This post by another name? Best Cake Ever. Hazelnut, Brown Butter, Cake. Do you hear me yet? Brown butter, aka liquid gold. Hazelnuts, the best nuts on the planet. Cake. Yea. It's that good.
I've been wanting to make this cake ever since Deb posted it over at Smitten Kitchen, but considering the 2 sticks of butter called for in the recipe, I guess I felt like I needed an excuse, silly me.
Only one year later (one year of waiting, mind you!), I finally got the excuse I wanted. You see, D and I are going to a dinner party tonight being held exclusively to mark, and mourn, the end of Battlestar Galactica, a show that some of my people think is the best on TV, like, ever. I don't get it, but I'll happily go to a dinner that celebrates the end of a show with a name like Battlestar Galactica. For those nuts among you who watch the show, you know that cylons, enemies of humans that take the form of Darth Vader-like robots, are sometimes called "toasters." We're celebrating (er, mourning) the end of the show tonight by having a dinner with a "toasted" theme. Everything served will be toasted in some way.
I like the idea of toasted things -- their flavors intensified, nuttier, richer -- but aside from nuts and coconut, I couldn't think of much else to toast. I love nuts, but toasted nuts seemed a little obvious; I don't like coconut, so that was out. Then I remembered hazelnut brown butter cake and there were no further questions.
Brown butter is a power tool in the kitchen, and I don't use it nearly enough. It's rich and nutty and super complex, and when you poach a vanilla bean in it as I did for this cake, you push it totally over the top. I mean, it's beyond. Combine that with the hazelnuts, and you're totally through. It's just so frakin' (whaaaa? Frakin') good.
It occurs to me that I've made three things with whipped egg whites this week -- meringues, this cake, and cheese souffles (about which you have yet to hear). They make things light and fluffy; I like light, fluffy things. More egg-white based things to come, that's for sure.
In the meantime, if you've got a "toasted" themed party coming up (which I highly doubt) or just want to make a cake that has two sticks of butter (hell, why not?), this one's sure worth the many mixing bowls and appliances involved. How do I know, you wonder, when I haven't tried the cake yet? With the extra batter that I accidentally (ha) left in the bowl, I made a little mini cake in a ramekin, baked it only half the time, and topped it with some of that sinful ganache. So let me assure you, this cake is hella worth the effort.
5 ounces (about one heaping cup) hazelnuts, blanched to remove dark skins* 1/2 pound unsalted butter (plus 1 tablespoon melted extra for greasing the pan) 1/2 vanilla bean 1 1/3 cups powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting the cake 1/3 cups all-purpose flour 5 extra-large egg whites (I used 6 since I was using large eggs) 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 °F.
Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown and smell nutty. Let them cool. I followed Deb's advice here, removing the skins by toasting them on a baking sheet at 350°F for about 15 minutes, putting the nuts in a brown paper bag to steam for five minutes and then vigorously rubbing them together to remove the skins. Not easy, but it worked (eventually).
Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of a 10-inch round cake pan. Brush the pan with a little melted butter and line the bottom with the paper.
Put the rest of the butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center, and use a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter by running your paring knife perpendicular to the bean, along its length. To make sure not to lose any of the seeds, run your vanilla-coated knife through the butter afterward. Add the vanilla pod to the pan, and cook the butter until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Set aside to cool. At this point you're supposed to remove the vanilla pod and throw it away, but that broke my heart -- surely I can find something that would benefit from a brown-butter-poached vanilla bean. Let me know if you have any ideas.
Grind the hazelnuts with the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until they’re finely ground. Add the flour and pulse to combine. Transfer to a large bowl (or, if you're me, leave it in the bowl of the food processor. The fewer bowls, the better.)
Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the granulated sugar and mix on high speed 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture forms very stiff peaks. When you turn the whisk upside down, the peaks should hold. Transfer the whites to a large mixing bowl. (I cheated and left the whites in the bowl of the stand mixer, which worked just fine. Again, the fewer bowls, the better.)
Alternate folding the dry ingredients and the brown butter into the egg whites, a third of a time. You'll notice that the brown butter takes a while to incorporate, and that the egg whites deflate a bit when the other ingredients are added. That's ok -- they'll stay plenty fluffy. Remember to scrap the bottom of the brown butter pan with a rubber spatula to get all those delicious little brown bits.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour -- at least, that's what the recipe says. Mine was done after 42, and Deb's was done after 40, so do yourself a favor and start checking around 38 just to be sure. Cool on a rack 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a plate. Peel off the paper, and turn the cake back over onto a serving platter. Sprinkle it with powdered sugar or cover with ganache (below), which in my humble opinion simply cannot be missed.
Draping Ganache for 10-inch Cake
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or finely-chopped chocolate 1/4 cup heavy cream 1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
Melt the chocolate, heavy cream, and coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of the cake. (Deb says she usually boils the cream and then stirs in chips until they melt, but found that this time it ended up too thick and hard to drizzle. I tried this method as well, and it worked for me -- go figure -- but then turned hard more quickly than expected, as you see in the pictures. Either way, it's frakin' chocolate -- so it'll taste great.)