Yesterday was cold and gloomy yet again and SHOCK... HORROR, the weather forecasters were predicting a strong likelihood of light snow falling in parts of the country. We are definitely in winter now! However, there is a lot to recommend this time of year, not least of which is a ready excuse to try out and to develop new recipes that I have been meaning to get to for quite a while. To be honest, it’s too cold and dark outside to do much else in the evenings.
Like a little squirrel, which had accumulated a rich store of nuts to sustain themself through the season when Winter disdainfully stretches out her icy fingers, I set to preparing the hazelnuts for the cake that I had decided I was going to bake.
I quickly decided that I did not want to include chocolate in the cake that I was going to bake. I wanted it to be about the hazelnuts in all their glory. There is no doubting that hazelnut and chocolate is a marriage made in heaven, but I wanted to focus on the hazelnuts alone.
I used whole hazelnuts, which had already been skinned. I have previously spoken in another post about my hatred of certain culinary tasks and skinning nuts is at the forefront of this list. So I decided to spend a little extra and buy ready-blanched nuts. I roasted the nuts on a baking tray in a hot oven for approximately 7 minutes until they had darkened in colour and the kitchen had taken on their sweet, nutty aroma. You do need to watch the hazelnuts carefully, because they can burn very easily. It is worth roasting the nuts because it really brings out the flavour of the nuts.
When the nuts had cooled completely I whacked them into my mini food-processor and ground them until fairly fine, but still retaining some texture. If you over-grind them, the oils in the nut are released, resulting in a type of hazelnut butter which is not what I wanted in this recipe.
I made a basic Madeira-like sponge cake recipe and folded in the nuts at the end just prior to baking. I wanted to achieve a cake that had a close crumb, but was still had a lightness about it. I felt that anything too spongy with a very aerated crumb would conflict with the texture of the hazelnuts. (You will note that I did not use any raising agent in the cake but I made sure that I creamed the butter and sugar together until really light and fluffy and I also sifted the flour twice). I also chose to include some vanilla paste as I thought that the floral notes in the vanilla would complement and accentuate the hazelnut flavour I wanted to achieve.
I thought a little about whether to ice or glaze the cake and if so, what to use. I decided against using a buttercream this time, and instead opted for a caramel glaze which I then sprinkled with some roughly chopped roasted hazelnuts. Caramel has a natural affinity with all nuts and this was certainly the case here. Next time, and there will be a next time, because this cake was so delicious, I think I will split the cake into three layers and sandwich the layers together with a hazelnut praline buttercream but I will still cover the cake in the caramel. If you want a simple cake, just follow the recipe that I present here. It really is yum! I am going to try out the buttercream idea and will report back.
Postscript: I have now made this recipe twice; once with standard plain flour and once with Tritamyl Flour, which can be consumed by coeliacs. There was very little difference between the two, but if I was pushed, I would say that the latter did not rise quite as much. Both cakes were lovely!
200g butter, softened
200g caster sugar
200g plain flour, sifted
½ tsp vanilla paste
125g ground hazelnuts
100g caster sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
3 tblsp water
125ml double cream
1 tblsp of roughly chopped roasted hazelnuts
Method:1. Preheat the oven to 170C/Fan Oven 150C/Gas Mark 3. Grease and line the bottom of a deep 23cm round cake tin with baking parchment and set aside.
2. Place the softened butter and caster sugar in a large bowl and using an electric hand-held whisk, beat together until light and fluffy. Take your time doing this to ensure that they are well mixed.
3. Add the eggs one at a time and continue beating ensuring that each egg is well mixed I before you add the next. Add the vanilla paste and mix thoroughly.
4. Next add the sifted flour and the hazelnuts and fold into the egg and sugar mixture. Once thoroughly mixed, pour the cake batter into the prepared cake tin and place into the pre-heated oven for approximately 50 minutes. Check the cake after about half an hour and if it looks like it is browning too rapidly, cover with a little aluminium foil.
5. To test whether the cake is cooked through, insert a thin skewer. When withdrawn the skewer should not have any raw or undercooked cake batter on it. Remove from the oven and allow cool in the tin for about ten minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove from the tin and allow cool completely on a wire rack.
To make the caramel glaze:
6. Place the sugar, lemon juice and water in a small saucepan and bring to the boil over a high heat. Stir continuously. After a couple of minutes a caramel will start to form. Allow it to turn a dark caramel colour and then remove the pan from the heat.
7. Carefully and slowly pour in the double cream, still stirring until you have a smooth caramel. Be very careful when adding the cream as the mixture can splutter and bubble up furiously.
8. Allow the caramel to cool in the saucepan for about five minutes and when it has thickened slightly, but still liquid, pour it onto the top of the cake and smooth out with a small palette knife so that the top and sides of the cake is evenly coated. Sprinkle a few roughly chopped toasted hazelnuts over the top of the cake and allow stand at room temperature for 2-3 hours so that the glaze can set.Serves 8-10.