No excuses though. I've been a bit busy and therefore too lazy to post :) But here I am to kick-start my food blogging again. It was N's Birthday's eve. After what she did for mine, I decided to reciprocate in kind. But hers was on a weekday so I couldnt do as much as I wanted to. So I wanted to make sure that the only thing I did for her (we did go out to eat and all but I'm talking about something home-made ;) ) would be worth remembering and somewhat special. I know that N is a sucker for chocolate. She believes that chocolate is panacea :) So I had to include it in whatever I was planning to make. I thought we had to cut a cake for her so why not bake a nice cake.
I must have searched for at least 100 recipes online on food network and various blogs. The variations in recipes in terms of amount of eggs, butter, sugar, flour made me pull my hair. I basically wanted a nice dense cake and top it off with some ganache. But this didnt sound 'special' enough to me. So I decided to ditch all the recipes and try something on my own. Venturesome? Maybe. Fun? Absolutely! This was by far the best thing I have ever baked in my life :) Apologies if I seem to be gloating a bit but if I cant contain my exuberance almost 3 weeks after baking the cake, you can imagine how I must have felt on her birthday's eve :) Its one of those things when you are truly satisfied because everything you planned actually worked out without a glitch.....FOR A CHANGE!
Caution: If you are calorie conscious, this cake is NOT for you as this recipe might give Paula Deen a run for her money :P
Coming back to the cake, I wanted to make it special. So I bought some hazelnuts to impart a flavor that neither N nor I have experimented with before. And I know that we've had hazelnut flavored desserts previously and N loved them. I decided to make a Hazelnut flour. I basically toasted some hazelnuts in the oven and allowed them to cool completely. How did N not catch the aroma you ask? I had dropped her at a friend's place a couple of days ago for an afternoon so I used the extra hour or two to 'prep' things a bit ;) I removed the skin right after toasting and then let them cool down completely. Then I ground them with the all purpose flour. The resulting 'hazelnut-flour' had a tinge to it and was extremely aromatic. I stored it in our pantry, making sure that N wouldn't see it ;) It sat there for 2 days and on her birthday's eve, I cadged her not to enter the kitchen for sometime so that she couldn't see what I was making for her. She took full advantage of the opportunity of course, occasionally threatening to enter the kitchen and what not!
About an hour later, I opened the fridge and everything looked fine. I made sure the top was cold. I took out the cake and placed it on a wire rack with a large plate underneath the rack. It was time to make the ganache. I made a basic chocolate ganache using chocolate and whipping cream and poured it on top of the cake, trying to 'apply' it with a knife. It turned out a bit 'unrefined' but I wanted it that way to impart a more 'home-made' countenance. OK fine! I am new to this whole ganache and cake-adornment business and that was the best I could do at that time as a novice :P
I let the cake set for 4-5 hours in the fridge. Then at 12 a.m sharp, when I invited N to cut the cake, her jaws dropped as well :) And the cake.....my goodness it was deee-licious! We finished off the whole thing in a day and a half!
1/3 cup hazelnuts (I used organic Turkish Hazelnuts)
2/3 cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 stick butter (melted)
1/3 cup milk (I used 2% reduced fat milk.....the only low-fat component of this entire cake ;) )
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
For the whipped cream filling:
1 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
1 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp vanilla extract
For the Ganache:
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
3/4 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp sugar
1. Toast the hazelnuts in an oven (preheated at 350F) for 10-15 mins. I used a regular cookie sheet for this. Keep an eye on it and make sure it doesnt burn. Remove the skin (if you can get the hazelnuts without the skin for a couple of bucks more....GET IT! Removing the skin was a pain in the neck! But you may have to toast it for a shorter period of time). I removed the skin by placing a few pieces between paper towels and rubbing them as hard as I could. Allow to cool completely.
2. Grind the hazelnut with the AP flour in 3-4 batches (equal amounts of flour and hazelnuts). I pulsed for a couple of seconds after adding each batch, stopped and opened the blender to make sure there was no clumping. I scraped the sides of the blender before adding the next batch. Once the hazelnut flour is done, store it in an airtight container until ready to use. I didnt refrigerate it for 2 days and it was absolutely fine.
3. In a bowl, beat three eggs using a hand beater for 2-3 mins at high speed. Add the sugar in 2-3 batches and continue to beat at high speed, until it appears light yellow and creamy, about 3-4 more mins. Add the melted butter, salt and milk and beat at medium speed for another minute or two.
4. Sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda in 5-6 batches and fold it into the liquid mixture. Do NOT beat. I found that the hazelnut flour was easy to fold in and did not clump at all. Also, the overall batter was much thicker than the typical cake batter. I guess I wanted it to cook faster due to time-crunch!
5. Bake for ~25 mins at 350 or until a toothpick comes out clean. I used a 9" circular ceramic cake pan. The batter filled up ~ 2/3rd of the pan.
6. Once the cake is out of the oven, run a knife around the edges to loosen the cake and invert the cake to a tea towel. Then gently invert the cake to a cooling rack so that the risen 'dome' faces you. I did all this when the cake was semi-cold due to lack of time. Allow to cool for ~ 30 mins.
7. Split the cake into two halves. Let them cool for about an hour on the wire rack.
8. Make the whipped cream filling. Beat the cream, sugar and vanilla extract at high speed until stiff peaks form. Let the whipped cream sit in the refrigerator for ~15 mins.
9. Apply generously to one half and gently place the other half on top. Press the top half gently so that it holds in place. Using a knife, remove any cream that may have oozed out during this process. I used my fingers and licked everything off clean :) Put the assembled cake into the fridge for ~2 hours.
10. Remove the cake from the fridge and start preparing the ganache. Heat the cream and sugar in a non-stick saucepan and when it is hot (but not boiling), add the chocolate chips and the butter. Stir to mix (~3-4 mins). My ganache had the consistency of honey. It might have been thicker than a regular ganache because I wanted it to set faster due to lack of time ;). Once the ganache is done, pour it slowly over the cake, spreading and covering the sides with a knife. Make sure that the entire cake is covered nice and even. Refrigerate the cake for 3-4 hours.
The cake itself looked gorgeous and after applying the ganache, the cake literally glistened. As far as taste goes, it rocked! The hazelnut flour imparted an extremely rich taste to it which was out of this world! With the cream filling and the ganache, the cake was quite tasty.
When we decided to invite some friends for dinner, we decided to make the same basic cake, but use coconut instead of hazelnuts and apply a whipped cream-coconut topping instead of the ganache. So we whipped up some more cream. We didnt grind the coconut flakes (~1/2 cup) with the flour but simply folded them in after sifting the dry ingredients into the liquid batter. For the topping, we toasted some dessicated coconut flakes to go on top of the whipped cream. The whipped cream filling in the middle was also retained.
N thought her birthday cake was special indeed :) N is going probably going to kill me for this analogy but it felt like when you do a complex Math problem right. Because Maths is one of those things when you know that you're right ;) And I am thankful to my stars that on that day, everything fell into place. Of course, N's patience and cooperation is also appreciated ;)