in an Italian restaurant that feels right.”–Tony T.
Make sure you check out the updated NYC Food Holidays Map to find this most recent holiday!