Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Tale of two cakes.

I'm writing a post after ages.....literally! The rate at which food-blogs are updated these days, I guess a nearly 3 month hiatus is the equivalent of an ice age!

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!

I had to be patient and request her repeatedly to control herself :P When I opened the container with the hazelnut flour, it was still very fragrant. I added the usual suspects (eggs, butter, rising agents, sugar etc) and baked the cake. When it came out, my jaws dropped! It was one of the more beautiful things that ever came out of our oven. I couldn't help but exclaim "Oh my God!". N immediately asked what happened and I had to tell her that it was an exclamation out of happiness for a change because usually when I exclaimed, it meant bad news ;) The cake was perfectly golden and had a luster to it, which I believe was due to the oils that the hazelnuts released. I tasted the crumbs left in the pan and I wanted to bury my face into the cake and finish it off right there! It was un-beee-lievable!

As I was cooling it on a wire rack, I noticed a small crack on the side of the cake. I dont know what struck me, but a light bulb suddenly flashed in my head. I took out some heavy cream, beat it and made some fresh whipped cream. I cut the cake right down the middle and let the two halves cool completely. I then applied the whipped cream (quite generously!) on one of the halves. I gently put the other half on top of the creamed half. Then I put the cake into the refrigerator to set. I guess my idea of making the cake 'special' was to make it a layered cake.

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 goodness it was deee-licious! We finished off the whole thing in a day and a half!


For the cake:

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 ;)


Cham said...

Can I say again, N is one of the lucky gal on earth :) Happy B B'Day to N and V Day too :) Did u drop N at friend's place for days... or just hours... I saw Days and wonder how could be alone enjoying without N. She really have tons of patience to not even glance after ur exclamation:OMG...Once in a while we don't care of calorific food, good one A!

Asha said...

Happy birthday to N, enjoy the cake. Oops! You are already did and it's all gone! ;D

Looks perfect with golden hue. Once in a while, it's okay not to think of calories and enjoy.

Btw, Donut maker is available Amazon, search for "Norpro Donut maker" and you will get the same as mine!

Happy V day! :)

Usha said...

Birthday wishes to N, must say exceptions to calories can be made for a birthday....the cake looks awesome !

Ranjani said...

What a gorgeous cake!!! hmmm the "friends" LOVED the coconut cake btw:))

Ranjani said...

Can you guys make this cake for me?!! p-u-l-e-a-s-e!!!

Soma said...

Hi There! I think this is my first time here... & U have a real nice place. Belated happy birthday to N that is one gorgeous cake.

Thanx a lot for stopping by & letting me know. It feels best when I know that someone actually tried & cared enuf to let me know:-)

Nags said...

like i keep tellin ur wife, she is unbelievably lucky! the whole experience sounds amazing and i would love to experiment with hazelnut flavour too!

Priya said...

Belated birthday wishes to N! The cake looks gorgeous A, the hazelnut flour addition sounds interesting. To not follow a recipe and still get a perfect cake is fabulous. And yes, anything with chocolate is panacea ;)

Sunshinemom said...

OMG! Isn't that just perfect, N:) Happy Birthday - I know it is quite sometime since it passed but am sure the flavor of the cake will remain and you can savor the wishes with the fragrance:)

Priya said...

Birthday wishes to N.. am just drooling over the cake...looks gorgeous..

Sukanya Ramkumar said...

Cake looks so moist and yummy. Love Ganache cakes a lot. YUM!

Belated Birthday and Valentine's Day wishes!!!

Raaga said...

I have to get S to read this. Happy birthday N...3 weeks late. And hats off to you A... this cake looks delish.

Shreya said...

N is truly lucky! awesome cake:-)

Viki Xavier. said...

What a yummy and moist cake. Happy Birthday N and Happy Valentines Day to both of U.

Suma Rajesh said...

woo beautiful nd tempting cake...belated b day wishes N..

PG said...

I loved reading this post.
Happy belated Birthday N! The cake sounds and looks really delicious!
I also want to make a simple layered cake and now after seeing yours I'm thining of making it like yours. Though sunny boy has already told me, he wants jam in between and chocolate on top :) Let's see, maybe jam and cream. But, what is scaring me is tht i have to make a cake which does not have wheat. he's allergic to wheat, though luckily not very strongly. Got to know of it last December only (the answer to your question: it is luckily not gluten but only wheat and spelt so far).

A_and_N said...

Cham: Corrected the mistake :) I was left for a couple of hours. And thanks for the wishes. And I did not care to share the cake or its calorific value :D

Asha: Thanks for the info! And thanks for the wishes too :)

Usha: Thanks so much for the wishes!

Ranj: :) thanks man! We can surely make this for you.

Soma: Thanks Soma. And I made it again today! :) My guests loved it.

Nags: *hmph* You are lucky too ok? How can you call me lucky? Do you call him lucky ever? :P

Priya & Priya,Sukanya, Shreya Sunshinemom: Thanks a ton

Raaga: Show him, show him :D

Viki, Suma: Danke!

PG: Do try it. The hazelnut flavour is out of this world!

Ingrid said...

A little late but Happy Birthday N!

That cake looks fabulous! I'm gonna print out the recipe and give it a try. I don't have hazelnuts but do have almonds so I'm gonna try that as I really like almonds(the kiddos,too). Thanks for sharing the recipe and that was a truly sweet gift to give her. You go!

Bong Mom said...

How lucky !!!