Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Strawberry Chia Sauce and Hazelnut Ganache

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Closer to ‘Walden Pond’ than the ‘Joy of Cooking’, I read off the back of the book to Will as we drove from the library.

You do know ‘Walden’, yes? I asked.

No idea, he said.

It’s a great American classic! I astonished, the former English major in me kicking in. You should have read it in 11th grade along with Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘The Scarlet Letter’, and Jonathan Swift’s satire about eating Irish babies. Yes?

No idea. I hated English. I almost failed that year.

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Whoompf. Deflated, I let the conversation sink in.

No wonder I don’t get any poetry. 

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And then recalling all the frustrated exchanges about technology, the wireless button this, the computer gidget that, the tiny intricate parts on his truck I really should stop asking about, the movies I’ve never seen nor heard of, and his daily exasperated, why-don’t-you-stop-clicking-random-things-for-god’s-sake!?! 

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That year he lived and worked with my parents, they were incredulous he didn’t know a halter or a hoof-pick. Walter good-naturedly gave him a hard time for all the daily first time learnings. We don’t all grow up on a ranch, dad, I wanted to say when I learned of it.

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And then, the last we were home, Will gave the ribbing right back when he taught Walter about an iPhone, and we could all see the dawn of realization come across dad in knowing all those second nature morsels of truth in the ranching life were his and there he was being the one who didn’t know.

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We each have our knowings, interests, and talents. The divine interweaving of their chaos into our social network is a special kind of art; you like this and I like that, and we still love each other and are friends and can relate; the somehow perfectly messy order of it is beautiful and awe-inducing, don’t you think?

(and if you don’t and it’s just me then point in case!)

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Chocolate Hazelnut Cake with Strawberry Chia Sauce + Hazelnut Ganache
makes two 6-inch layers or one 9-inch layer, gluten + dairy-free
Recipe Updated: 2/20/22

– This cake is intensely dark, and about the best chocolate cake I’ve had. William tends to like fluffy white cake-mix type cakes and is real particular about sweets. He gobbled this up day after day. Considering recipe testing, this is a stamp of approval in the truest sense!
– The cake can be made with and without eggs. The egg-free version is denser and more brownie-like than the version with eggs. We didn’t think it lived up to the egg version on the first day, but it won out as the days went on, and tends to be my go-to when making this regularly.  Give the flax egg version a try by mixing 2 tablespoons ground flax with 6 Tbs. warm water to form a flax slurry in lieu of the eggs.
– The chocolate is paired with locally grown hazelnuts and strawberries picked fresh from the farm. They are the most insanely delicious strawberries. Mixed with chia seed to thicken up into a sauce, they require no additional sweetener. Add them between the layers with the ganache and serve them on the side. Depending on your berry availability, sweeten them up as necessary.
– For an everyday, less decadent version, I switch out the hazelnut for almond flour by weight, make one larger layer, and make a simple dairy-free buttercream mixed with about 1 Tbs. of your favorite fruit jam to lightly frost. It’s simpler, but still quite special.

for the cake

  • 3/4 cup / 115 gr brown rice flour
  • 1/4 cup / 28 gr hazelnut meal (ground from toasted and shelled hazelnuts)
  • 1/2 cup /40 gr raw cacoa powder*
  • 2 tablespoons / 16 gr arrowroot powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 3/4 cup /225 gr maple syrup
  • 1/4 cup /55 gr coconut oil (soft, not melted)
  • 2 eggs, at room temperature (or 2 Tbs. flax with water, see above)
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1/2 cup / 120 ml unsweetened hemp milk

for the strawberry chia sauce

  • 4 cups / 620 gr frozen strawberries
  • 4 Tbs. / 40 gr chia seeds

for the hazelnut ganache

  • 3/4-1 cup / 180-240 gr unsweetened hemp milk (or other non-dairy milk)
  • 275 grams (10 oz.) high quality dark chocolate
  • 1/4 cup / 28 gr hazelnut meal
  • chopped hazelnuts for garnish

for the cake

  • Preheat oven to 350° F and line the bottoms of each cake pan with parchment paper.  Then rub a little coconut oil up the sides of the pans and set aside.
  • In a large bowl, whisk together the first 6 ingredients, set aside.  In another large bowl, combine the maple syrup and coconut oil with a whisk and a strong arm until it’s light and fluffy.  Add the eggs or flax eggs one at a time until incorporated; then add the vanilla and milk; mix again until  it is combined.  Next, a bit at a time, stir in the dry ingredients to the wet.
  • Divide the batter evenly between the cake pans and bake for 25-30 minutes. Check after out 20 minutes so as not to over bake.
  • Transfer the layers to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes; then remove layers and rest them until completely cool.

for the strawberry chia sauce

  • Place the strawberries and seeds in a food processor and puree until smooth or still slightly chunky (your choice). Then turn into a container and place in the fridge for firm up for an hour or more (this might depend on the water content of your berries).

for the hazelnut ganache

  • In a food processor, puree the hazelnut meal and chocolate together until finely ground. In either a small bowl in the microwave or a small pan over the stovetop, heat the milk to frothy and boiling. Next, with the food processor running, slowly pour in the hot milk to form a thin sauce. Pour into a bowl and leave to sit out at room temperature or if you’re impatient, put in the fridge for an hour or two. It should become quite thick, like buttercream frosting.

assemble

  • Level the cake layers, if necessary, with a long serrated bread knife.  Place one layer on the cake stand or plate, and using a cake spatula or thick knife, put about 2-3 tablespoons of ganache on one cake layer and spread evenly.  Spread roughly 2-3 tablespoons of the strawberry sauce over the frosting, leaving about 1/2 inch of space from the edge.  place the other cake layer on top and frost the rest of the cake.  Garnish with extra chopped hazelnuts, if desired.

If keeping the cake around for longer than a day or two, store in the fridge.

*for reasons to start using a little more raw cacoa instead of cocoa powder, Sara gives a great explanation.

The Fall Flavors Raw Brownie

 

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I loaded up on Italian plums at the farmers market last weekend. Their sign said “last of the season” and I sighed because we’ve moved so quickly into the autumn months. It was a game day and all the college students have arrived back in town. These past few days, the temperature still got uncharacteristically up into the ’90s ’round these parts, but the mornings and evenings say summer has ended. It’s dark until 7:00 am. It gets dark at 7:00pm. Blink and those last few plums will be missed. The remaining local peaches sold out early at the market a week ago and the melons are on their final hurrah.

 

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Well and truly, though I’m reluctant to transition at this time every year, I’m a sucker for each new seaon. There are new-again flavors to be savored and weather and beauty in the natural world to be appreciated. Fall is my MOST FAVORITE of all because of the crisp mornings, colorful leaves, and the natural bent of light that slants just so each afternoon. Plus, I like comfy sweaters, hugging my cuppa throughout the day, the return of the rain, and warming spices that mean more in this season than all the others.

 

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The Recipe Redux folks requested a recipe this month with dehydrated food. I don’t have the equipment or the space these days to go all DIY and and get my dehydration-station on, but I do have grandparents that have stocked my parents’ freezer with no small shortfall of prunes. My mom never uses them. I’m the only one who ever takes a random bag home, and even then, I’ve only developed one recipe over the years that I really like to eat prunes in. No longer. They go well with hazelnuts, chocolate, and spices. Plus, they can be enjoyed all season long, since you know, they’re dehydrated and all.

 
 
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This brownie really is lovely and boasts a huge plus: it’s nutrient-dense. I know all my friends and relatives roll their eyes because I make desserts that always have some form of health benefit, but raw desserts are simply the best. These brownies have all the good flavors, natural sugars from the fruit, and are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats from the raw cacao and hazelnuts.

 
 
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Fall Flavors Raw Brownies, adapted from Oh, Ladycakes
2 cups roasted hazelnuts
6 Tbs. cacao powder
pinch salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/8 tsp. ground nutmeg
8 medjool dates
1/2 cup prunes
1-2 Tbs. water
 
  • In a food processor, blend the nuts, cacao powder, salt, and spices until they are all finely chopped and incorporated.
  • Next, toss in the dates (pitted and halved), and the prunes. Process until a paste begins to form, and add 1-2 Tbs. water until the mixture just begins to form a dough, but isn’t too sticky.
  • Line a 8×8 pan with parchment paper, and scoop the brownies in. Flatten them across the whole pan, and then stick in the freezer to harden up for about 30 minutes. They can then be removed and cut into square. If you’re not going to serve and eat them all right away, store them in the fridge or freezer in a covered container. This batch makes about 16 brownies.