Last month, someone emailed me to ask how I’d suggest she adapt the Icebox Cake to feed 30 to 40 people. Anyone who has ever emailed me to ask me a question before probably knows what happened next: I answered at least 10 (cough 20) days after the fact. Nevertheless, she assured me that she’d scaled it just fine and her husband and hers joint birthday part was wonderful, or at least I think this is what she said because I do not remember a single word that passed between us after she uttered what have to be the four most beautiful words in the dessert lexicon: Hazelnut. Brown. Butter. Cake.
[Insert sound of tires screeching to a halt.]
“Did you say someone made a Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake?”
“It’s from Sunday Suppers at Lucques and not to torment you or anything, but I am eating a piece right now.”
[Insert sound of Deb fainting to the floor. Or something equally melodramatic. Because nobody feeds me, ever.]
And this, my friends, is an excellent time for me to introduce my new favorite cookbook: Suzanne Goin’s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. I know I’m always two-plus years late to the party but what is important is that I got there at all. Falling head over heels in love with a cookbook is dangerous, however; on one hand, I get to share something with you that I am gaspingly excited about. But on the other hand, if I were to, say, only post recipes from Sunday Suppers for the next two weeks, it wouldn’t be very cool at all. We must strive for moderation! But this doesn’t make it easy. In fact, I’m already on my second recipe, I created a third one this weekend and I’ve got my eye on, oh, sixteen or seventeen more.
But if this cake doesn’t get you running to the store to buy Suzanne Goin’s masterpiece, I just don’t know about you. Did you hear the part where I mentioned hazelnuts, and the brown butter? There’s a vanilla bean in there too. Oh, and because I was bringing it to my in-laws who–how shall I state this mildly?–have a slight thing for chocolate, I draped it with ganache, though the original recipe just suggested powdered sugar and caramelized pears.
Anyway, the two weeks between the time I learned of this cake, ordered the book and finally found a chance to make it were probably a little difficult for Alex. “What would you like for dinner?” “Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake.” “What should we do today?” “Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake.” “Do you like this shirt and jeans together?” “Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake.”
I think you can see where I am going with this. Had his Aunt’s 65th birthday not given me an excuse to finally bake the cake, Alex might have taken to wearing earplugs around the apartment. Uh, again. Thank goodness things never got that ugly, I mean, until he suggested that we share the piece left in the fridge. It’s like he doesn’t know me AT ALL.
Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques
Chef Goin served this as her wedding cake. Need I say more? Okay fine, I will: I liked it even better out of the fridge the next day.
5 ounces (about one heaping cup) hazelnuts, blanched to remove dark skins*
1/2 pound unsalted butter (plus 1 tablespoon melted extra for greasing the pan)
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting the cake
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
5 extra-large egg whites (I used 6 since I was using
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 °F.
Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown and smell nutty. Let them cool.
Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of a 10-inch round cake pan. Brush the pan with a little melted butter and line the bottom with the paper.
Place the rest of the butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center, and using a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. To make sure not to lose any of the seeds, run your vanilla-coated knife through the butter. Add the vanilla pod to the pan, and cook the butter until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Set aside to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.
Grind the hazelnuts with the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until they’re finely ground. Add the flour and pulse to combine. Transfer to a large bowl.
Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the granulated sugar and mix on high speed 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture forms very stiff peaks. When you turn the whisk upside down, the peaks should hold. Transfer the whites to a large mixing bowl.
Alternate folding the dry ingredients and the brown butter into the egg whites, a third of a time. Remember to scrap the bottom of the brown butter pan with a rubber spatula to get all the little brown bits.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour**. Cool on a rack 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a plate. Peel off the paper, and turn the cake back over onto a serving platter. Sprinkle it with powdered sugar or cover with ganache (below).
* I removed the skins (which are especially tough on the delicious Oregon hazelnuts I found) by toasted them on a baking sheet at 350°F for about 15 minutes then either (I tried both methods) wrapping the warm nuts in a dish towel, letting it steam for five minutes and then vigorously rubbing them together to remove the skins or by plunking them in a colander and using a hard, dry, clean scrub brush to brush their skins off.
** Mine was done at 40 minutes so check yours even earlier, okay?
Draping Ganache for 10-inch Cake
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips or finely-chopped chocolate
1/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
Melt the chocolate, heavy cream, and coffee in the top of a double boiler over simmering water until smooth and warm, stirring occasionally. Drizzle over the top of the cake. (I usually use the boil cream and then stir in chips until they melt method, but found that this time it ended up too thick and hard to drizzle. Feel free to try either, though!)
Updated to add: Eggbeater’s Shuna has made this cake before, and has terrifically detailed instructions and step-by-step pictures for those of you who need more than gushing to guide you through a recipe! Check it out.