Experimenting with hazelnuts

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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Pecans, peanuts and walnuts are all common baking ingredients for cookies and cakes.

Maybe I haven't spent enough time experimenting with hazelnuts, but today's recipes showcase one of my favourite nibbles.

Of course, you can substitute, but why would you?

Italian hazelnut torte

Rich and dense, this cake is moist enough to serve with a sprinkle of icing sugar but makes a fabulous dessert when paired with fresh fruit, whipped cream or, most decadent of all, both.

If you don't want to fuss with removing the skins from the nuts, then you can buy them ready to use, but I find there is a slight loss of freshness that is disappointing in the finished product.

It is a little time-consuming, so it's really up to you how you go about it. Come to that, you can buy them already chopped, but I have to say from scratch in this recipe is worth the extra effort.

1-1/2 cups whole, skin-on hazelnuts

1-1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

1/4 tsp. salt

1-1/8 cups granulated sugar

6 tbsp. butter, softened

3 eggs

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

2 tsp. orange zest, finely grated

1 cup milk, at room temperature

1 tsp. each vanilla

1 tsp. orange flour water (optional)

1/4 tsp. almond extract

4 tbsp. semisweet chocolate, chopped by hand into small pieces

Toast hazelnuts at 350 F for 10-15 minutes, until your kitchen is fragrant and their skins start to look papery and ready to come off. Wrap in a clean kitchen towel to steam for five minutes, then rub off the dark brown outer husk. You can do the same thing by rubbing the steamed nuts in a colander, but I find the towel method easier. Chop in a food processor to small bits, but not to a powder. Set aside.

Whisk or sift together the flour, baking powder and salt; set aside. In the mixer on high speed, cream sugar and butter until light, smooth and fluffy. Incorporate eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Add olive oil and orange zest then beat at high speed for a couple of minutes longer.

On slow speed, add dry ingredients, alternating with milk. Three additions of dry and two of milk work fine. Stir in vanilla, orange flour water and almond extract. Fold in chopped hazelnuts and chocolate pieces.

Butter and flour a 10-inch springform pan. Line the bottom with parchment paper and butter and flour again - this cake tends to stick so this step is important.

Spoon into pan and smooth the top. Bake at 350 F until a cake tester in the middle comes out clean, about 55 minutes. The top should be golden brown and spring back when lightly touched.

Cool on a wire rack for 30 minutes, then remove the side ring and let cool completely. Cut in wedges and serve. The cake stores quite well in the fridge for a couple of days if wrapped tightly in at least two layers of plastic wrap. After that, consider toasting it in a hot oven for a few minutes before serving. It also freezes perfectly.

Flourless hazelnut cake

I get a lot of requests for gluten-free recipes, and this one is no compromise in flavour, believe me.

Try it even if flour doesn't bother you at all - you won't be sorry. If you don't want to grind the hazelnuts, then by all means buy pre-ground - the bulk food stores carry them and some larger grocery stores do, as well.

Unlike the previous cake, this one seems more forgiving when it comes to that shortcut. I wish I knew why, but I don't.

The soaking syrup not only moistens the crumb, but imparts a deep hazelnut flavour. Of course, you can skip it altogether if you prefer.

I must confess that this is not the prettiest cake you've ever made - it will probably fall in the middle and the sides might draw up a bit. Consider topping it with whipped cream or chocolate ganache, or slice it up before you serve it.

Cake:

2-1/2 cups hazelnuts, skins removed

2 tsp. baking powder

6 eggs, separated

10 tbsp. (5/8 cup) granulated sugar

1 tsp. vanilla

Hazelnut syrup:

1/4 cup boiling water

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tbsp. hazelnut liqueur (optional)

Grind hazelnuts in a food processor until fairly fine but not completely to a powder or a nut butter - you still want some texture. Whisk together with baking powder; set aside. If you are going for gluten-free, make sure the baking powder says so on the label.

In a clean bowl, beat egg whites until stiff. Fold hazelnuts and baking powder combination into egg whites until homogenous, but don't work the mixture any more than is absolutely necessary.

In a separate bowl, beat egg yolks and sugar until pale in colour and fluffy - at least five or six minutes. Beat in vanilla. Fold egg yolk mixture into hazelnut-egg white mixture.

Grease a nine-inch springform pan, line the bottom with parchment paper, and grease again. Pour batter into pan and bake at 325 F for one hour or until the top feels firm to the touch. Cool completely on a wire rack before removing from pan.

Make the syrup while the cake is baking. Bring water and sugar to a boil and simmer until sugar is completely dissolved. Remove from heat and stir in liqueur. Sprinkle all over still-warm cake and serve at once or chill.

CynthiaStone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c/o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: St. John's

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