Rich and dense, with a truffle-like texture and a hint of orange, this Chocolate Hazelnut Torte is a decadent treat. Naturally gluten- and grain-free! This torte can be made ahead and stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Return to room temperature before serving.
Preheat oven to 275 degrees F. Butter a 9-inch springform pan and dust with unsweetened cocoa powder.
Combine dates, orange juice, and vanilla bean in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer for 5 minutes, until dates are very soft. Drain dates in a fine mesh sieve, gently pressing out the liquid. Discard the vanilla bean and reserve the cooking liquid. Puree dates in the bowl of a food processor until smooth. (You should end up with about 3/4 cup of date paste.***) Set aside to cool.
Melt butter in a small saucepan. Remove from heat and add bittersweet chocolate, stirring until melted and smooth. Set aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat eggs with sugar on medium-high speed until thick and pale, about 5-8 minutes. (If using coconut sugar, stir together eggs and sugar and let stand for 5 minutes before whipping to help the sugar dissolve. This is not necessary if using brown sugar.) Gently mix in melted chocolate/butter mixture and orange zest until no streaks remain. Add date paste and 3 tablespoons of reserve orange juice, gently mixing until combined. Fold in toasted hazelnut meal.
Pour batter into prepared pan and even it out with an offset spatula. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of the torte comes out with only a few crumbs. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Make the Ganache
Place chopped semisweet chocolate in a medium bowl. In a small saucepan, heat heavy cream until just beginning to simmer (do not boil). Remove from heat and pour over chocolate. Let stand 5-10 minutes, then whisk until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth and glossy. Whisk in Grand Marnier, if using.
Pour ganache onto the center of the cooled torte and spread to edges in an even layer. Refrigerate until set (about 15 minutes). Slice into wedges and serve with additional chopped toasted hazelnuts and orange zest to garnish, if desired.
*Commercial nut meals/flours have become a lot easier to find in regular grocery stores the past few years. (At least three stores in my town stock the Bob's Red Mill Hazelnut Meal/Flour I used here.) To toast the Meal, I bake it in an even layer on a sheet pan at 350 degree F for about 10-12 minutes, until fragrant. Cool before folding into batter.Make your own Hazelnut Meal: If you're unable to find ground Hazelnut Meal/Flour, you can substitute homemade. Using 2 cups whole hazelnuts, follow the toasting instructions above, shaking pan once or twice while baking for even toasting. When ready, the hazelnut skins will begin to split. Remove from oven, let cool slightly, and place between two layers of kitchen towels. Gently agitate the hazelnuts between the towels to release most of the skins (which can be bitter). When skinned hazelnuts are completely cool, transfer in 1/2-cup batches to a food processor fitted with a steel blade, or the grain container of a high-speed blender. Pulse until finely ground, being careful not to over-process into hazelnut butter.**For a dairy-free alternative, substitute canned, full-fat coconut milk for the heavy cream. It makes a beautiful ganache!***Depending on the size of the dates you use, you might end up with extra paste. Don't throw this away! Date paste keeps well, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a week. It's delicious in smoothies, spread onto toasted English Muffins, or used in other baked goods.