French Laundry: Chocolate Cakes and Gelato with Toasted Hazelnuts and Syrup

I love it when a book never disappoints, whether I am doing a complete verbatim recipe or in this case using it for a template and making parts of a recipe. The book I am talking about is of course the French Laundry Cookbook. This lovely plate of confections is based on the recipe for Chocolate Cakes with Red Beet Ice Cream and Toasted Walnut Sauce from Keller’s book. Like most of my desserts this actually started off with ice cream or gelato. One of my absolute favorite things both to make and eat, ice cream comes first most of the time and then the rest of the dessert follows…or not. Afterall, a bowl of homemade ice cream and a good movie is just perfect sometimes. This was for a nice dinner party though for a few good friends so I wanted to make something elegant.

I prepared two gelato recipes, a salted caramel one and a caramelized cocoa nib one. The first is straight out of Jeni’s Splendid Ice Cream. The second one uses Jeni’s ice cream base where I steeped a bunch of Theo’s cocoa nibs. Cocoa nibs are basically small pieces of the shell of the cocoa pod. They taste of slightly bitter and intense cocoa with a bit of an edge. During churning I mixed in some more of the same nibs but these ones were caramelized giving them a great bitter-sweet taste and very crunchy texture. Making caramelized cocoa nibs is no different than making caramelized almonds or peanuts. You start of with the nibs and sugar in a pot and you keep stirring and heating until the sugar melts and caramelized around the nibs.

The cake in this recipe is a flourless chocolate cake where most of the structure and the leavening comes from whipped egg whites. All the flavor is from the dark chocolate and cocoa in the mix. I baked the individual cakes until set but still a bit soft. These are delicious cakes that can be used in many recipes where a nice elegant cake is required that is both light and satisfying.

The French Laundry recipe makes a couple of components based on walnuts. Instead of walnuts I went with hazelnuts. First I toasted the nuts, then I candied them. To candy the roasted nuts, I simmered them in a mixture of sugar and white wine. The nuts are then sprinkled with salt and allowed to dry while the cooking liquid is reduced until we have a hazelnut syrup ready for serving.

To serve I plated a cake on a small puddle of the syrup and topped it with two candied hazelnuts. A scoop of gelato goes between the two hazelnuts (some plates got salted caramel there, others the cocoa nib). On the side goes another scoop of gelato on top of caramelized nibs. The whole thing then gets drizzled with a bit more of the hazelnut syrup. This was a big hit and rightly so. It’s complex, beautiful and delicious.

Oh, here is what preceded the dessert too; beef tenderloin in red wine sauce, kale and rich potato puree

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