Friday, March 11, 2011
I have a romantic fascination with hazelnuts because they remind me of the gorgeous Piemonte region of Italy where they are ground with chocolate to prepare the wonder that is gianduja. I love the way hazelnuts find their way into so many fabulous Italian desserts, most of which are nearly impossible to resist. Whether they’re in the form of luxurious ice cream and gelato, tortes, praline, cookies or cakes, hazelnut pastries are supremely delicious and go so very well with lots of different adornments. In the Unites States, hazelnuts are commercially produced in Oregon and Washington.
This is a very simple nut cake brimming with the taste of toasted hazelnuts that are finely ground with the flour. The texture is light with a bit of texture from the addition of some chopped hazelnuts in the batter. There is also a nice dose of orange zest to really perk up the flavor but otherwise it’s a pretty basic and delicious rendition of a nut cake. It’s very easy to make and would grace any table, be it a picnic or formal dinner.
One of the things I love about this cake is that it’s extremely versatile. It would be fantastic covered in a chocolate or mocha glaze or an espresso glaze. You can add your favorite spice. Serve with fresh blackberries or raspberries, figs baked in honey and balsamic, nectarines or peaches in a honey lemon syrup, poached pears, balsamic cherries, honeyed apricots, caramelized apples or a simple cluster of grapes. The cake would also be great with caramel or coffee ice cream. Or a simple dollop of whipped cream flavored with vanilla or brandy. And on and on, it’s a great canvas for your own best customization.
- To toast hazelnuts, put them in a single layer on a baking sheet in a 350 degree oven for about 10 to 15 minutes or until lightly browned and the skins look cracked. Watch them carefully as hazelnuts can turn bitter if toasted too long. Remove from the oven and wrap the hazelnuts in a kitchen towel to let steam for a couple of minutes. Then rub them together to loosen and remove as much of the skin as possible. Cool completely.
- To cover the cake in chocolate glaze: gently heat 3/4 C heavy cream just to the boiling point and pour over finely chopped 5 oz bittersweet or semisweet chocolate (or a combination of the two). Stir slowly until combined. Pour evenly over cake.
Serves 8 – 10
3/4 C flour
1 t baking powder
1/4 t + 1/8 t salt
3/4 C + 1/4 C toasted hazelnuts, divided
4 oz (8 T) butter @ room temperature
1/2 C sugar
2 eggs @ room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 t vanilla
zest of 1 small orange
1/4 C milk @ room temperature
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour an 8 x 2 1/2” cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
Place the flour, baking powder, salt and 3/4 C toasted hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor. Process for a couple of minutes or until the hazelnuts are finely ground and you can smell their wonderful aroma. Pour into a bowl and set aside.
Finely chop the remaining 1/4 C hazelnuts and set aside.
Cream the butter and the sugar until pale and fluffy, about 3 - 4 minutes.
Add eggs and egg yolk one at a time, fully incorporating each into the mixture and stopping to scrape down the bowl after each addition. Add the vanilla and orange zest and combine. Scrape the bottom of the bowl.
Slowly add the flour in three additions, alternating with the milk and beginning and ending with the flour. Mix until the batter is just about completely combined. Take off the mixer and use a rubber spatula to finish mixing by hand and fold in the remaining 1/4 C chopped nuts.
Pour the cake batter into the prepared pan and spread it evenly with a spatula.
Bake for about 28 – 30 minutes or until a tester comes out clean. Let the cake rest for 10 minutes. Gently run a thin bladed knife around the edge of the pan and invert the cake onto a plate. Remove the parchment and cool completely. Dust with confectioner's sugar.