Hazelnuts are like the prodigal son. When they make an appearance they get noticed. And are very welcome. Particularly when they are toasted, which is almost always as it's a needed step to skin them.
Nuts in the oven is a comforting smell that silently speaks of good baking things to come. I don't think I ever came across a recipe that wasn't enhanced if the nuts were toasted. And let's not go into the salad department. That's a whole other ball game where the nuts can make a dish go up a few notches.
And the oils, the liqueurs, the butters, the creams that can be made with different nuts make me dizzy with anticipation. It's a whole nutty world that makes me very happy.
This specific cake was a request from one of my best friends for her birthday. She remembered it after many years. So I happily obliged. Don't worry, it wasn't the birthday cake. Thank goodness right? A loaf as a b-day cake? This was for her personal delight, far away from her kids who wouldn't know a hazelnut from a cocoa puff. But I digress.
I bought Frangelico because the bottle was so nice. It has the shape of a monk and even comes with a rope belt. Through the years I came to realize how precious this liqueur is. This was certainly a cake worth splurging on. This is a dense pound cake, full of flavor, perfect for an afternoon tea. Or a cup of good coffee.
The smell of the batter alone is intoxicating, with the toasted nuts and the booze. Definitely, nuts and alcohol are a match that are part of an elite, a combination that has few rivals. At least in my baking world.
This recipe is from a book that not only has pages of recipes that will get you into the kitchen as fast as you can, but it has an enormous amount of information on ingredients and techniques. A one-of-a-kind cookbook. Worth every dime.
I made a slight change and didn't use hazelnut oil even though the recipe especially recommends it. The idea of hunting for this particular oil went out the window when I found I still had some frangelico. It works so well for me that I don't really know when, and if, I will try the hazelnut oil variation. But I have a feeling it will add greatly to depth of flavor.
TOASTED HAZELNUT POUND CAKE
from In the Sweet Kitchen, by Regan Daley
Note: The original recipe uses 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract and 1 Tbs. hazelnut oil. It also states that the oil is very perishable, so I exchanged it for Frangelico and decreased the vanilla
1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted and skinned (see below)
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
1 cup (225g) butter, at room tº
½ cup (100g) light brown sugar, tightly packed
4 eggs, at room tº
½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (300g) all-purpose flour
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup heavy cream
2 Tbs Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter and lightly grease a 9-inch (24cm) springform pan. I used a loaf pan.
In a food processor, pulse the toasted hazelnuts with 2 Tbs of the granulated sugar until finely ground. Take care not to overgrind the hazelnuts to the point where they become a nut butter, or the cake will be oily and heavy. Set the nut mixture aside.
In the bowl of an electric mixer, or a large bowl with a wooden spoon, cream the butter until light, then add the remaining white and light brown sugars and cream the mixture until it is light, pale and fluffy.
Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, and scraping the sides of the bowl periodically. Don't worry if the mixture looks separated and broken; it will come together when you add the flour.
Beat in the vanilla.
Sift the flour, baking powder and salt together. Add the nuts and mix well to combine. Add this to the butter in three additions, alternating with the cream in two additions, beginning and ending with flour. Mix only until incorporated. Do not overmix. Add the hazelnut liqueur or the oil and mix well with a spatula.
Scrape the butter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or 1 hour and 20 minutes, or until the top springs back when lightly touched and a tester inserted in center comes out clean.
Transfer to a wire rack and cool 20 to 30 minutes. Run a thin bladed knife around the edge of the pan, remove the sides if using a springform or unmold if using a loaf pan.
Cool on a rack completely before serving or wrapping or storing.
This cake tastes better the second day and lasts up to 5 days.
To skin hazelnuts: Spread hazelnuts in a shallow baking pan, single layer, and bake in a 350º oven, for about 7 to 10 minutes or until fragrant. Watch closely, as they burn easily, and shake pan several times. The skins will begin to crackle. Transfer the toasted nuts to a bowl lined with a clean kitchen towel, bundle the nuts in the towel and set aside just until they are cool enough to handle. Rub the nuts briskly, then open the bundle and use your fingers to rub the papery skins from the nuts. Don't worry if some of the nuts refuse to be totally skinned. Store in an airtight container.