This cake should never have worked. I think everything I could have potentially screwed up, I screwed up. Admittedly, it's not my fault the 10-inch round cake pan was occupied, but that was the first hiccup. When I took out the roasted nuts, my hand shook, the tray slanted, and half the nuts fell to the floor. I managed to burn the butter (despite watching it carefully), and the second time I melted the butter, I forgot to put the vanilla bean into it, until the very end. Despite the explicit instructions to let the butter cool before adding it to the beaten egg whites, I blatantly ignored that and had the egg whites deflate in front of my eyes. And finally I left the cake in too long and it nearly burnt. Oh - and let's not talk about the glass candle holder that fell out of the cupboard when I reached for the scale and shattered into a million little pieces or the 10-inch chef's knife that I pushed aside, accidentally making it fly to the floor and having me jump back while a life without a toe flashed in front of me... Yes, let's not talk about that.
And yet, it worked. Wonderfully so. The cake was a nutty, buttery, chocolately dream. And everyone ate it happily and the first bite only made me wonder how it would have tasted if I had actually done things right. Well, I guess you will find out.
Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
It's my sister's birthday and all she wanted was a chocolate nut cake. Hazelnuts happen to be her favorite nut, so I thought this cake would be perfect. I found the ingredients of the cake especially intriguing - unlike other cakes it has no baking powder or soda and also no salt. It gets its height from the beaten egg whites (which, by the way, make this cake high in protein - nearly 22g in total, the same as an average pork chop!). The original recipe by Suzanne Goin suggested topping the cake with powdered sugar and caramelized pears but Deb covered with a ganache and I did too, as that was my sister's wish.
141g // 5oz of hazelnuts (without skin)
141g // 5oz of hazelnuts (without skin)
226g // 1/2 pound of unsalted butter, cut into small cubes + butter to brush the sides of the cake pan
153g // 1 1/3 cup of powdered sugar
42g // 1/3 cup of flour
5 extra large egg whites (I used 7 medium egg whites)
35g // 3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 176°C // 350° F. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast them 12 to 15 minutes, until they're golden brown and smell nutty. Let them cool.
Line a 10-inch round cake pan with parchment paper and brush the sides of a pan with a little butter to prevent cake from sticking to the sides (I lined the bottom, but I never butter anything...)
Place the butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center, and using a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. To make sure not to lose any of the seeds, run your vanilla-coated knife through the butter. 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. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.
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.
Place 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.
Alternate folding the dry ingredients and the brown butter into the egg whites, a third of a time. Remember to scrape the bottom of the brown butter pan with a rubber spatula to get all the little brown bits.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 35-40 minutes (or potentially longer/shorter depending on your oven - test with a toothpick to see if it comes out dry!) 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).
*The original recipe calls for whole hazelnuts, which are toasted in the oven and then ground with the powdered sugar in the food processor. Don't have a food processor? I'm sure you could buy ground hazelnuts and carefully toast them in a pan for a few minutes, until they smell even nuttier.
Draping Ganache for 10-inch Cake
113g // 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.