I remember this lovely little cafe ‘on the hill’ where all the student from the University used to gather to sip on endless cups of coffee, and nibble on a slice of cake or a muffin. It was right across from the book store that made it really convenient. If you were lucky enough to get a table by the window you could sit for hours and gaze down upon the stone buildings of the campus. I could just about spot the roof of my Theatre Department. We would gather to either discuss the latest scripts or deconstruct a performance and simultaneously demolish their baked goodies.
While all their cakes were excellent by any standard, I was specially partial to their Hazelnut cake. Unadorned except by a golden glow, I always found myself gravitating towards it. Strange, because till then I was always a chocolate person. But there was something about this cake. The rich nutty flavour (reminding me of Ferrero Rocher, maybe that was the hook) the slightly crumbly texture, the crunchy crust. . . Well, I just loved it.
When I was back home, I would often dream about the cake. Hazelnuts were hard to come by. In fact, few people had even heard about it. Trying to re-create the cake with almonds or walnuts just did not cut it. So for a long time this cake remained a part of a wonderful past till a visit to Singapore. Hazelnuts were suddenly no longer out of reach. You could get them with the skin, without, roasted or salted. I found myself picking up Hazelnuts and Brazil nuts and Macadamia nuts. . . I was going nuts!
“What on earth are you going to do with all these nuts” asked my slightly irate husband. I guess he was already thinking of the excess baggage (it was still early days in the marriage and he still did not know me that well) “I will find some use for it” I replied nonchalantly. On an aside, he has learnt not to ask these question now. He knows he will still get the same reply.
In the confines of my kitchen, the experiments began in right earnest. I tried partially substituting ground hazelnuts in a regular pound cake recipe. Used an almond cake recipe and figured hazelnuts could replace the almond. As nice as these cakes tasted (how can you go wrong with hazelnuts?) it was just not the same. My stock of hazelnuts were disappearing with such speed, that I had to find a recipe that worked really soon. That is when I discovered a blog titled A Tale of Two. It had this wonderful recipe for a hazelnut cake. It was sort of complicated where you had to separate the whites of the eggs and whip it up before you fold it into the cake batter. Anyone who know me will tell you I am all for simplifying things. If I can add the eggs whole and get the same result, why not? So that is exactly what I did.
The first time around I halved the recipe and refused to add the suggested frosting. I found it a tad too sweet and told myself that I would reduce the sugar next time around. The next thing on the agenda was to achieve the crisp crust. “What if I baked it in a loaf pan?” I asked myself. It would have to bake longer for the insides to cook and this would result in a thicker crust but still hold moist interior. So back to the kitchen and this time with little less sugar, and the last of my precious hazelnuts and into a loaf pan. And my, was I happy! The crust had cracked beautifully and was crunchy (almost cookie like) and as I sliced it, I could see the insides were delicious, moist golden with just the right amount of crumble to indicate the abundance of nuts.
The first slice went in even before the cake had cooled properly. The second with a drizzle of melted chocolate. and the third with cup of tea (eer you get the picture right?) I have since made this cake ever so often, now that hazelnuts are far easier to come by but I have always made them in a loaf pan. Please feel free to make it in a round pan and frost it if you must (if it is with Nutella, I forgive you) However you may wish to eat it, I guarantee it will become an addiction. Even today, as I sit nibbling on the crust, I look out of the window and I can almost, in my mind’s eye, see the roof tops of the University buildings and hear the voices of my classmates animatedly exclaim “I don’t see how Aeschylus is relevant in this century!”
125 gms Softened Butter
100 to 125 gms Sugar (I used 100 gms. Use more if you like it sweeter)
125 gms All Purpose Flour
125 gms ground Hazelnuts (see note at the end)
1tsp Baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp pure vanilla extract (Use a vanilla bean if you have it)
1. Preheat your oven to 180C
2. Cream your butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
3. Add eggs, one at a time, making sure that each egg is incorporated well before adding the next.
4. Sieve your flour, salt and baking powder together well and then whisk in the ground hazelnuts.
5. Fold the dry ingredients into the wet.
6. Lightly grease and flour a loaf pan and pour the batter into the pan.
7. Bake for about 35 to 45 minutes until a skewer inserted comes out clean.
8. Unmould the cake immediately and try to cool before devouring.
Note: I use roasted hazelnuts straight from the freezer and pulse them in blender to get a rough powder. It does not have to be very fine. In fact the crunchy bits provide a great texture.Just take care not to over blend the nuts. This will cause them to leach oil and become a sticky mess.