It was my mums birthday last week and naturally birthdays always mean a special cake. This year I wanted to deviate away from the traditional sponge and try something a bit different. My mum is a lover of baked goods with nuts, so I decided on making a hazelnut cake by substituting some ground hazelnuts for some of the flour. Nuts can sometimes result in dense cakes, so after a little hunting I chose to bake a butterless whisked cake that relies on separating the eggs and whisking the whites to add lightness.
I was a little worried the nuts would make the layers too heavy and they wouldn’t rise properly, but they puffed up beautifully and were very flat and even. The toasting hazelnut aroma as the cake baked was wonderful. When hot the cakes were quite delicate so it’s best to let them cool in the tins, but once cooled they are quite easy to handle. On tasting the cake the ground nuts were quite apparent, adding a great flavour and nobly nutty texture which was a hit with my mum – less so with my dad but he doesn’t like cake with ‘little bits in.’
As the cake was very light it seemed pointless to choose a rich buttercream or whipped cream filling to accompany it. Instead I hit upon the idea of making a caramel meringue by beating hot caramel over egg whites to create a very light and airy frosting. This worked well and created pillowy soft mounds of meringue which literally dissolved in tiny bubbles on your tongue.
Apricots and hazelnuts complement each other well so I sandwiched the cake together with some apricot conserve and sliced apricots. Over time the juice from the fruit dissolved a little of the meringue frosting, creating a delicious syrup that seeped into the cake layers making them incredibly moist. It’s the sort of cake you could easily serve as a dessert but it also made a delicious birthday cake. If you don’t want to go the fruity route I bet it would taste delicious with some sort of chocolate filling too.
Apricot & Hazelnut Cake with Caramel Meringue Frosting
100g skinned hazelnuts
75g self raising flour
175g caster sugar
1 tsp baking powder
Apricot Filling & Caramel Meringue
100g apricot jam or conserve
8 fresh or tinned apricots
3 egg whites
150g caster sugar
Method – Hazelnut Cake
Preheat the oven to 175C. Grease and line two 8inch/20cm cake tins and set to one side.
Place the hazelnuts and flour into a food processor and blitz until you have a nutty flour with a few tiny chunks of nut remaining.
Separate the yolks and whites of the eggs into two bowls. Add the caster sugar to the egg yolks and beat until thick, pale and creamy, about 3 minutes.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold a third of the egg white mixture into the egg yolk mix to slacken it. Then add the rest of the egg whites and fold in gently.
Scatter the nutty flour and baking powder over the surface of the batter and fold in gently until no streaks remain.
Divide the batter between the two cake tins and bake for 20 minutes until golden in colour and springy to the touch.
Allow the cakes to cool in the tins before running a knife around the edge and inverting them out onto a plate.
For the Caramel Meringue
Place the water and caster sugar together in a small pan. Heat gently, stirring often, until the sugar has dissolved. Then allow the liquid to bubble and take on a light golden caramel colour. You don’t want it too dark.
Meanwhile whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Once the caramel is ready, slowly drizzle it over the egg whites while still whisking. The egg whites should take on a thick glossy look and turn amber in colour. Continue to beat for 3-4 minutes once the syrup has been used up.
Use to sandwich and frost the cake immediately.
Spread a generous layer of a good quality apricot jam or converse over one of the cake layers. Cut the apricots into segments and arrange over the top of the jam, reserving a few for decoration on top.
Spoon half of the caramel meringue over the top of the jam and fruit and spread gently to the edges.
Top with the remaining cake layer. Use the remaining half of the meringue to cover the top of the cake and decorate with the reserved apricot slices.
Serve straight away. Best eaten on day of baking as if left, the meringue starts to break down due to the moistness of the fruit in the cake.
Eat within 2 days. Serves 8-10