This super-moist, versatile chocolate loaf cake is slathered with rich Gianduja ganache and caramelized hazelnuts. It’s an elegant, incredibly delicious treat you’ll want to serve for any and all occasions, from picnics to birthdays.
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A summer picnic is probably the best way to enjoy the warmer season, yet I’m guilty of not planning one often enough. There is just no good reason why, and the cold, snow-filled winter we have just endured has made me more determined than ever to maximize this upcoming picnic season.
There are two more reasons why picnics are on my mind these days. The first is that I’ll be returning to Paris late May, and if a picnic capital had to be named, it would be the City of Lights. The shops, the food, the wine, and the parks: everything in Paris seems to have been created to allow lazy hours of drinking wine and sharing delicious treats with friends. I’ve traveled to Paris many times and even lived there for a while many years ago, and impromptu picnics that stretch well into the night are probably the fondest memories I have of my time there.
The second reason why picnics are on my mind is a brand-new cookbook. Written by chefs Shaheen Peerbhai and Jennie Levitt, Paris Picnic Club is sure to stir up alfresco dining impulses. Contrary to what the title might imply, the book doesn’t solely contain French- or Parisian-inspired recipes; rather, a wide selection of treats that incorporate flavors from around the world. The book was titled to commemorate an ambitious project Peerbhai and Levitt conducted in Paris: every Friday for a year, they would prepare picnic-style meals for their friends. Word-of-mouth soon transformed the intimate affair into a full-blown pop-up restaurant that would serve food to eighty hungry guests every week.
I’ve been following Shaheen Peerbhai on Instagram for many years, and I remember witnessing her going through culinary school—I lived vicariously through her Cordon Bleu training!—then carrying out the ambitious project Paris Picnic Club became. I was impressed by her and Jennie’s enthusiasm, guts, and hard work, and secretly dreamed I’d get to attend one of their events. I never made it, but now I can create and taste their food in my own kitchen, thanks to their colorful cookbook.
Chapters are divided by course: there are small plates, sharing platters, breads, tartines, and desserts, as well as a great selection of virgin drinks, wine advice, and helpful basic recipes that you will refer to again and again. I love that they also include expert picnicking tips, favorite shops, and best Paris picnic spots. I’d rank a Parisian picnic high on a list of things you should do before you die, and this book has everything to convince you to add one to your bucket list, too.
Flipping through the book for the first time, I stuck sticky notes on lots and lots of recipes, but I quickly noticed I had zeroed in on desserts, which I found especially mouth-watering and creative. The Rye and Molasses Cake with Fresh Pears, Apricot and Rosemary Tarte Tatin with Honey Cream, Tonka Brown Butter Madeleines, Chocolate Brownie Cookies with Black Sesame Salted Caramel, and Orange Fennel Cookies will all soon appear in my kitchen, but today, I’m sharing the recipe that jumped out at me first: a “Super-Moist” Chocolate Loaf Cake with Gianduja Ganache and Caramelized Hazelnuts.
What makes the cake “super-moist” is the use of oil instead of butter, which means the chocolate loaf cake remains soft even as it comes out of the fridge (perfect for late-night cravings!). The batter also incorporates eggs, heavy cream, milk, and cocoa powder, which creates a truly lovely, quintessential chocolate cake. I like this cake so much that I’m thinking it will probably replace the classic chocolate sponge cake I’ve been making for my son’s birthday every year.
The Gianduja Ganache is a revelatory frosting. Gianduja is an Italian chocolate and hazelnut spread. Ring a bell? Yes, Nutella is a type of Gianduja spread, but if you’ve never tried to make chocolate and hazelnut spread at home, you’re in for a treat. For starters, it has nothing to do with the industrially produced spread—in fact, I’d say it’s an entirely different thing. Homemade Gianduja is so rich and nutty and deeply flavored, and yet, for all those outstanding qualities, it’s not even hard to make. The authors provide clever tips for making a smoother spread; for instance, they advise you to process the nuts while they’re still warm from being toasted in the oven. Warm hazelnuts turn to a paste more easily than cold ones. The ganache is sweetened with icing sugar, which makes it more indulgent and closer in taste to a frosting—if you tasted it blindly, you’d swear there’s butter in there. The result is a spread you’ll want to eat by the spoonful, so you’ll be happy to learn the recipe produces more than you’ll need to frost the chocolate loaf cake. Jar it and enjoy sweet, chocolatey breakfasts for days to come!
You could consider the Caramelized Hazelnuts optional, but they’re a delightful finishing touch. The recipe actually has you making praline, boiling sugar, adding the nuts, spreading it and letting it harden, but stopping before you would normally grind the candied nuts to produce the fine powder that pastry chefs use in chocolates and cakes. Decorate the chocolate loaf cake with the caramelized hazelnuts for a spectacular effect, and make sure to add a generous sprinkle of flaky sea salt for that truly addictive savory touch.
I’ll be making this chocolate loaf cake again and again—though I’ve promised myself to bake it in a square pan the next time around, if only to allow me to increase the Gianduja-Ganache-to-cake ratio! If you’re indeed considering making this chocolate loaf cake for a picnic, I’m also thinking a thinner cake would allow you to pre-slice it into squares, making it easier to transport and serve. Either way, take my word for it: this cake will delight you and everyone you offer a piece to.
Tell me how you liked it! Leave a comment or take a picture and tag it with @foodnouveau on Instagram.
Disclosure notice: I received a copy of Paris Picnic Club and the opportunity to host a giveaway on my blog by the publisher, Sterling Epicure. As always, companies never dictate the content I create, or the opinions I express. I only use products I genuinely believe in or feature books I truly love.
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