I have officially given up the quest for the hazelnut torte of my dreams-I’ve found it! It’s not exactly what we ate in Piemonte, but it’s an amazing cake and J. has proclaimed it better than the ones we tried while on vacation. Now that’s quite a statement coming from someone who has tolerated, but not gushed over, any of my previous attempts. Since our return in May I have looked through every Italian cookbook that I own in search of the recipe that would satisfy my craving. Turns out that the recipe I pronounce as the winner, is not from a cookbook of Italian food, but from Sunday Supper at Lucques, written by Suzanne Goin, the owner of several very successful Los Angeles restaurants. She felt so strongly about this cake, that she served it at her wedding!
I think I may have initially been hesitant about trying this recipe due to the quantity of butter involved-2 sticks for one 10″ cake. I’m not one for skimping on ingredients, but that sounded like an awful lot of butter. Well, butter be damned-I don’t care anymore. This cake is that good. Suzanne serves hers with sauteed pears, but I’m not a huge pear lover and so I went with a large dollop of whipped cream. Before we had tasted it, I apologized to our guests about subjecting them to yet another experimental hazelnut cake. We dipped our forks through the whipped cream and into the cake below. For a moment their was silence, then smiles and kudos all around. The search was officially over, but that doesn’t mean I won’t be tempted to bake another cake should a different recipe find its way to me.
Hazelnut-Brown Butter Cake
5 ounces (about 1 heaping cup) hazelnuts
1/2 pound unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter
1/2 vanilla bean
1-1/3 cups confectioners’ sugar
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 extra-large egg whites
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast the nuts for about 10 minutes, until they smell nutty. Wrap the nuts in a dishtowel, let sit for about 10 minutes, then rub the nuts in the towel to remove the skins. Cool.
Cut a piece of parchment to fit into the bottom of a 10″ round cake pan (I used a 9″). Brush the pan with a little melted butter, line the bottom with the parchment. Place the rest of the butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean down the center and use the knife to scrape the seeds and the pulp onto the butter. Add the vanilla pod to the pan and cook the butter and vanilla over medium heat 6 to 8 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally, until the butter browns and smells nutty. Set aside to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.
Grind the cooled hazelnuts with the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until they’re finely ground. Add the flour and pulse to combine.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the granulated sugar and mix on high for 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture forms very stiff peaks. When you turn the bowl upside down, the peaks should hold. Transfer the whites to a large bowl. Alternate folding the dry ingredients and the brown butter into the egg whites, a third at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake 45 minutes to 1 hour. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes and then invert the cake onto a plate and peel off the paper. Serve with whipped cream.