When I first learned that this month’s Daring Baker’s challenge was going to be a hazelnut gateau, I thought to myself… “I wish it was Christmas!”. July in Florida is hot and humid and a hazelnut, praline and ganache cake seemed a bit “heavy” for this season, but that first impression didn’t last long.
Hazelnuts and praline remind me of winter and particularly of Christmas time when all sweets are made with sugar and nuts. Those are the smells I remember from my childhood. Almonds and hazelnuts caramelizing in the stove, grinding almonds and sugar for marzipan, turron… When I took the hazelnut sponge out of the oven, my entire house smelled of Christmas and that put a smile on my face.
Although the recipe indicated to bake the sponge in a 10 inch pan, I decided to go small. I baked the sponge in a half sheetpan (the recipe was perfect for that), then cut out individual circles with a round cutter and build the cake in ring molds. The praline buttercream was heavenly as I expected. I used Frangelico and some lemon zest simple syrup to soak the cake and covered the individual gateaux with ganache.
I decided to decorate the cake very simply with some gold leaf and caramel dipped hazelnuts. This is a simple technique but it does require a bit of a set up in the kitchen. I cooked my sugar and when it was cooling a bit, I lined the kitchen floor area where I was going to work on with newspaper. Then, I inserted wooden skewers on the bottom of whole hazelnuts and dipped these in the slightly cooled caramel. If the caramel is too hot, then the strings become too thin and most likely will crack. But if the caramel is too thick, then the hazelnuts will be too clumpy and might look sloppy. It’s a matter of testing the consistency of the sugar.
While taking photos of the cakes, I had a little incident. My 2 year old son decided to get his two fingers in the cake while I was not looking, then got ganache all over the sofa and ran away with one of my pointy hazelnut decors. He thought it was the funniest thing ever but I wanted to cry…I wish I had someone there to take photos of what was going on…