I was a cooking fool tonight. I kind of had to be because Hazelnut Cake seemed like a pretty specific kind of cake that I didn’t think I could pick up at any old bakery. It seemed like a specialty item, even a seasonal type of cake. Still, it was what I was celebrating today so after work I made a stop for some supplies and when I got home, it was cooking time. I felt like it had been a while since I had to bake something for this quest (or rather since I opted to bake something). I did make biscuits the other day but those were really pretty simple. Before that, it was my Cheese Soufflé. That was over two weeks ago when my new schedule had not kicked in. Today’s baking would be after a full day of work, so a new challenge.
My new office is in Warwick which is about a 40 minute commute away. Compared to my most recent commute, that’s a walk in the park and so far it hasn’t been too bad (although tonight’s ride home was particularly traffic-laden with accidents in the aftermath of a late afternoon downpour). Going to Warwick has allowed me an opportunity to explore new lands and when I had to pick up supplies for my cake, I was able to go to Trader Joe’s which is almost around the corner from my office. I haven’t been to Trader Joe’s in a while and I forgot how nice it can be. When I walked in, they were putting some bouquets of peonies on display and that reminded me that today was the unofficial anniversary of the time Lola and I first got together back in 2001, so I picked up the flowers for her. Sixteen years and she still hasn’t tossed me aside!?!? That deserves some flowers. My next interaction at Trader Joe’s was running into a congenial young lad who asked me if I wanted a wafer cookie. I know my Mom warned me about strangers with cookies, but this guy, kid really, looked like he worked there and his offer came in the friendliest and kindest of tones. I tried one, just to be polite (it was really a fantastic cookie – the Trader Joe’s Nilla Wafer), and then he asked me if I was looking for anything special. I said I was looking for nuts. That hung out there for a second and I wondered if he thought that was some kind of poorly crafted come-on, but my new cookie friend was nice enough to walk me over to the nut section. When he asked what kind of nuts I wanted, I told him hazelnuts and he pointed me right to them. It was really the Trader Joe’s experience that I think they designed for you to have. I’ll keep them in my toolbox for future supply runs (and more free cookies).
There’s no distinct history to the hazelnut cake or reason why it deserves a day of celebration. The hazelnut or filbert is a nut that dates back thousands of years, so I am sure that with any ingredient with that kind of history, people have figured out different ways to eat them and make them tastier. When ground, they create a flour-like texture, so I am sure that’s how they found their way into a cake. In fact, some of the recipes I found suggested making the cake for Passover because it was flourless. Apparently you are forbidden to eat chametz during Passover which are any food product or recipe made with wheat, oats, rye, barley or spelt. Something about leavening and how they rise. I guess using ground nuts skirts that issue. In any case, I selected a recipe from Pillsbury that was not kosher and actually used some flour as well as the hazelnuts. It looked like a good recipe and easy too.
It was pretty easy and when I got home, I got right to it. I ground the nuts in our processor and then it was kind of like any other cake. It used three eggs and a stick of melted butter and that made the dough come together so that it was a fairly thick dough. When it was ready, I scooped it out into a springform pan, evened it out and then put it in the oven for about 30 minutes. After the thirty minutes, you remove from oven and you keep it in the pan for another 15 minutes. When that time is up, you remove it from the pan and place it upside down onto your cake plate, then you let it cool for another half hour under a cloth towel. Kudos to the recipe writer for such clear instructions.
While all this was going on, I banged out a batch of fudge. Sadly a friend of ours lost her father recently and the wake is on Friday. We wanted to bring some fudge to our friend so they could have a little treat while they were in line. That may seem like a peculiar thing to do, but it comes from our personal experience of standing in receiving lines when you are there for hours without a break. You get hungry and fudge is actually a nice little energy boost in the midst of all your condolences. I actually bought a batch of fudge to my uncle’s wake last year and while I got a few uncomfortable laughs when I was offering everyone fudge, by the end of the night, I was being sought out for it. I don’t really know if this is nice or rude or uncouth, we just wanted to do something for the family. Tonight, I was able to make the fudge in the time it took for the cake to cool.
When the cake was cool, I made the glaze or frosting which was a s simple ganache made with chocolate, vanilla and cream. You boil the cream, add in the chocolate chips, stir until melted and then mix in the vanilla. When it was ready, I poured it out onto the cake and I spread it across the top so some would start to ooze down the side of the cake. To decorate, I surrounded the outside rim of the cake with some more ground hazelnuts. It looked pretty good – nice and shiny.
This was probably about 9 pm. I cut a slice for each of us. It was a dense cake and so when I gave Lola her piece, I asked if she wanted a glass of milk to go alongside. She did and by the time I got back, she had this cake summed up. It was surprisingly delicious. It had a porous texture and was very dense. It felt like it was going to be dry, but it wasn’t at all. It was moist and the ganache on top made sure of that. Lola compared it to eating a bread, like a banana bread, at least in texture, but it was cake. The outside had a firm quality to it too that added more texture to the bite. The ganache was nice and sweet too and oozed into every morsel. The milk was the perfect accompaniment. This was actually a super tasty cake and I was proud of my creation. Another new recipe in the books.
To complete my cooking spree, I made another batch of the Circus Animal Cookie Dough Truffle Bars that I had made back on Animal Cracker Day. These were a fan favorite and another sweet treat that I could bring to our mourning friends. I never understood why people brought food to grieving families but, after living through some grieving times, I get it. Plus, it also helps fill that part of your heart that just wants to do something for anyone in pain. We can’t take the pain away, but we can give you some food made with love in hopes that it gives you a tiny bit of joy on such a sad day.
After the truffle bars were done and in the fridge to chill, I started cleaning up all the dishes I had dirtied and the mess I had made. By 10:15, I was mopping up the very last of my mess and I was ready for bed. But I felt pretty good about my work. Three different desserts in one night on top of a full day of work, plus I made dinner too, although I really just heated up some gnocchi that I bought at Trader Joe’s. I went to bed with the good tired feeling – the one you have when you worked hard at something you wanted to do. The sleep of the just. And I had a table full of goodies to show my progress.
When I first conceived this quest last July, I had a regular job and I would be out of the house some days from 5:30 am to 8 pm. When I planned to partake in this celebrating thing, I knew that it meant some nights would be spent cooking into the night to get it done. That was part of the plan. It would be a sacrifice but one made for the sake of something noble (at least noble in my mind). Things changed a week in to the quest and suddenly I had time to do what I wanted. But now I face the challenge I originally thought I would have. The scheduling issues and time restraints. It’s a new phase of this whole quest. Today let me know that I was up for the challenge. That I could still do it. That I could find the time and still have a smile on my face at the end of the day (just like the Trader Joe’s guy). And today, that’s what I did.
Next up: National Doughnut Day