HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER CAKE.
Let me say those magical four words again: HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER CAKE. This is the food of the angels. I want to serve this as our wedding cake! It's been a busy August in Laurel and Mike's Test Kitchen, between being housebound by the stifling heat and the being too broke to go out and socialize much. Besides, this one seemed special enough to warrant a special edition of Ye Olde Teste Kitchene, so here's the skinny on HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER CAKE................it is amazing. Combining liberal quantities of toasted, ground hazelnuts with equally liberal quantities of brown butter and a surprisingly small amount of flour. Who needs flour when you have HAZELNUTS and BROWN BUTTER (why yes, the caps are absolutely necessary, as a matter of fact). Recipe comes from here, the smitten kitchen blog, although the original source of the recipe is credited as Suzanne Goin’s 'Sunday Suppers at Lucques' cookbook, which I now want to immediately buy and add to my arsenal of cookbooks. I admit to tampering with the recipe here and there, so your mileage may vary on this, but considering the raves going out on the internet regarding this wonderful, wonderfully delightful cake, I doubt you'll be dissatisfied with either version. Mine, for the record, was sublime. Chef Goin's is likely even more so. Even my vegan mother ate a piece I put in front of her (GASP! Okay, I did give her a warning that it was the most un-vegan thing imaginable, then mentioned that i'd turn a blind eye if she wanted to indulge and, well.......let's just say that it disappeared. We're asking no questions).
+ Had no fresh whole vanilla bean to use, because I am not a rich person, and therefore used vanilla extract like a lowly peasant. Whatever.
+ Made mini-cakes in a cupcake pan instead of one large torte-like cake, because I (insert another GASP!) do not own even one cake pan. What can i say, I was never much of a baker? That is slowly changing, much to my ever-expanding waistline's chagrin.
+ Also, I added about twice the salt that Chef Goin's recipe calls for. I can't eat more than a few bites of most sweetsweetsweet desserts, and vastly prefer them with a little extra salt or bite or something to them besides sugar. I wasn't taking any chances with this one, and besides, nuts and brown butter seemed a good candidate for the salty-sweet flavor profile, and.........oh my god, I just said 'flavor profile,' let's move on, shall we? Ha ha.
+ I also had no electric mixer with which to beat my egg whites to the soft peak stage (am reeeeaally hoping our wedding registry will deliver in this area!*), and so had to beat them the medieval way, which may have resulted beaten egg whites that were slightly less aerated than was ideal. But hey.
+ finally, I swapped the powdered sugar called for in the recipe for white granulated because I don't like the powdery (duh) sickly-sweet taste of powdered sugar desserts. I also swapped the granulated sugar called for in the recipe for light brown sugar, thinking that between the less-beaten egg whites, the extra salt, and the lack of fluffy powdered sugar, I was in for a much richer, denser, more salty-caramelly-sweet cake than the original recipe.........and IT WORKED. It was dense but well-aerated and not at all bricklike, moist (god I really hate that word), tender, rich and brown and nutty. I dipped the tops of each in lovely real dark chocolate ganache made with lovely heavy cream (Oh god I am going to be 300 pounds by the time the wedding rolls around**), barely let them cool, and then Mike and I fell upon them like starving dogs. It was through a triumph of self-discipline and a not-so-minor sacrifice that we managed to transport some of the leftovers to my parents' for dessert the next night, so that they (veganism be damned) might also share in the unmitigated joy, the unbridled passion that is...........HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER CAKE.
( Editor's Note, 1/22/09:
*I am proud to report that we have since received this beauty as a wedding gift since this post was originally penned, and therefore I may never beat egg whites by hand again. Never.
**I am also proud to report that at the time of our wedding I did not, in fact, weigh three hundred pounds, but by some miracle, considerably less than half that amount. Despite all the HAZELNUT BROWN BUTTER CAKE.)