Yesterday was my friend M’s 29th birthday and to celebrate we threw a little party at my place. On the menu? Butternut squash soup with creme fraiche; mini spinach quiches; blue cheese, walnut and pear sandwiches; and homemade French fries (the best kind!); all served with tall pitchers of pink lemonade and kiwi slices. A few food-loving girlfriends came over beforehand to help put the finishing touches on everything, including the grand finale: a Hazelnut Raspberry cake with PINK buttercream frosting! Maybe we shouldn’t have been so tickled by the color, but we were – especially M’s 5 year old daughter, who was beyond ecstatic when we unveiled the rose-colored hue. “Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow Mom!” she exclaimed, clapping her hands and jumping up and down on her little feet, “It’s pink! I loooooove pink!” Kids are so cute.
The cake lasted about, oh, 30 seconds – it was that good. But I had a moment of panic when we were making the buttercream about an hour before guests arrived, because upon tasting a finger’s worth I was taken aback by the decadent flavor of the frosting. “This is too much, I thought to myself… it’s really rich!” Yet it was too late to turn back, so we finished it up and served the cake with slightly shaky confidence at the appointed time. I served everyone before digging into my own slice, and it was then that it all came together. The toasted hazelnuts gave an irresistible nutty aroma and flavor to each cake layer – held together by raspberry preserves – while the meringue made them light and toothsome. When paired with these the buttercream’s perfection shone through, with the raspberries and raspberry liqueur complimenting the sugar and butter just so. This cake was sinful to be sure, but if butter, sugar, and more butter mixed with hazelnuts and raspberries are “bad” for you… then being bad never tasted so good.
When the evening was over there was one slice left on the cake stand, daring guests to squabble over the rights to taking it home. But in the end a 5-year-old with the big brown eyes won us over, taking her slice home in a little white box with a grin on her face. I hear she shared it with her favorite stuffed friends this afternoon during one of her upscale (albeit imaginary) tea parties. “The teddy bears couldn’t stop raving about the color,” M told me. Brilliant!
This cake takes a fair amount of time to make, but the finished product is worth every ounce of effort. I spread the work over two days, making the cakes on Saturday and the frosting on Sunday afternoon. The recipe is from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, which includes recipes for delightful treats like Chestnut Honey Madeleines, Chocolate Malted Layer Cake and Sour Cherry Pie with Pistachio Crumble. I’m going to share another recipe along with a review next week, but in the meantime I’m happy to tell you that, thanks to the generous folks over at Penguin/Viking, I have 5 copies of this book to give away. To enter the raffle simply comment on this post. On Sunday, March 23rd, I’ll use the random number generator that has aided me so many times in the past to pick the winners! (Tartelette is giving away 5 copies too if you want even more chances to win!)
Hazelnut Raspberry Layer Cake
Reprinted with permission from The Sweet Melissa Baking Book, by Melissa Murphy.
This is a very elegant (it’s pink!) cake for any special occasion. Eat it at room temperature because buttercream just isn’t as yummy when it’s cold. If you’ve had it in the refrigerator, be sure to let the cake sit out of the fridge for at least one hour before serving.
For the cake:
- 1 2/3 cups hazelnuts or filberts, toasted and cooled
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 12 large egg whites, at room temperature
For the raspberry buttercream:
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh raspberries
- 2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur
- 2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/4 cup water
- 3 large egg whites, at room temperature
- 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/3 cups seedless raspberry preserves, for filling
- 2 cups fresh raspberries, for garnish
Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour two 9×2 inch cake pans. Line each pan with a 9-inch round of parchment paper.
Step 1: Toast the hazelnuts
Once your oven has reached 350 degrees F, spread the hazelnuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, or until lightly golden and you can smell them. Remove to a wire rack to cool.
Step 2: Make the cakes
In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, combine the hazelnuts with 2/3 cup of the sugar and pulse grind until it is a coarse flour. Transfer the hazelnut flour to a large bowl. Add the all-purpose flour, an additional 2/3 cup of the sugar, and the baking powder, and whisk to combine.
Have ready a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat. (The butter will melt first, and then the milk solids will settle to the bottom. After a little while, the milk solids will start to turn golden.) When the milk solids have reached a nutty brown color, immediately remove from the heat. Using the fine-meshed strainer, strain the butter into the flour mixture. Stir to combine. Discard the butter solids. Stir in the vanilla.
In the very clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a very clean whip attachment (make sure both are 100% DRY too), beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. (Note: If there is even one speck of yolk in the whites they will not form soft peaks properly because the fats in the yolk will prevent the proteins in the whites from adhering to one another. To avoid this dilemma, I always separate my eggs into 3 bowls: one for the yolks, which will be frozen for later use; one for all the whites; and one for breaking the eggs. In this last bowl I separate the whites/eggs and make sure there is no yellow in the white before adding it to the other whites. I know this seems like a lot of work but I learned this trick from Alton Brown, and trust me, it works.) In a slow steady stream, with the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 2/3 cup of the sugar. Increase the speed to high. Beat until there are firm – not dry – glossy peaks of meringue.
Using a rubber spatula, briskly fold one-third of the meringue into the bater to lighten it. Add the remaining meringue and gently fold in until just combined.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared cake pans. Spin the pans or use an offset spatula to level the batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 20 minutes before turning the layers out onto the rack. Cool completely before filling or frosting.
The baked layers may be stored tightly wrapped at room temperature for 2 days. For longer storage, wrap tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 5 days, or freeze wrapped in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil for up to 2 weeks. Do not unwrap before thawing.
Step 3: Make the buttercream
In a small bowl, combine the fresh raspberries with the raspberry liqueur. Set aside.
In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the 2/3 cup of sugar and the water and cook to 240 degrees F on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes.
Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the 3 tablespoons sugar and beat until there are medium stiff – but not dry – peaks of meringue.
When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees F, decrease the speed of the mixer to medium, and immediately but slowly pour the hot liquid sugar in a steady stream down the side of the bowl and into the meringue. (Or, if the syrup is not yet 240 degrees F when the meringue is ready, turn off the mixer until it is. Then turn on the mixer to medium and add the syrup.) Beat together until stiff glossy peaks form.
With the mixer on medium speed, add the butter in pieces to the meringue. The mixture will break, but just keep beating and it will come together beautifully.
Pour the raspberries and the raspberry liquid into the buttercream and beat on medium-high speed until combined.
If using the buttercream immediately, set aside at room temperature. If not, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. If the buttercream has been chilled, let it reach room temperature before beating it with an electric mixer. The buttercream will break, but then it will come together again beautifully.
Step 4: Assemble the cake
Before you do anything, use a serrated knife to trim off any excess cake that has domed or risen up, and make your layers as flat and even as possible. Give the scraps to your kids or save them for something like trifle.
To begin, cut 4 strips of wax or parchment paper about 12 inches by 3 inches wide. Place the bottom cake layer trimmed side up on your serving plate. Tuck the wax paper under the edges of your cake on all sides. Later, after frosting th cake, you can pull away the strips to reveal a nice clean serving plate.
Using a metal offset spatula, spread the preserves across the top of the layer, but leave about 1/2 inch uncovered around the outside edges. (This leaves room for the filling to be squished down but stay inside the cake.) Place the second layer trimmed side down on top of the filling and press down gently with your hands.
You are going to frost your layer cake in two steps. The first step will be a crumb coat, which will keep most of the unsightly crumbs from ruining your finished frosting. To do this, simply apply a light, even layer of frosting on all sides of the cake. (Really, it doesn’t matter what it looks like; it will be underneath the final frosting.) Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill for a good 30 minutes.
After the crumb coat has chilled, smooth on your final layer of frosting. It does take a lot of time to get it really smooth and perfected, so I prefer to make the frosting all swirly and peaked – it looks more delicious this way as well.
If you must travel with your cake, finish it the night before, and refrigerate it overnight. Your layer cake will be a lot happier on the trip, and have the best odds of getting to the party in one piece.
Step 5: Garnish
After frosting the cake, garnish the top of the cake with the fresh raspberries. If you are making the cake a few days in advance, finish the cake to the point that it is frosted, but wait to buy the berries and put them on the cake until the day you will be serving. You want the fruit to be as fresh as possible.
Let the cake sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving. This cake keeps very well in a cake saver at room temperature for 2 days. For longer storage, store in a cake saver in the refrigerator for up to 4 days. It should come to room temperature before serving.