My top tips on baking with hazelnuts and why it should be your new best friend.
Patisserie without nuts, wouldn’t really be patisserie…. Hazelnuts, almonds, pistachios, pecans, walnuts, you name it! They are entirely part of the patisserie process, and as a patisserie Chef, I find it hard to work without them. They are used as based for pralines, they flavour creams, they bring crunchiness to cakes, but also moisture. Grounded, chopped, turned to paste, the possibilities are endless.
But today I want to focus on a particular nut I affectionate, la noisette. Yes, that’s right, the hazelnut.
It is picked between August and November, depending on the type and geography, but because it is very often dried, it can be used all year around. Although, I must say, its rich and round flavour makes it a perfect choice for Autumnal and wintery flavours as these two call for flavours that warms the heart, don’t they just?
Because of my patisserie background, I feel the need to bring texture to my cakes. This is one of the basic rules of French patisserie: a dessert needs to be soft, creamy and crunchy, all three at the time! And what better way to bring that crunchy texture to your cakes than by using some of these amazing nuts? Now of course, we want to please all of our customers and nuts are not always an option. But this article is about the lucky ones that can enjoy nuts. So, let’s get down to business!
HAZELNUTS & CAKE DESIGN
As I was saying, I really enjoy baking with nuts and I have a soft spot for hazelnuts. I am a big fan (like many others….) of a delicious chocolate and hazelnuts spread (that unfortunately does NOT contain that many hazelnuts…), so hazelnuts and chocolate seem like a go-to association. But there are so many others…
Here are my few patisserie combinations featuring the star of the show: THE hazelnut.
Hazelnuts & Cream:
It can be added to any cream by being processed as a Praliné - a mixture of roasted hazelnuts and caramel that has been processed on a mixer until the obtention of a paste - or as a hazelnut paste which is simply roasted nuts that have also been processed without any addition once cooled off.
Another famous use of Hazelnuts is of course Gianduja (just writing that name makes me hungry). Gianduja is the greatest sweet Italian invention (in my humble gourmet opinion, I know that not everyone would agree, but hey!). It consists of a mixture of roasted nuts, icing sugar and chocolate (dark or milk). And the thing that these three recipes, praliné, paste and gianduja, do keep particularly well, if packed properly (in airtight containers, in the fridge or a cool place, they can keep for several months).
As we know, wedding cakes usually call for buttercream due to the fact that they have to “survive” hours onwards without seeing the inside of a fridge. I must say, this fact did frustrate me a bit in the beginning, as I was train to fill cake with light creams like chantilly, crème patissiere, light mousses, and so on. But, I soon realised that butter cream actually had its pros, not only in term of conservation, but in term of taste too. It mixes so well with any nuts paste, and particularly well with hazelnuts! I tend to keep my butter/sugar ratio to 1/0.8 . If you’re using hazelnut paste, flavour your normal buttercream with it. If you’re using praliné or Gianduja on the other hand, replace your sugar with the one you’re using. Simply whip your butter like you normally would for a buttercream, and slowly add your praliné or slightly melted Gianduja (careful with temperature differences, butter’s melting point is 32 Degree Celsius!).
If your buttercream is a bit liquid when mixed with praliné (don’t worry it’s normal), just leave it in the fridge a while before use.
Hazelnuts & Sponges
A hazelnuts-based sponge is incredible. It is so moist and delicious, you just can’t get enough of it! You can replace a part of your flour (about 15-20%) with ground hazelnuts. You can make the ground hazelnuts yourself by mixing whole ones on a food processor until they reach the right consistency. You must be careful though: nuts in general (and particularly hazelnuts) have a really high fat content, and the heat of the blades releases the oil. If you’re not careful and just forget your nuts in the mixing blender, you will find that they have turned into a paste! You must stop the blender as soon as you have the “dry” looking sand consistency.
For a full empowering hazelnuts flavour, do not just put ground hazelnuts in your sponge, but roast them! You can either roast whole hazelnuts before your blend them, but you can also roast your ground hazelnuts on a flat tray. Be careful not to burn the edges!
You can also chop grossly roasted whole hazelnuts and add that to you sponge for that texture and crunchiness we mentioned earlier.
Hazelnuts & Other Flavours
The beauty of these small nuts is the large panel of flavours they enhance. I was going to start by giving you my favourite, but then I realised, I don’t really have a favourite. Ok, maybe I do, maybe Hazelnuts & Chocolate is my favourite! But it is in a very tight competition with Hazelnuts & Coffee! Yes, these are definitely my two favourites! I know, not very extravagant is it?
I would then strongly suggest another obvious combination, Hazelnuts & Pears (combine chocolate or salted caramel in that duo and you’ve got yourself a winner - also works wonders with Apples), but also Hazelnuts and pretty much any kind of citrus: goes divine with Lemon (oui!), don’t even get me started on Hazelnuts & Oranges, some love it with Yuzu (although I personally very much dislike Yuzu, so I wouldn’t know….)
What about your normal banana sponge to which you would add spices of chopped hazelnuts before putting it in the oven? Or… you could caramelise chopped pieces of hazelnuts, and sprinkle them on your buttercream between each layer of sponge.
Another less obvious pairing would be hazelnuts with exotic fruits like mango and passion fruit. That combination is quite popular amongst famous French pastry Chefs. To achieve that, you could bake a hazelnuts sponge and fill it with a mango or passion fruit ganache, white, milk or dark chocolate-based ganache as the three would work perfectly all the while achieving very different results.
And because acts speak better than words, here is the recipe of my Hazelnuts and Chocolate cake. This very simple recipe is absolutely yummy, and consists of a moist hazelnuts sponge filled with a dark chocolate ganache and to bring crunchiness, whole pieces of roasted hazelnuts.
For a 5" cake
Eggs 200g (or 4 medium eggs)
Light brown sugar 180g
Self Raising Flour 165g
Roasted Ground Hazelnuts 45g
Mix your room temperature softened butter, light brown sugar and ground hazelnuts until light and fluffy. Slowly add your eggs one by one in the batter, making sure to scrape your bowl halfway through to obtain a well homogenised mix (add a bit of flour after the second egg to avoid splitting). Once you've added all the eggs, fold in the rest of the flour without over mixing your batter.
Split in two 5" cake tins and bake about 45 to 50 minutes to 165 degrees celsius.
When nice and golden, remove the tins from the oven and stick a knife through to make sure it is baked thoroughly. Leave to cool down entirely.
Whipping cream 150g
Dark 100% Cocoa Paste* 37g
Dark 70% Chocolate 75g
* you can easily find pure cocoa paste in the chocolate range of any supermarket, or online. I personally use Montezuma's which you can find here.
In a saucepan, bring to simmer the whipping cream and sugar. Meanwhile, melt the pure cocoa paste and dark chocolate in the microwave or in a bain-marie, making sure to stir as you go to avoid burning it. Once melted, pour the hot whipping cream and whisk from the center until you obtain a silky smooth ganache, which means that you just made a beautiful emulsion (the result is quite liquid which is totally normal) - make sure you scrape your bowl thoroughly and give it a last little whisking to avoid find hard pieces of chocolate later.
Pour in a flat container and make sure to cover your ganache with cling film directly to the surface until cooled and set. Do not wait for it to be totally set to use on your cake, it needs to be still soft enough to be spread easily.
ASSEMBLE YOUR CAKE
Cut each sponge in 2, 3 or 4 layers, depending on how thin you want them to be. Then as usual, place your bottom layer on a board and on a cake stand, fill each layer with a thin layer of chocolate ganache, and before adding the next layer of sponge, sprinkle the ganache with roasted pieces of hazelnuts. Keep going up until all the layers have been placed.
Keep in the fridge until set, and then cover your cake with more chocolate ganache (at least double the recipe if you plan on covering the cake as well). In this recipe, I covered the cake with a vanilla buttercream to which I added roasted ground hazelnuts to give that lovely sprinkled effect.
That's it! Hope you enjoy making (and eating?) it!
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