hazelnut brown butter cake

The other day, I made my dad a batch of chocolate chip cookies for Father’s Day. Before I went to the store, I peeked in my fridge to take inventory of the ingredients, and I realized: I had no butter.

And not only did I have no butter, but I hadn’t had butter for the past 3 weeks, since we moved into the new unit.

A bit frantic, I darted to the pantry to check on my sugar supply. As I pushed through the cornmeal and whole-wheat flour and packets of yeast, I suddenly realized — I was out of sugar, too.

I made my way to the store, all the while recounting my recent cooking adventures: Lentils. Greens. Tofu. All delicious foods in their own right, but none of which involve the Holy Trinity of gastronomical bliss: butter, sugar, and chocolate.

It’s been 11 posts since I baked, and 17 posts since chocolate graced the pages of The First Kitchen. Consider this almost-flourless cake my apology. Even though it’s almost gluten-free, it’s very light and airy due to the egg whites, and the crumb is moist and delicate. It’s basically a more sophisticated, beautiful version of eating Nutella from the jar with a spoon.

It’s getting hot, really hot, especially here in central Texas, and I’ve been making lots of food that doesn’t require me to fire up the oven… but don’t forget to bake every now and then, just to keep life balanced. And if you find that you’re short of butter, sugar, vanilla, dark chocolate, or multi-colored sprinkles, just give me a call — I bought extra.

Hazelnut Browned Butter Cake, adapted from Smitten Kitchen.
[Note: there’s only 1/3 c. of flour in the cake, which makes it a perfect candidate to be a gluten-free dessert. If you have a wheat allergy or are gluten-intolerant, feel free to substitute it with a non-wheat flour — I doubt it would affect taste or texture of the end product.]

1 c. hazelnuts
1/2 lb. unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean or 2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 1/3 c. powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting the cake
1/3 c. all-purpose flour or gluten-free flour
6 large egg whites
3 tbsp. sugar

Preheat oven to 350 °F. Your first step is to blanch the hazelnuts. Bring 2 qts. water and 1/8 c. baking soda to a boil, then boil the hazelnuts for 5 min. Pour them into a colander and run cold water over them. The skins should come off easily. You can either peel them by hand or dump them in a towel and rub the skins off.

Then, toast the hazelnuts in the oven for 15 minutes, until they start smelling delicious.

Brown the butter: Place the butter in a medium saucepan on medium heat. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the “caviar,” or just use 2 tsp. vanilla extract. The butter will foam, but the foam will go away, and then you’ll start seeing brown bits on the bottom of the pan, at which point you should stir it a bit to help it along. When the butter starts smelling nutty, remove it from heat — DO NOT let it burn. The whole process should take about 8 minutes.

Pulse the hazelnuts and the powdered sugar until finely ground (but not too much, or it will turn into hazelnut butter, and you’ll have a whole different form of food nirvana on your hands). Add the flour; pulse again. Dump the powder into a bowl.

Beat the egg whites on high for 4-5 minutes, until the whites form stiff peaks. Fold the dry ingredients and brown butter into the egg whites, a little of each at a time. Get all the brown bits from the brown butter into the batter (say that 5 times fast).

Pour the batter into a buttered cake pan and bake for 45 minutes. Check it often with a toothpick. Let it cool, then cover with the ganache and bits of crushed hazelnuts.

2/3 c., or about 4 oz. semisweet chocolate chips or finely-chopped chocolate
1/4 c. heavy cream
1/2 tsp. instant coffee granules

Use a double-boiler or makeshift double-boiler to melt the ingredients over simmering water until smooth and liquidy. Drizzle on top of the cake, making sure to let some run down the sides.


7 responses to “hazelnut brown butter cake

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