Monday, August 19, 2013

Hazelnut Cake

It was my birthday earlier this month. We don’t have to talk about how many I’ve had. For a variety of reasons, I rarely make myself a birthday cake, but this year I had the opportunity to do it. I’m afraid I almost caved in under the pressure of deciding what to bake before I even got out the mixer or turned on the oven. 

One of the best things about being an adult, however, is the capacity to know that you can have something another time if you choose something else today. It wasn’t quite a blindfolded dart-board kind of thing, but I made a quick decision, knowing I can make any other cake any time I want to. I decided on a dense single-layer cake loaded with ground hazelnuts and topped with a chocolate ganache glaze from The Complete Book of Baking published by Pillsbury.

I didn’t change anything from the original recipe except to add the step of toasting and skinning the hazelnuts (as I described here). Those hazelnuts are ground in a food processor and mixed in with the flour and leavening. They add a rich, toasty sweetness and their delicious, unique flavor to the cake. The batter is moistened only with eggs and butter with no additional liquid (except for a splash of vanilla extract.) The cake is therefore dense and rich enough (and quite caloric), but it also gets a generous layer of chocolate glaze over the top.


This is truly lovely, decadent - and I might add much deserved by the birthday girl – hazelnut heaven. Only true seekers of a hazelnut Nirvana may enter here. That being said, I think this cake could be good with pecans, pistachios or almonds in place of the hazelnuts. You could then play with spices and extracts to make a truly unique and delicious cake.

Sure, this may not be the fluffily-frosted, double-layer or colorfully decorated cake we tend to expect for a celebrating birthdays. I for one am willing to challenge convention. This cake is easier to make anyway and who needs all those pink candles? And if you want one of those birthday cakes, make one, or get someone to make one for you. You can always make this Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Glaze another day.


Hazelnut Cake with Chocolate Glaze
Adapted from Pillsbury: The Complete Book of Baking

Since I find hazelnuts to be a fabulous partner with coffee, I served this with a scoop of coffee flavored ice cream.

Hazelnuts are also known as filberts and may be labeled that way at a store near you.

5 ounces hazelnuts, plus a handful more for garnish if desired
½ cup (1 stick) room temperature butter, plus 2 tablespoons, divided
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 ½ cups granulated sugar
1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
½ cup heavy whipping cream
6 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (about 1 cup)

1. Toast and skin the hazelnuts as described in this post. Set aside to cool.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Set aside the allotted handful of nuts for garnish if using. Trace the bottom of a 9-inch round cake pan onto parchment paper. Cut out the traced circle. Grease the pan or spray with cooking spray. Coat the grease or spray evenly with flour by sprinkling some in the pan and gently shuffling it around until all is coated. Place the parchment circle in the bottom of the pan. Grease or spray that as well.

3. Melt the ½ cup butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Set aside to cool somewhat.

4. Place the hazelnuts in a food processor bowl fitted with the steel blade. Process until finely ground.

5. In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour, ground nuts, baking powder and salt. Stir together until well combined. Set aside.

6. In the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer (or in a large bowl if you are using a hand-held mixer) beat the eggs, sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla over medium speed. Continue beating until the mixture is thick and pale yellow. This should take 2-3 minutes.

7. Add the flour mixture and mix well. Continue beating while gradually pouring in the melted butter. Beat until well blended.

8. Spread the mixture evenly into the prepared cake pan. Bake at 350 F for 45 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.

9. Cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife along the edge of the pan to loosen the cake. Carefully invert the cake onto a serving plate. Cover with a clean towel and cool 30 minutes.

10. When the cake has cooled, prepare the glaze. In a medium-size saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat just until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate chips. Stir until the chips melt completely and the mixture is smooth. Stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons butter. Continue stirring until the butter has melted and the mixture is shiny.

11. Pour the glaze over the cooled cake, allowing some to run down the sides. Chop the reserved toasted hazelnuts (coarsely or finely as desired, or leave them whole). Sprinkle the chopped nuts around the edges of the cake for garnish. Allow the glaze to cool before cutting into the cake.

Makes about 16 servings. This cake freezes well if wrapped in wax paper and stored in a zip-top freezer bag.

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