Hazelnut cake

Hazelnut cake

“…it tastes extraordinary: a nutty, tender sponge, with the almost-stickiness of meringue and the aromatic dampness of marzipan” (Nigella, p359).

I wanted to make this cake on Sunday night to see us into the new week, but there was still so much of the fancy cake left, that it seemed like an unnecessary and overly indulgent extravagance. I therefore vowed to wait until the fancy cake was completely gone before I approached this. Luckily, I visited my parents yesterday and brought the rest of the fancy cake (taking advantage of the fact that there is no flour in it and my dad is a Coeliac). So I knew that today the fridge would have a cake-shaped hole in it; the perfect time to make this hazelnut cake. Eve though it may seem extravagant to make a cake on a weekday, I am baking this on one Tuesday night, to follow a pork curry, lovingly made by my OH.
As you can probably tell, I am going through the cake section with embarrassing alacrity. It is such a great section and I am really enjoying cooking from it. I have liked every single cake that Nigella presented in HTE so far, which is praise indeed, as there are only 2 recipes left after this!
I am really looking forward to making (and eating!) this recipe. If you turn to the “butternut and pasta soup” recipe, where I list my top 5 favourite ingredients, you will see that one of mine was “walnuts.” Since then, I have had a re-think, and want to broaden this to all nuts, apart from peanuts! I just love nuts, and I could easily eat whole packets; handful by (greedy) handful! I love pretty much anything with nuts in it, especially cake, so this cake is of special resonance to me. My OH is less of a hazelnut fan than me, and in fact wants to take no part in this cake! Therefore, I am going to take some slices to university and dish out some slices to my friends. So, expect someone new to be my “other person” this week.
I also meant to say that I saw this cake in Sainsburys’ magazine a few months ago. I brought it because the front cover advertised a Nigella recipe and was therefore a bit disappointed when I saw that it was just a re-print of this cake in HTE! There was however, one difference. In the Sainsburys recipe, Nigella gave instructions for dealing with whole, blanched hazelnuts (i.e. frying them in a fatless pan and blitzing them in a food processor). This was obviously because Sainsburys don’t sell ground hazelnuts and clearly Nigella can’t promote ingredients which can’t be brought in-store. To be honest, this is an absolute God-send. I would have spent hours and hours traipsing round, trying to find ground hazelnuts, and to know that Sainsburys don’t sell them from the outset is going to save so much hassle. I am therefore confidently using whole hazelnuts and toasting and grinding them myself.
I do have a confession to make; which I’ll just get out of the way now. I did not read the whole menu in which this cake stems from and so therefore did not realise that the redcurrant and peach salad was actually meant to accompany this cake specifically. I just thought it was another optional dessert, or even a final course. Ooops! Instead, I brought some strawberries to serve with this cake, so I do apologise and know that I *will* be making the redcurrant salad at a later date, as and when I come to it.

Ingredients: I have already explained my choice to use whole, blanched hazelnuts (see above). The rest of the ingredients can all be purchased easily enough and as mentioned, I brought mine in Sainsburys. Nigella gives the option of the zest of one lemon or half of an orange, and so I decided to opt for the lemon, given that I already needed one for the fancy cake. Italian 00 flour is also widely available now in most supermarkets; certainly my local Sainsburys stock it now.

Price: The hazelnuts, eggs, lemon and flour totalled £5.30. The only ingredient I didn’t need was caster sugar, as we have this at home.

(Whole, blanched hazelnuts toasting)

Method: This cake was actually really easy to make. The preparation took less than 10 minutes, and after that time you just bung it in the oven and let it get on with its own thing, while you clean up after yourself (or watch Ramsey’s kitchen nightmares on channel 4; it’s up to you!)
I think I can be of help to you when it comes to the hazelnuts, because Nigella doesn’t say a lot about how to deal with them. Basically, I toasted them in a fatless, dry pan until they began to release their nutty, hazelnut smell and started to toast slightly. After that, I rubbed them in a clean, dry cloth because I am told that when hot, nuts release a small amount of the oil contained inside them (I don’t know if that is correct; but I always rub them to be on the safe side!) I then tipped them into the food processor and blitzed them along with the caster sugar. I purposefully didn’t grind them into dust, but preferred to leave some of them in little nutty shards, and others totally ground.
After that, one whisks the egg whites into stiff peaks (and see photo) and there is no way that I would even attempt that without an electric whisk. Certainly, whisking 8 egg whites into stiff peaks by hand would be no laughing matter! Then fold the hazelnut-sugar (and grated lemon zest) mixture into the egg whites, very slowly and very carefully; one dollop at a time to preserve the cloudy, billowy mass of the egg whites. In fact, I did this so slowly and painstakingly, that I managed to preserve this fluffy, cloudy, airy, billowing foam! I then very gently folded in the flour (again to preserve this foamy texture), poured the mixture into a buttered and lined (with bake-o-glide) springform tin, baked for an hour, removed from the oven, “un-sprung” the cake and left to cool – TA DAH!

(Hazelnuts blitzed in the food processor along with the caster sugar)

(Egg whites whisked to "stiff-peak" phase)

Result: This began to smell absolutely gorgeous after about 35 minutes in the oven. When I say gorgeous, I mean gorgeous; it was a rich, very hazelnutty smell that smelled sweet and comforting; LOVELY! When I took it out of the oven, I was amazed at how much it had risen and how airy it was; making it an absolutely massive and substantial cake. In fact, I was planning on putting it on a plate and tumbling halved, hulled strawberries over and around it, but it was so massive and took up so much room on the plate that I resorted to nimbly dotting the strawberries around the sides of the plate. I think next time; I’ll just add some strawberry halves to each plated slice to avoid all of the hassle!
So, what does it taste like? Well, it is so nutty that it is almost aromatic with the taste of hazelnuts. It is very bold with the flavour of hazelnuts and as such, very robust, with nutty strength and bold tastes. I certainly wouldn’t bother serving this to anyone who was not a natural fan of hazelnuts. The flavours were strong, bold and very pronounced and gave the cake an almost aromatic intensity. The cake was sweet, but what I liked about it the most, is that it was not overpoweringly, cloyingly sweet. It struck just the right balance between being sweet and sugary and providing rich and dark, smoky, subtle nutty resonance. I couldn’t taste the lemon zest at all; but I am sure that it worked as a sharpening element, to stop the cake from becoming too rich and cloying, with opulent nuttiness.
I am almost convinced that the texture was the nicest thing about this cake. It really did have the most amazing texture. It was very tender, aromatically moist and damp; surprisingly in the same way that Nigella’s flourless, citrus flavoured cakes can be. I’m sure this is because the ground nuts gave their own aromatic dampness to the cake. Perhaps the best thing about this cake was the wonderful texture of the hazelnuts. I am *so* glad that I didn’t use ground hazelnuts. I am sure that they would have made for a too uniform and blanket texture. I made sure to leave some hazelnuts in little nutty pieces, which gave the cake nutty bite; just lovely. For some reason, the top was especially nice. There was a fantastic crispy and sugary top to this cake, which added to the wonderful bite.
As you can probably tell, I was very impressed with this cake. I was bowled over by its strength, boldness and contemporary flavours and also its dark, smoky, subtle nutty quality. If pressed to offer a criticism, I do think, if serving this cake for guests, that you *must* check if they like hazelnuts. There is just no ignoring their prominence; this is an intensely nutty cake.
EDIT: I took two slices of this cake to the primary school where I am doing my teaching experience, and both people loved it (and asked for the recipe no less!)

(Egg whites with the hazelnut/sugar/lemon mixture slowly and gently folded in)


Other person’s perspective: As I mentioned, Chris won’t be my “other person” this week; instead, I m roping my friend Charlotte in to the job. She said that the best thing about this was the texture. The nuts were not too fine, but neither too coarse. The cake was not too sweet and there was just a hint of lemon to provide freshness, to stop the cake becoming too rich. There was no way that this recipe skimped on the hazelnuts, as it was very nutty with a nice, crispy topping.

(Just out of the oven)

Future changes: I think that it would have been nicer had I used the orange zest, because on reflection, I think that nuts and oranges go together much nicer than lemons and nuts. Charlotte had the idea of halving this and turning in into a sandwich cake, squished together by a layer of hazelnut buttercream. However, we discussed this and both think that even though it would probably make us sick, it would be totally worth it!

Rating: Both Charlotte and I think that this cake should receive 4/5. Not that this is any less deserving than some of the other cakes that I have made, but it is *so* strong and pronounced, with *such* bold flavours that it really isn’t ever going to be suitable for everyone, so in the name of inclusion, we award it thusly.


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