Losing My Religion Cake a.k.a. Traditional Hazelnut Torte

by Ruth Almon

Birthdays and holidays will forever be linked in my mind with hazelnut torte. My mother made it. My aunt made it. My other aunt made it. I’ve since discovered that every woman from Chernowitz (a city that’s now part of the Ukraine) make it too. I keep imagining it as a local rite of passage, “you’re becoming a woman now, you must learn to make hazelnut torte… or else!”

How do I love thee hazelnut torte. Let me count the ways.

I love thee because thou art scrumptious.

I love thee because thou art nostalgic.

I love thee because thou art naturally gluten free without any weird and funky ingredients.

I see a lot of GF recipes with odd ingredients, like xanthan gum, or avocado and the like. I’m not knocking them… I can’t. I haven’t tried them. Xanthan gum may be the best thing since sliced bread (no gluten intended), but it isn’t a traditional ingredient. My grandmother wasn’t baking with weird flours and stabilizers. Avocado may actually be wonderful in desserts, I wouldn’t know. I prefer to save my avocados for savory dishes, like avocado salad.

This paleo cake isn’t about substituting out ingredients that contain gluten. That’s because it never contained gluten in the first place. It follows Michael Pollen’s rule, “Don’t eat anything your great-great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food.” My great-great-grandmother would not only recognize it – she probably baked it herself. So when I wanted to make a gluten-free birthday paleo cake for my son, this was a natural choice.

Why, one may wonder, have I decided to call this Losing My Religion Cake?

Well, as you might have noticed – if you’ve checked out my other recipes – I always emphasize quick and easy. I love finding recipes with just a few ingredients, and with just one or two steps. I commented that this cake was against my religion – my religion being kitchen simplicity. It’s not super complicated, but you do need to know what you’re doing. And it does have a few more steps than I’d like. It took me a couple of attempts to get it just right but don’t worry, I’ll make the instructions a lot more explicit than the somewhat vague recipe I got from my mom. Let me just say: this cake is totally worth it!

A note about dairy: This recipe uses cream – lots of it. My aunt used to make a delicious variation. Instead of coffee cream she used a shiny chocolate glaze. Unfortunately, I don’t have her recipe. If you’re looking to reduce the amount of dairy, substitute the coffee cream and chocolate coating with rich dark chocolate glaze. Chocolate and hazelnut meringue go great together.

One last thing before we get down to it. My friend made a comment about this cake, in between 2nd and 3rd helpings, and insisted I quote him in this post, so here it is: “It tastes goooood”.


Losing My Religion Hazelnut Torte

Ingredients for meringue:

4 large eggs (room temperature)

1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar

1 cup organic cane sugar

1 cup hazelnuts + 13 extra for decoration


Thin chocolate coating

85 gm. (3 oz.) good quality dark chocolate

1/4 cup heavy cream (preferably organic)


Ingredients for coffee cream icing:

2 1/2 cups of heavy cream (preferably organic)

2 tbsp. fine ground instant coffee

2 tbsp. icing sugar (yes, not paleo… but it’s not a lot)



To make the meringue

1. Place hazelnuts in a frying pan on medium heat. Lightly roast them for about 2 minutes, constantly moving them so they roast evenly. Most of the peel will fall off. Discard the fallen peel. Don’t worry about removing bits of peel that remain on the hazelnut.

Roasted hazelnuts, ready to be ground.

Roasted hazelnuts, ready to be ground.

2. Set aside the 13 nuts you’ll use for decoration. Grind the rest of the nuts in food processor (fast) or a manual nut grinder (tedious). The nuts should be quite finely ground with no chunks, but not like a flour.

ground hazelnuts

ground hazelnuts

3. Place room temperature egg whites and cream of tartar in a bowl and start whipping. If you’re not experienced whipping egg whites, you’ll find this tutorial very helpful.

4. Gradually add sugar and continue whipping until the egg whites are stiff and glossy.

5. Preheat the oven to 135 Celsius (275 Fahrenheit).

6. Carefully fold in ground hazelnuts.

7. Use a plate, compass, or other kitchen object to draw two circles of about 22 cm. (8 1/2 inch) diameter on a cookie sheet covered with parchment. See how to do this here.  Skip ahead in the video to minute 1:12 to see how to draw the circles, then to 2:18 to see how to spread the base.


Draw circles then color them in with meringue.

8. Place the meringue in the pre-heated oven and bake for one hour.

9. Turn off the oven and let the layers dry in the oven for at least one hour.

Baked meringue.

Baked meringue. Don’t worry if it isn’t perfect.

To make the chocolate coating

10. Melt chocolate with cream in a small saucepan.

11. Cool slightly, about a minute, and spread thinly over the top of the meringue layers. The chocolate prevents the meringue from absorbing too much of the icing and getting soggy.

12. Refrigerate.

Chocolate layer done.

Chocolate layer done.

To make the coffee cream icing

13. Beat the heavy cream. As you beat, gradually add ground coffee and icing sugar. Keep beating until you get stiff peaks. Great whipped cream tutorial with tips here.  I started out whipping the cream slowly like he does, but then gradually speeded up and didn’t do any hand whipping at the end, and the result was perfect.

Note: If you are using granulated coffee, squish the granules with the back of a spoon to pulverize them.

14. Place one of the meringue bases on a cake platter, then cover the top with coffee cream. Place the second meringue layer on the first, and then spread the rest of the cream over the top and around the sides.

15. Decorate with hazelnuts, then grate a bit of dark chocolate over the top for extra prettiness.

The hazelnut torte is ready!

The hazelnut torte is ready!

Congratulation! You are now qualified to be a Chernowitz housewife! Celebrate with a piece of cake.

Future paleofication plans: The next time I bake this cake, I’m going to reduce the sugar in the meringue and increase the hazelnuts– so ¾ cup sugar and 1 ¼ cup ground hazelnuts and see if that works. I’m also going to try making it with a dark chocolate icing, since I’d prefer not to use so much dairy.



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Posted in Paleo Desserts, Paleo Diet Recipes
9 comments on “Losing My Religion Cake a.k.a. Traditional Hazelnut Torte
  1. Shilly says:

    Haha, I saw this on Google and came in dying of curiosity to find out what’s a “Religion Cake” and why one would lose it :-) :-)

  2. Jeanette says:

    This is such a great cake. Why not use Coconut cream to whip and see what happens. It will work and it will be dairy free. The base is also wonderful for layering fruit themed cakes.
    Give the coconut cream a try, it will be amazing and not overly coconut flavoured

    • Ruth Almon says:

      I’m planning to make the cake soon with a chocolate frosting. I remember my aunt serving the same cake with a dark, shiny very chocolately icing and it was amazing. Unfortunately, I don’t have her recipe. If it comes out, I’ll add the option to my recipe.
      If you use coconut cream, please let us know how it turns out. I’ve never whipped coconut before.

  3. unchatenfrance says:

    Thank you so much for this recipe, it’s wonderful! My friends and family said it’s the best thing I’ve ever made (and I’m a fairly experienced baker) – that’s how good this cake is. I used 1/2 cup sugar and 1.5 cups hazelnuts and it worked beautifully. I also doubled the quantity of the ganache and used half to brush the meringue and half to add to the whipped cream. I didn’t feel like drawing circles so I baked one sheet of meringue in a jelly roll pan and cut it into thirds, ending up with a 3-layered rectangular torte. The meringue may crack while cutting but it was easy to “glue” it back with the chocolate. I will definitely be making this again (and I agree with the above comment that it tastes better the next day). Cheers!

    • Ruth Almon says:

      So glad it was a hit!
      I’m going to try the merangue with less sugar next time I make it. I usually reduce the amount of sugar in dessert recipes by quite a bit, but I wasn’t sure that it would still work if I fiddled with it, so I stuck to the original recipe. Thanks for the info!

  4. Sal says:

    This was everyones fave! I agree with Ilana– just a touch too much coffee on the whipped coffee cream. The torte tasted even better the next day. I recommend making the day before. A little tip for beginners like myself: place your bowl and whisk in the freezer before whipping your cream. Mine started to weep in a pool of coffee tears. I guess my kitchen was too warm. Had to trash that batch of cream and do over. All in all, this recipe is a keeper.

  5. Ilana says:

    Made it. Everybody loved it! Was declared my best cake ever (which is not obvious, I’ve made great cakes). A bit too heavy on the coffee cream, will reduce the amount the next time. Thanks for the recipe!

    • Ruth Almon says:

      So glad it was such a success!! Next time I make it I’m going to try a rich, dark, chocolate glaze. I haven’t made it, but I’ve eaten the cake that way and it’s delicous too!

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