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Baking : One Cake for the Road


A few months ago one of my cooking students telephoned with a unique request. She and her husband, along with a group of friends, take in the Indianapolis 500 each spring. They all contribute to a picnic lunch, which they eat en route. Typically they buy a honey-baked ham and then cook the side dishes and dessert to go with it.

This year, one person volunteered to assemble a roasted red-skin potato salad, another to prepare green beans tossed in a mustard vinaigrette, and someone else to bake homemade sourdough rolls and bring minted iced tea. My friend's responsibility was dessert, and she asked me to suggest something--preferably chocolate--that would travel well.

Only a few weeks before, I had included a delicious chocolate-hazelnut cake iced with a dark chocolate glaze in one of my classes. This sweet confection can be made up to two days ahead, is easily transportable and is uncomplicated to put together. Prepare the cake by adding a mixture of melted butter and cocoa powder to eggs beaten with both brown and white sugars. After flour is incorporated, a touch of coffee and chopped toasted hazelnuts are stirred in to add extra dimensions of taste and texture. Make the glaze by heating together butter, semisweet chocolate pieces and coffee until smooth, shiny and spreadable.

But you don't have to make a journey to our country's most celebrated car race to have a reason for enjoying a picnic menu that includes this scrumptious torte. A visit to the beach, the mountains, a lake or even to a special spot in your own back yard could provide an excuse for entertaining outdoors.



3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 large eggs

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup light-brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 tablespoon freeze-dried coffee, preferably espresso, dissolved in 1/4 cup hot water

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 cup finely chopped, toasted hazelnuts

Chocolate Glaze, heated until warm and spreadable

Spray 9-inch round baking pan with non-stick cooking spray. Coat with flour, then shake out excess.

Place cocoa powder and butter in top of double boiler and set over simmering water. Stir often until mixture is quite smooth, 4 to 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Beat eggs in bowl of electric mixer on medium speed. Gradually add granulated and light-brown sugars in thin stream and beat until mixture is slightly thickened. Add vanilla, melted cocoa mixture and coffee dissolved in water. On slow speed, add 1 cup flour, salt and baking powder. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in hazelnuts.

Pour batter into prepared pan, spreading top evenly with spatula. Bake at 350 degrees on center shelf until top is firm and wood pick inserted in center comes out slightly coated but not wet, 30 minutes. Remove cake from oven and cool to room temperature in pan.

Run knife around sides of pan and remove cake to serving plate. Slide sheets of wax paper under cake. Gently pour Chocolate Glaze on top, carefully and quickly tilting cake back and forth to cover evenly. Use thin, flat spatula to smooth out icing over top and sides of cake. Remove wax paper. Refrigerate cake, uncovered, 20 to 30 minutes or up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving. Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Chocolate Glaze

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into small chunks

5 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small chunks

1/2 cup coffee made from 1/2 cup hot water and 2 tablespoons instant coffee

Place chocolate, butter and coffee in top of double boiler set over simmering water. Stir until mixture is smooth, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat.

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