Currant, Grappa, and Pine Nut Torte
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pine_nut_torteThis is for all of you on gluten-free diets who feel like dessert is no longer any fun. It is absolutely not a “healthy” recipe by the low-fat, low cholesterol standards of “healthy”, but it is high in anti-oxidant rich dark chocolate, moderate in sugar, rich, satisfying, and everything a dessert indulgence should be. Your dinner guests will never miss the gluten, and neither will you!

It is an adaptation of a recipe by Alice Medrich, from her book Bittersweet. She is one of my absolute favorite cook book authors because her recipes are extremely well tested and always come out beautifully. She plays with alternative sugars and flours, and her recipes are definitely for grown-up tastes. The only significant changes I made to the original recipe were to change the semolina flour to quinoa flour, and to suggest minor modifications for less common ingredients. I also added more detail to the instructions for those of you who may have less experience in the kitchen.

This recipe has more steps and is a bit more complicated than usual for this newsletter, but worth the extra effort. It took my husband about an hour to do all the steps and get the cake into the oven. Make sure you read it through a few times before starting so you understand the flow of things. You will need two large bowls. Use the largest one for the egg yolk/chocolate because everything will eventually end up in that bowl. This is a time to pull out the stand mixer. I have not found my hand-held mixer to be up to the task of whipping egg whites to the necessary firmness for this recipe. Enjoy!

¼ cup grappa (you could substitute another brandy if you don’t have grappa)
1/3 cup dried currants

¼ cup whole almonds
¼ cup quinoa flour (Take ¼ cup quinoa and grind it in a coffee grinder until it is about the texture of uncooked cream-of-wheat. Re-measure after grinding for your ¼ cup for the recipe.)

9 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (my favorite is Scharffenberger 70%, available at Whole Foods and worth every penny!)
14 Tbsp. (1¾ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

6 large eggs, separated into two large bowls

1 cup organic sugar, divided into 2/3 plus 1/3
1/8 tsp salt
¼ tsp cream of tartar

3 Tbsp pine nuts

Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

A 9-by-3-inch springform pan with a removable bottom.

Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Butter the cake pan, and then line the bottom with a circle of parchment paper.

In a small bowl, combine the grappa and currants. Set aside.

In a food processor, pulse the almonds and semolina flour until the almonds are very finely ground. If you don’t have a food processor you can do this in smaller batches in a coffee grinder. Just be sure you wipe the coffee out of it first! Set aside.

Place the chocolate and butter in a large heatproof bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir occasionally until nearly melted. Remove from the heat and stir until melted and smooth. OR microwave on medium (50% power) for about 2-3 minutes. Stir until completely melted and smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg yolks with 2/3 cup of the sugar and the salt until pale and thick. (I use my stand mixer for this step with the whisk attachment. It will take about 2-3 minutes on medium speed for the yolks to become lighter in color and start to thicken, so be patient. Be sure to wash and dry the whisk attachment and use a clean bowl before whipping the egg whites in a later step.)

Stir in the warm chocolate mixture and the grappa and currants (use all the remaining liquid in the currant bowl). Set aside.

In a large, clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar with an electric mixer at medium speed until white and foamy. Gradually sprinkle in the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, beating at high speed until almost stiff. When they are ready, the egg whites will become firmer, less shiny, and will stay nearly upright when the beater is lifted out.

Scrape about ¼ of the egg whites onto the chocolate mixture, sprinkle all of the almond mixture over the top, and fold together. Fold in the remaining whites. (Folding is a bit of an art. Use the largest rubber spatula you have and very gently scrape from the bottom of the bowl, bringing the chocolate mixture up and over the egg whites, repeating until the egg whites are fully incorporated into the chocolate mixture. The goal is to combine all the ingredients with minimal loss to the loft of the egg whites, since the egg whites provide the leavening for this cake.)

Scrape the batter into the prepared pan. Sprinkle the top with the pine nuts.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes (if you use a chocolate with a lower cocoa solid percentage, baking time may need to increase by up to 10 minutes), or until a toothpick inserted into the cake about 1½ inches from the edge comes out clean. The center of the cake should still jiggle slightly when the pan is jostled and still be gooey if tested. Set the cake on a rack to cool completely; the surface of the cake will crack and fall as it cools.

To serve, slide a slim knife around the sides of the cake to release it. Remove the pan sides and transfer the cake to a serving platter. Sprinkle a little powdered sugar over the top before serving, if desired.