Despite the risk of making it look like I only post about dessert, here comes another one: Chocolate-Pistachio Torte from the December 2008 issue of Everyday Food. I’ve actually made this twice in a two-week span, once for Dr. O and friends (the menu that night included Pistachio-Crusted Cod as well) and then again yesterday for a family dinner party.
I’m excited about this recipe for a couple of reasons. First, making it (twice, especially) gave purpose to the extra package of shelled, raw, unsalted (and slightly pricey) pistachios from Whole Foods that had been waiting in my pantry. Second (and even better), it’s a gorgeous and delicious cake that hasn’t failed me at this altitude. I’m putting it in the “keeper” pile, for sure.
To make the cake, I started by prepping an 8-inch round cake pan. I buttered and floured it and then lined the bottom with parchment paper. (I always just turn the pan upside down, put a piece of parchment over the pan, and then cut as close to the base as possible to get the right shape.) Once the pan was ready to go, I whisked together 1 cup of flour, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and a scant 1/4 teaspoon of baking powder in a medium bowl and then set the mixture aside.
Next, I set up my own double boiler; I brought an inch or so of water to a simmer in a large saucepan and then placed a large heatproof bowl over (but not in) the water. I placed 1 stick of butter (cut into small pieces) and 8 ounces of semisweet chocolate (coarsely chopped) in the bowl and stirred frequently with a spatula until the mixture was melted and smooth. I removed the bowl from the saucepan, whisked 1 1/4 cups of sugar and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract into the chocolate, and then mixed in 2 large eggs (room temperature – a *must* for baking!), 1/2 cup of low-fat buttermilk, and 3/4 cup of shelled, unsalted pistachios. Finally, I folded in the flour mixture I had set aside earlier until everything was just incorporated.
I poured the batter into my prepared cake pan, placed the cake pan on a baking sheet *just in case*, and baked the cake at 350F for 68 minutes. A toothpick inserted in the center should come out with a few moist crumbs attached; if it’s clean, the cake has been overbaked. My cakes cracked slightly on top both times, but it doesn’t matter because the top becomes the bottom in the end.
I let the cake cool 5 minutes in the pan and then ran a paring knife around the edges. I carefully placed a cooling rack upside down over the cake and then inverted the cake onto the rack. (Mine came out clean and easy both times.) I peeled the parchment paper off of the “new” top and let the cake cool for 3 hours.
When the cooling time was up, I brought 1/2 cup of heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. (Don’t let it come to a rolling boil!) I added 4 ounces of coarsely chopped semisweet chocolate and let the mixture sit for 5 minutes. When the time was up, I whisked the mixture together until it was uniform and smooth, let it cool for 5 minutes, poured it over the top of the cake, and used a table knife to spread it evenly over the top and the sides. I sprinkled the top with 1/4 cup of coarsely chopped pistachios to finish it. (Don’t forget to place strips of parchment around and under the cake if you want a clean serving platter. Just remove them after about 30 minutes so the ganache can set first.)
The first time I made the cake, I served it at room temperature; I thought the chocolate flavor was a bit overwhelming. I stored it in the refrigerator and had some the next day, though, and the chocolate flavor had mellowed considerably. Knowing this, I chilled the cake for about 5 hours before serving it to my guests last night. It was absolutely perfect.
If you need to make something special for a chocolate lover, this dessert is IT. It has rich flavor, a bit of silkiness from the ganache, and I love the crunch of the pistachios on the inside and outside of the cake. Two guests commented on how much they enjoyed the texture transition from the fudge-y center to the slightly chewy edges, and I have to agree. This cake is a winner.
TIPS: If you’ve never floured a cake pan, have no fear – it’s really easy. Take a small piece of butter and use your hands to coat the pan. Place a tablespoon or so of flour into the pan and roll and tap it around until the entire inside surface is coated. Dump out any excess flour.
And to recycle an old tip: If the “homemade double boiler” thing isn’t quite making sense, look at it this way: The mouth of the bowl should be bigger than the mouth of the saucepan. That way, the bowl will slide down into the saucepan a bit but will still sit a few inches above the bottom.
Recipe link: Chocolate-Pistachio Torte