Brown Butter Hazelnut Cake

This is about a hazelnut cake that lead the life of a the Bollywood film, Highway. The concept started out distinctly exciting, baked into a bit of a disappointment before then surprisingly redeeming itself at the end. What a deceptive little fellow, this.

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The story starts out at a lovely hidden store in the 7 Bungalows market that I discovered stocks all kinds of nuts and dried fruits. After combing it to make this much talked about but frankly rather disappointing bread, I had some leftover hazelnuts I wanted to play with. And a recipe lingering at the back of my mind, for a cake with hazelnut meal, that has been on my must-discover-what-that-tastes-like list. The cake came together rather easily, smelled great and looked exactly as pictured. The only thing that nagged me was that it smelled familiar…whereas I was expecting a rather unusual hazelnutty perfume that would be the Nutella of cakes, it actually smelled rather unglamourously but deliciously of halwa. Don’t get me wrong. I Love halwa as much as the next Delhi girl but it just wasn’t what I was expecting. (And if you are familiar with cognitive psychology, the theory of dissonance, and my preoccupation with making dishes that taste just so, you know what a bummer that can be.) So much in the doldrums was I, that when a few people asked me for the recipe on the BC facebook page, I said I wasn’t ready to share it because I wasn’t convinced it was good enough.

But it did add up. With the butter being cooked to a frothy, golden, nutty – ghee like consistency and the abundance of sugar and pulverised nuts, this is after all pretty much a baked walnut halwa in a cake form… or atleast somewhere in the ball park. Once cooled, I found it tasted a lot like walnut halwa too. And despite the said disappointment, was rather more-ish. Despite the professed heartbreak, time after time, I would find myself reaching for the pie knife to cut myself a teeny weeny slice. And then do it again.

The true turning point in the story came about on the next day though. With the discovery that this cake improves distinctly on keeping. I couldn’t tell you how much and in what way exactly. All I can say is that I went along to visit Priti, leaving the cake behind, fully expecting to return and find it untouched, waiting for my sole consumption. After all Atul had professed a disdain for it. Except that I came back to find a smacking clean platter. No cake in sight. Not even a crumb. And a request from Atul and a bunch of people who had come by, for me to bake it again as soon as possible. That’s when I decided I should post about it after all.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake

From Smitten Kitchen who adapted it from Sunday Suppers at Lucques

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This cake is rich. Also, unlike what I would have imagined,I felt the chocolate here did not compliment the hazelnut, more fought with it and rather overshadowed it. The next time, I think I would just serve it as a sauce on the side and maybe try serving this up with some whipped cream and fruit instead. A thin slice of this nut rich cake, is all you need of at a time. But then give it 15 minutes and you will find yourself reaching out for another slice. And the next day, apparently any body who comes by, will gulp it all down leaving nothing for you.

One heaping cup of hazelnuts(I have a feeling this will work with walnuts too)
250 grams butter (plus 1 tablespoon extra for greasing the pan)
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar (or a scant 3/4 cup granulated sugar)
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 egg whites
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 175 C

  1. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast until they’re golden brown and smell nutty (about 15 minutes). Let them cool.
  2. Cut out baking paper to a circle that will fit a 9 inch cake tin. Grease the pan with melted butter, and then line it with teh paper. The paper will easily stick on.
  3. Cook the rest of the butter along with vanilla in a kadhai or sauce pan, over medium heat till the butter melts, then foams and finally browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). Keep stirring and scraping the bottom to ensure the milk solids aren’t burning and the butter is browning evenly. Remove from the fire and let cool.
  4. Grind the cooled toasted hazelnuts with the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until they’re finely ground. (If using granulated sugar, first grind that alone till its powdery and then add the hazelnuts and pulse till the mixture is combined and ground through. Transfer to a large bowl.
  5. Place the egg whites in a dry, grease and moisture free bowl. Add the remaining granulated sugar and beat on high speed 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture forms very stiff peaks. When you remove the beater from the whites and hold it up, it will hold the shape without drooping.
  6. Add one third of the hazelnut mix to the beaten egg whites, fold gently and then do the same with 1/3 of the brown butter. Repeat gently till all the dry mixture and butter has been incorporated. Remember to stir the brown butter well before adding it to the batter so you include all the little brown bits.
  7. Transfer the batter to the cake pan and bake for 50 min to 1hr**. Cool for 30 minutes before separating it from the edge of the pan by running a knife all around and then inverting onto a plate. Peel off the paper, transfer the cake to a serving platter and cover with ganache or sprinkle with more powdered sugar (I would recommend this).

** Mine was done at about 55 but Deb said hers took only 40 so check yours with a tooth pick at about 35 till it comes out clean.

Chocolate Ganache 

125 grams finely-chopped chocolate
1/4 cup amul cream
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 tablespoon butter

Boil the cream, add the chopped chocolate and coffee and stir till melted through and smooth. Stir in the butter. Smooth over the top of the cake.

What else I have been cooking:

I finally made a lovely Syrian catholic Keralite meal that I was proud of and gorged on (Appam, Mutton cutlets,  Chicken curry mappas, mutton fry). These recipes aren’t on the blog though they should be but this mutton pepper fry is from the same family.

And then we had this awesome onam sadya that I totally have to write about next week. That’s coming up next.

This meatloaf during which I remade that awesome BBQ sauce with some updates. This time, I used absolutely no sugar, used plenty of fruit juice and a whole lot of extra peaces instead. Also, decided its way better without garlic.

This Yotam Ottolenghi inspired dish of sweet corn polenta topped with a chorizo and chicken stew.

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