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July 29, 2008

Hazelnuts and Praline, Some of My Favorite Things


When asked to name my very favorite things in pastry, I often feel like a mother being asked which of her children she likes best. How to choose between chocolate and strawberries, puff pastry and pâte sucrée? How to weigh the merits of a lemon tart versus a crème brûlée versus a buttery shortbread cookie? Of course, you also have Pierre Hermé's Ispahan, smiling smugly in the corner, realizing mommy will never admit it he's her favorite but knowing she has a special soft spot just for him.

While I don't think I'd ever be able to name just one favorite dessert, there are some ingredients and flavors that never fail to get my tastebuds tingling in anticipation- I've mentioned some of them above. Hazelnuts would also have to on the list  - ever since my first hazelnut-filled chocolate, I've been a fan most ardent and devout of this little nut. Praline has got to be on the shortlist as well - the combination of caramelized sugar and toasted nuts combines into a confection far more fabulous than the sum of its parts.

So when I saw this month's Daring Bakers challenge, a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream, I was hooked! Chosen by the lovely Chris of Mele Cotte, this indulgent little number had me juggling and rearranging that ever-evolving list of favorites.

This cake reminds me of a cross between an opera cake and a sachertorte - a most heavenly amalgamation. The layers of genoise and buttercream are quite similar to the almond joconde and espresso buttercream in a traditional opera cake, but the apricot glaze and whipped cream remind me of the Viennese sachertorte, which layers chocolate cake and apricot jam, and served mit schlag - with a generous dollop of sweetened whipped cream.

With such impressive pastry relatives, how could this cake fail to dazzle the tongue? The genoise was Although I found whipped cream a little soft and plushy to work with as a layer in a cake, it does add a lovely lightness to counterbalance the richness of the buttercream. I also really liked the inclusion of the praline; I adore contrasting textures in dessert, especially wafer thin layers of feuilletine or sprinklings of streusel. I actually left the praline paste with a few bits in it, and mixed into the buttercream it added wonderful little bursts of flavor. The soft chocolate glaze was the crowning touch, both literally and tastewise: it tied all the elements together, a luxurious bow on top of an already beautiful cake.

I made several mini-cakes, using my ever-dependable cake rings. This cake is probably not the best choice to render in miniature; the softness and creaminess of the fillings makes it difficult to keep the layers straight, and since they don't set like mousse-type fillings with gelatin, they're also trickier to unmold. But I managed to get a few fairly attractive ones out of the bunch. And, lookers or not, they were certainly tasty! Thanks, Chris, for a great Daring Bakers Challenge!

Oh, and let me take the chance to thank all of you who wrote in to my book post - one of the best things about writing this cookbook has doubtless been all the support you've all given me! Thanks so much for all your well-wishes - I really hope you'll all enjoy the book when it comes out!

Also, I've set up a Dessert First page on Facebook - please join it and be a fan! I'll post updates on the page about my book and all my other dessert-related activities!

And, just because I'm really diving into all this Web 2.0 business, I'm also on Twitter - if you care to listen to my random thoughts and musings, feel free to follow!


Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter

1 Filbert Genoise
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum
1 recipe Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Filbert Genoise

Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.

1 ½ cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
½ tsp. grated lemon rind
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.  Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds.  Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture.  You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process.  Set aside.

Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar.  It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step.  When finished, the mixture should be ribbony.  Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind.  Remove and set aside.

Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so.  Continue to beat for another ½ minute. 
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.*  Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds.   Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter.  Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.

With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon.  **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter!  It will impede the cake rising while baking.

Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan.  Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes.  Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan.  Cool the cake completely.

*If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

Sugar Syrup
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. dark rum or orange flavored liqueur

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake.  *Can be made in advance.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1 ½ - 2 Tbsp. Jamaican rum (optional)

Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream.  Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine.  Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved.  The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.

Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute.  Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

Wait! My  buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.

Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 Tbsp. of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed  butter to the buttercream, 1 Tbsp. at a time.

Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.

Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet.  Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals.  If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides.  Cook until the mixture starts to bubble.  **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor.  Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place.  Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.

Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm.  If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

**Ganache can take on many forms.  While warm – great fudge sauce.  While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.

6 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, like Lindt
6 oz. (¾ cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
1 Tbsp. Grand Marnier, Cointreay, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ - 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.

Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  Transfer into a medium sized bowl and set aside.

Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil.  Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate.  Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture. If the surface seems oily, add ½ - 1 tsp hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

Assembling Cake

Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake.  Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream.  Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-inch border around the edge of the cake.  Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.

Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake.  Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely.  Chill while you prepare the ganache.

Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings.  Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center.  Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance.  The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”.  Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream.  Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake.  As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting.  Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.

Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center.  The leaves should overlap.  Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.


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Your cakes look fantastic! ;-)

Your layers look so even and the cake looks just delectable! Great job!

looks like something they would sell here in Japan!

Anita, your little cakes are so cute!

Yeah, I didn't go mini for once in my life because I knew I was going to have sliding problems. They look fabulous though.

Your cake looks beautiful! Great job! Love your blog too!

Lovely job, Anita! I made little cakes too, but not by choice :( Yours are simply gorgeous.

Your mini gateaues turned out perfectly. They are so cute

Wow, I am so proud to be the first to comment ! They are so cute !I, too, made a miniature version.Count on me for your facebook page !

Gorgeous slice...

I LOVE praline too! Your cake looks marvelous and ever so dainty! Great job, as usual!



There's nothing quite like hazelnut, chocolate and praline, and this cake has it all!! Beautiful cake!!

Nicely done! The pictures are fabulous, if only there are more of them!

AH YES!!! Opera and Sacher have a love child. That is the perfect description of this fantastic dessert. And I'm all about that cute little cake with the filbert on top.

What cute miniatures!! Great job, Anita!

Beautiful cake! You did a marvelous job!

Your minis turned out great!

So pretty! I wish mine had turned out so photogenic! I want to try again making muffin-sized mini cakes with this recipe. Not sure I liked the buttercream so much, very sweet for my liking, but a great challenge for me, being my first month with DB!

I like the individual size of the cake - it equals more glaze per portion which equals more chocolate, the perfect combination, you are right!


Your cakes look wonderful - after seeing other small versions I'm thinking I should have tried that myself.

Gorgeous little cakes!

your mini cakes look lovely!
and i'll check out your facebook page!

Wow. Amazing cake. Looks like quite a project. =)

Your cake looks lovely. I love how nice and even the layers are. The mini cakes are so cute and your pictures are beautiful!

SO pretty - I just love the mini cakes :)

Girl, you are knocking my socks off with these little cakes. I am in awe of how perfect all those little layers look. Well done.

I knew you would go mini, and good for you for trying it. I was tempted but decided to make a full cake. Looking back on it, I probably should have tried mini!

Your cakes look lovely.

This was my very first Daring Baker challenge and I'm enjoying looking at everyone's creations! Your mini cakes look divine.

Pat in NY

your cake is so nice looking. i agree its too hard to list just one favorite thing.

Wow--that looks like the best dessert ever!

Nice pictures!
Your mini-cakes look so delicious! You did a great job! :)

Wooo I want a bite of that!

I love the idea of mini cakes, they're so pretty :)

Beautiful cake, I love mini's.

Wow sweetie, you'd never know getting the layers even were a lil tricky for you - they turned out to be stunning! And the perfect little size. :)


I made mini cakes too! Yours looks awesomeee~!!!

Beautious little cakes!! I am smitten!

Lovely mini-cakes! Well done!

Absolutely adorable! If I ever had this served somewhere, this is exactly how I would want it!

I really need to get some of those rings - your cake is gorgeous!

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