Chocolate With Francois: Pine Nut Turron Cake

I'm a little late with this post, but better late than never, right? Joanne, who blogs over at Apple Crumbles, chose pine nut turron cake for December's Chocolate With Francois recipe. (We make a recipe from Francois Payard's Chocolate Epiphany each month.) I made the pine nut turron cake for a small New Year's Eve gathering -- for friends who I knew would be open to trying an interesting and different sort of cake.

I have to be honest and say I wasn't thrilled about the choice. I like chocolate and nuts, but chocolate and pine nuts did not sound at all appealing to me. I grumbled and groaned further when I read through the recipe and saw that I would have to get my hands on some cocoa butter and a sheet of acetate. But, not being one to turn down a baking challenge and always the optimist when it comes to food, I decided to take on this recipe wholeheartedly. I figured there was a chance I could be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.

I ordered the cocoa butter from King Arthur Flour and found template plastic to use in place of the acetate. It's basically a hard, glossy sheet of plastic. (Joanne used edible images, which I think I might look for next time I do something like this because her cake had a really nice design on top.)

With all the ingredients now on hand, I set about making the cake. (I'm not going to reprint the recipe here, but you can find it on Apple Crumbles if you want it.) The base layer is a sacher cake, which is popular in Austria. When I went there back when I was in high school, I tried a slice of sacher torte. I remember it being a very delicious cake, however, I did not find the version I made to be overly delicious when I tasted a piece of the scrap. So I made an almond syrup and brushed the cake layer with it. (Almond syrup is just 1 part water and one part sugar. Bring it to a boil and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and add almond extract to taste. Let cool before brushing it on the cake.)

While the cake was cooling, I made the chocolate layer for the top. It's chocolate melted with cocoa butter that is then spread on the acetate (or template plastic) and put in the fridge to harden. It miraculously gives you a smooth, shiny sheet of chocolate. I was definitely impressed with that part of the cake, and I now see how fancy restaurants and bakeries must achieve that look.

The middle is a gooey chocolate and pine nut mixture. The pine nuts are toasted and then processed until they form a paste. Next they are mixed with melted chocolate, cocoa butter, butter, and salt. My mixture was very loose, so I gave it a while to set up. I didn't see any way it would thicken enough to match the picture in the cookbook -- it seems that no one else who made this cake got theirs to look like the picture either, so I have a feeling the picture is a bit inaccurate.

You're supposed to make the cake upside down, spreading the chocolate-pine nut mixture on top of the melted chocolate on the acetate and then topping it with the sacher cake. Based on the consistency of the chocolate-pine nut mixture, I decided not to do it that way. I spread about half of the chocolate-pine nut mixture on the cake and then put it in the fridge to firm up. After about 10 minutes, I took it out and spread the rest of the chocolate-pine nut mixture on the cake and then topped it with the smooth chocolate layer. I wrapped it in plastic and left it in the fridge overnight.

The next day, I let it sit out for about an hour before I attempted to cut it. My boyfriend helped by peeling away the plastic piece -- I was a little nervous about it sticking, but it came right off.

Cutting the cake requires some patience. I had to keep running back to the sink to reheat the knife under running hot water. You can cut through about a slice or two and then the knife gets too cold and the chocolate layer cracks. The cake is supposed to be cut in triangles, so I cut a few of those before I decided that rectangles would look better and be a more appropriate size.

And now I bet you're all wondering how this strange cake tasted. Well, my old roommate and her boyfriend, who now live in Switzerland, actually really liked it and said it was like something you'd get in a nice restaurant in Europe. Maybe the flavor combination is more popular there? It had a hint of saltiness, and salt and chocolate is definitely in -- but just something about those pine nuts. My other friend and her boyfriend thought it had an interesting taste and assured me it wasn't as terrible as I had suggested it might be. No one seemed to dislike it, and some may even have been pleasantly surprised by it. That made me feel a lot better because when I tasted it beforehand, I thought it was a bit odd, as did my boyfriend.

I think someone who really loves pine nuts, in any form (not just in savory dishes like me), and really loves chocolate will appreciate and enjoy the pine nut turron cake. Me? I want to make it again with hazelnuts. I do love Nutella. I've been eating the leftover cake by plying off the chocolate top and pulling away the cake with my fork, reassembling those together, and casting the filling aside. I like it much better that way -- and not all of my hard work goes to waste.

Don't forget to check out Chocolate With Francois to see what other members thought of this recipe.

Have you ever tried a strange combination of flavors in a dessert that just didn't work for you?