When I go home for the Holidays, there is almost never any need for me to cook. I grew up surrounded by cooks and great hosts and so my visits home are generally filled to the hilt with food. This year, though, I volunteered to take care of Christmas dessert; rather, I probably commandeered the responsibility. I just wanted to help out, okay? My sister in law and I were originally going to collaborate on the dessert (she’s an awesome baker) and so we turned to one of our mutual favorites for advice: Smitten Kitchen (duh). This was the cake we landed on.
Sadly, Christmas morning Jen woke up with a nasty bug and the baking was left to me this time round. Luckily, we had chosen a super-simple recipe and, with a little help from my dad, we ended up with a fabulous cake.
This is exactly the kind of cake you want to have around on Christmas Day, or at least the kind I do. It’s simple and yet decadent, combing some of the best flavors on earth. Among the nuts, I would consider hazelnuts the most special. They’re far more highbrow than peanuts or pecans and their flavor is distinctive and delicious, screaming out for some dark chocolate. Or brown butter. Have you ever browned butter before? It’s amazing. Butter goes from rich and slightly sweet to complex and nutty and fragrant right before your eyes and nose. If you’re doing it for the first time, just be sure to keep a watchful eye and to use a light-colored pan so that you can accurately gauge it’s progress. It’s important not to get too antsy; it may take a while, but once you’ve experience browned butter, you may never want anything else.
This is an unleavened cake. They always make me nervous, since the height and lightness depend only on your ability to properly fold egg whites. I think I fold correctly, but honestly, I’m not really sure. My dad took cake of it this time, and if the final texture of the cake was any indication, he did a fab job. The cake was topped with a coffee ganache, the dark strong chocolate playing off the nutty butter and nutty….nuts. Too perfect. The whole thing was delicious and decadent without being overly flashy; the perfect ending to a wonderful meal.
Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
Taken from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
5 oz hazelnuts
1/2 lb unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out and reserved (save the pod too)
1 1/3 c powdered sugar
1/3 c all-purpose flour
5 extra-large egg whites
3 T granulated sugar
4 oz semisweet chocolate chips (I used bittersweet)
1/4 c heavy cream
1 t instant coffee granules
- Heat oven to 350°F
- Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast 12 to 15 minutes
- Wrap the nuts in a kitchen towel while still warm and then rub them together in the towel to remove the skins. Cool completely
- Grease a 10″ cake pan and line the bottom with parchment paper
- In a medium saucepan, add the butter, vanilla bean and seeds
- Cook until the butter is brown and nutty smelling, scraping the bottom of the pan regularly. Cool the butter and discard vanilla pod
- In a food processor, grind the hazelnuts with the powdered sugar until finely ground. Add the flour and pulse until combined
- In a mixer, whisk the egg whites and granulated sugar until stiff peaks form
- Alternately fold the dry ingredients and cooled brown butter into the egg whites (3X). Get all your little brown bits from the butter!!
- Pour batter into pan and bake for ~40 min
- Cool for 30 minutes then remove from the pan
While the cake bakes, make the ganache:
- In a small saucepan, over low heat, combine the chocolate, cream, and coffee granules, stirring until melted and smooth
- Pour the ganache over the cake, allowing it to drip over the side