Friday, February 11, 2022


It never ceases to amaze me how versatile baking can be. A handful of simple ingredients can create a treasure trove of divine desserts, from everyday, effortless quick cakes, to stunning centrepieces that steal the show. And everything in between, of course.
When time is of the essence, quick recipes are a lifesaver, and even they, in all their simplicity, offer a whole array of amazing breads, cakes, puddings, and custards.
There is always a treat that can be made for unexpected, but dear guests, for an impromptu brunch, or a simple sweet craving.
My love for cake bars is very well known, and I truly believe these are one of the best I have ever made. Absolutely fudgy cake base, fantastic hazelnut cheesecake filling, smooth cream topping, and a crown of dark chocolate glaze.
Speaking of the glaze, it is one of the first I have ever learnt to make, and I still love it to this day. It is always delightfully soft, even when the dessert is refrigerated. The dessert fork simply slides through it.
Effortless in making, effortless in enjoying.
I often say that cake bars are even better when frozen; however, these bars should only be kept in the refrigerator. Their charm is in the softness, in the layers that almost meld together, and I feel that freezing them would not have the same mouthfeel.
As always, enjoy them with a tiny cup of espresso, in good company.

For the chocolate fudge cake
150 grams unsalted butter, softened
150 grams icing sugar, sifted
2 medium eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
120 millilitres whole milk, cold
120 millilitres freshly brewed coffee, hot
150 grams plain flour
50 grams cornflour
20 grams unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons baking powder
small pinch of salt
For the hazelnut cheesecake
200 grams Mascarpone, softened
50 grams icing sugar
150 grams ground toasted hazelnuts
½ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
For the cream topping
100 millilitres double cream
30 grams icing sugar
¼ teaspoon vanilla bean paste
For the chocolate glaze
100 grams cooking chocolate (55%)
25 millilitres vegetable oil

Sift the flour with the cornflour, cocoa powder, baking powder, and salt, and set it aside. In a large bowl, beat together the softened butter and icing sugar with an electric mixer on high, until lightened in colour and texture, about 3 minutes. Add in the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each. Add the vanilla and blend well once again. If you notice the batter splitting, add a teaspoon of the dry ingredients, to help it emulsify.
In a separate medium bowl, combine the milk with the hot coffee. Add half of the wet ingredients to the butter batter, along with half of the dry ingredients. Blend together on the lowest speed, add the rest of the ingredients, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and blend everything well with a wire whisk. This will ensure the batter is not overmixed.
Take a small rectangular cake pan, ideally with a pop up bottom (18x18 cm), and line the bottom and sides with the baking parchment. Add in the batter, level it, and bake in a preheated oven, at 180°C, for about 20 minutes. Check it for doneness at around the 15-minute mark, making sure it bakes through, but stays moist and fudgy. Once baked, let it cool for about 5 minutes in the pan, and then remove it to cool down completely on a wire rack.
When the cake is cool to the touch, make the filling and the topping. Pour the chilled double cream into a large bowl, and whip it to soft peaks, either with a balloon whisk or an electric mixer. Add in the vanilla and the icing sugar, and whip to firm peaks. Set aside.
Place the softened Mascarpone cheese into a large bowl, and whisk lightly, just to loosen it up slightly. Add in the icing sugar and the vanilla, and blend. Add in the ground hazelnuts, as well as a big spoonful of the whipped cream, and fold everything together with a rubber spatula. This will lighten up the cheesecake filling, giving it a lighter, mousse-like texture.
Place the cooled cake back into the pan, evenly spread the filling over it, and gently spread the whipped cream over the filling. The filling is somewhat firmer due to the hazelnuts, so the cream will go smoothly over it. Place the cake into the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, preferably overnight.
To glaze the cake, melt together the chocolate with the vegetable oil, either over low heat or in the microwave, making sure the mixture is blended very well. Start mixing the chocolate as it cools down, and as soon as it starts to gently thicken up, as soon as it can coat the back of a spoon, glaze the cake, and shake the pan gently so it evens out. As soon as the chocolate sets, the cake is ready to be sliced into bars and served. Yields 16 servings.

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