Saturday, January 2, 2016

Hazelnut Butter Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache

The peanut butter in my pantry feels very uncomfortable right now.

I have all sorts of chocolate going on but I chose hazelnuts for it instead. It's not a forever decision, but it is a solid and delicious one. As much as I hold PB&C so close to my stomach, I freaking love it with hazelnuts. They seem like a much classier option even though they are equally tasty. How did they sneak past peanuts in the status line and score the sophisticated reputation? Just lucky I guess.

Right now I am in Italy spending the holidays with my Italian family. So far I think I have eaten a whole barn's worth of cheese and more cured meats than is probably recommended. I just drink olive oil and eat enough bread to start a bakery in my stomach. Vino rosso runs through my veins. It all sounds so sexy, but really I'm just full all the time.

Hazelnuts are considered the perfect mate for chocolate in this part of the world and I have never tasted them so sweet as they are here. I go nuts for this combo which is named "gianduja". It's a creamy soft combo of hazelnuts and chocolate much like the famed Nutella. Any product that makes it acceptable and common practice to spread chocolate on bread ranks high in my books. So for today we will leave the peanuts aside and shine the light on other nuts.

Let's talk about the cake. It is all about the nut and comes together in a pinch. It is rich yet light and very moist, much like a torte. It melts like butta!

A very important first step - toast your nuts. You will be amazed at the intensity that toasting can add to flavour. This is your only chance to punch up the hazelnut flavour because they will not toast in the batter. Toasting requires dry heat. The nuts need to be fully exposed! A food processor or coffee grinder or any counter top mini processor will help you pulverize them, but the best trick is to grind them up with sugar. It will absorb some heat from the friction of the machine and help prevent them from turning into nut butter.

The method for this cake is backwards, something like making pastry. We start with dry ingredieints - they all go in a large mixing bowl including flour, ground nuts, sugar, baking powder and salt. Then in goes soft butter and milk and we mix this up until well combined and it should look a bit fluffy. Finally we gradually beat in beaten eggs until the batter looks creamy.

It bakes up golden brown and gorgeous.

Let it cool and then make the chocolate topping. For this I like the blend of dark and milk chocolate. There are few recipes in which I use milk chocolate, but when working with nuts I find it matches very well. I like the creamy dairy undertones with peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds.

The topping recipe is similar to ganache except you need no cream. One less trip to the grocery store. Win!

Combine milk, butter and a touch of honey in a saucepan over low heat until it just comes to a simmer but do not let it boil. What this does is try to replicate the chemistry of cream by blending butterfat with milk in the same proportion. In this particular recipe I actually used a tad bit less butter since the added milk solids and sugar from milk chocolate provides stability. Honey is there to keep things smooth and glossy.

Once the milk mixture heats up, take the pan off the heat and add all of the chopped chocolate. Let it stand for a minute or two before stirring until it is smooth and thick. Spread it generously on your cake and top with more chopped hazelnuts. 

No one needs to know this only takes 20 minutes to prepare. The classy hazelnuts in this Italian style will make up for your casual ways. No one said delicious had to be hard work.

Happy New Year!

Hazelnut Butter Cake with Milk Chocolate Ganache

For the cake:
½ cup (70g) raw hazelnuts, plus extra for topping
¾ cup (150g) granulated sugar
1 cup (142g) all-purpose flour
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
½ cup (113g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (60ml) milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 large eggs, beaten

For the milk chocolate ganache:
113g (4oz) bittersweet chocolate
56g (2oz) milk chocolate
½ cup (118 ml) milk
2 tbsp (28g) butter
1 tsp honey

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line an 8 inch round springform pan with parchment paper, lightly butter the sides and dust with flour.

Place hazelnuts in one layer on a baking sheet. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes until fragrant. Let cool and skin the hazelnuts. It's okay if some of the skin won't come off.

Transfer cooled hazelnuts to a food processor. Add sugar and pulse until hazelnuts are finely ground. Transfer mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer (you can also use an electric hand mixer for this recipe). Sift in cake flour, baking powder and salt. With the paddle attachment, beat on low for 20 seconds until well combined. Add soft butter, milk, and vanilla. Beat on low for 30 seconds until combined, then turn the speed up to medium and beat for 1 minute until light and fluffy. Scrape down the bowl and add the eggs slowly while mixing on low speed until blended and then beat on high for 2 minutes until smooth and fluffy. The batter will be quite thick.

Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine milk, butter and honey in a saucepan over medium-low heat until butter is melted and mixture comes to a simmer. Remove from heat and add all of the chocolate. Let stand 2 minutes before stirring until smooth and glossy. Transfer mixture to a clean bowl and place in the fridge. Stir every 5 minutes until thick and spreadable. Slather it onto the cooled cake and decorate with more chopped hazelnuts.
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