Daring Bakers and the Smells of Christmas

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…

Thank you Chris from Mele Cotte for hosting this month’s challenge and please visit other Daring Bakers for other wonderful interpretations of the same recipe.

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68 Responses to “Daring Bakers and the Smells of Christmas”

  1. Vera says:

    Aran, your cakes look wonderful! And you are right – it does remind Christmas (which is always good).
    I have a 6 year old son, and similar accidents still happen sometimes… Don’t be upset, please :)

  2. cookemila says:

    Aran no tenia ninguna duda al respecto…te sales, con la presentacion porque el interior en capas tampoco dejaba mucho a la imaginacion..Impresionante, a tus pies

  3. chefectomy says:

    Aran, simply beautiful and masterful. I don’t know how you do it but I am glad you do. I think your son is too!


  4. Y says:

    Kids and ganache .. a disaster just waiting to happen! If I had been there, I would’ve attempted to take pictures of the ‘incident’, but probably would’ve been too busy doubled over in laughter myself ;)

    Beautiful cakes, by the way!

  5. morgana says:

    Qué “sencillo”, qué elegante, qué bonito… Me encanta cómo te han quedado. Impresionada me dejas, de verdad.

  6. Peabody says:

    Beautiful as always. I too went the Frangelico route.

  7. Tartelette says:

    You had J. running away with the cake and I had Bailey attacking the other one and sugar to the point of burning…evil little ones!
    Looks gorgeous (and now I can say, just like you :))

  8. Jen Yu says:

    Stunningly beautiful. You are a master! So sorry about the little one making a mess, but – it sounds so cute :) I’m sure it wasn’t at the time.

  9. Bonjour from beautiful Paris !
    Sorry, but I could not help smiling when I imagined your little boy with his chocolatey fingers, running everywhere in the house !! ;-))
    As always, your cake is gorgeous, almost architectural, very zen-like. I love it !

  10. bego says:

    Impresionante, Arantzazu…
    Espero que en Octubre nos deleites con este postre…
    Mozu haundi bat

  11. linda says:

    Lol, I can just see your son running away!
    Your cakelets look very pretty! Wanted to use gold leaf too but I only have it with the gold attached to paper. You have to press it onto something, unfortunately my ganache was too soft and I ruined the surface :( but saved it with some other decoration :)

  12. Christy says:

    Now why didn’t I think of caramelizing hazelnuts for my cake? Gorgeous!! And how did you get the layers so straight and even?? Beautiful cake and photos!!

  13. Suzana says:

    Stunning little cakes, Aran! Very pretty and ever so perfect! I love what you did with the challenge. :)

  14. Kim says:

    Stunning Aran, and oh how I wish Christmas was here with the cool weather to go with it. Very elegant, interpretation.

  15. Veron says:

    Your cake looks fantastic. Love the hazelnut and gold sheet decor and had to laugh at the incident with your son.

  16. Gorgeous as always, Aran. I can understand your son’s temptation. ;)

  17. Mandy says:

    your creation looks great, as always Aran. Oh, and sorry for the sofa. :p

  18. Eliane says:

    Wow. Those look utterly stunning. I love your blog, wonderful pictures and recipes. One day I may find the time/guts to have a go at one myself… Fabulous.

  19. nadia says:

    This looks delicious Aran. I love hazelnut and chocolates.

  20. Bridget says:

    That’s a great story! Gorgeous pics as usual! :)

  21. Eileen says:

    I’m always anxious to see your Daring Bakers Challenge post. As usual, it’s incredible!

    Eileen (passions to pastry)

  22. Esti says:

    Esas avellanas son preciosas. Nunca las había visto así… parecen gotas! Menuda artista eres!

  23. Ann says:

    Perfect! I love the smoothness of your ganache and your simple elegant decorations!

  24. C.L. says:

    I love reading your blog…it always puts a certain calm in my heart. Thank you for that! The gateau is absolutely beautiful!

    p.s. I have tagged you. see my latest post.

    missed you.


  25. Elra says:

    This looks devine as always. Your son must be very cute! And ohhh I like those pointy caramel hezelnut! I have this book from Alice Medrich (my favorite lady, I have all 3 of her cookbook), she also has good explaination on how to make this beautiful decoration.
    Hey, maybe should write a book too!

  26. Nicely done as always. Your son keeps you obviously busy and knows were to put his fingers for best results ;-) .

  27. Aran,

    Your baking pulls at my heartstrings. Your creations are so elegant and beautiful I can only hope to aspire to you creativity one day. I am new to baking an pastry, proud to pull of a rubarb pie without botching the crust, but your creations make me excited to keep going, keep learning and experimenting. Thank you.

  28. Teanna says:

    I miss Christmas *sniff*

    You are an unbelievably talented baker and food photographer. Absolutely stunning

  29. Madam Chow says:

    Everything you make looks so lovely. And I’m so sorry about the theft of one of your hazelnuts!

  30. I love the look of sugar pulled hazelnuts…too much fun!

  31. I always come over here knowing I’m going to get pure perfection and this is no exception. So elegant in its simplicity. Thanks for sharing your exceptional talent, I love learning from you!

  32. Exception of the caramelized hazelnuts (I used them too), your gorgeous and stunning cake reminds me of le Louis XV, Alain Ducasse’s Louis XV restaurant masterpiece. A imple chocolate glaze so smooth and shinny and a golden leaf. So elegant!

  33. Alexa says:

    Your version of this cake is simply stunning and elegant. I love what you did with the decoration. I am amazed that you manage to make such a masterpiece with your little boy around the kitchen. He sounds sweet, playful and must have enjoyed the results of your hard work.

  34. simply stunning! I dipped the hazelnuts in caramelize sugar too. But, yours kill mine. Wonderful, wonderful execution.

  35. Stunning! How could he resist sticking his fingers into that ganache, it is way to tempting to resist!

  36. Aran, I am laughing at your son antics cos it sounds like something I would still do – at 27!!! tee hee hee

    Cakes look fantastic, love the gold leaf and the individualness of them!

  37. Lesley says:

    That is 5 star dessert! WOW, you went above and beyond, they are amazing!!! I’ll eat Christmas any time of year!

  38. nicisme says:

    I don’t like coming here any more, I’m soooo jealous!!! Waaaa!
    When are you going to make something that looks like %*&!?

    Seriously though, I’m in love! With the cake, with you, with your son… I only wish it were my fingers going in.

  39. Tammy says:

    wow, that is amazing! Your photos are spectacular and look just like something straight out of a beautiful book! You are so clever!

  40. Lori says:

    Okay what I want to know is how did you get the sides of the cake so smooth? I tried, to no avail. Your cake is beautiful. I have a two year old and bravo to you for attemting such things with him around. I am not that couragous!

  41. Oh my gosh. Your little cake is freaking beautiful, no joke. And your kid is almost the funniest thing ever from what I now know about him. :)

  42. Just when I think you can’t make anything more beautiful, here you go and do this! Oh, what’s a little chocolate on the sofa? I wish I had gotten my fingers in the chocolate!

  43. Camille says:

    These would look quite lovely on a holiday table. The table would need no other center peice.

    I still have a hard time keeping little fingers out of my baked items, except they aren’t so little anymore at ages 11 and 13!

  44. Wow what a great job. I really like the hazelnuts on top, :-)
    wish i could try some of the cake. You re a great cake deocarator. I realy Enjoy your blog.

  45. Mobula says:

    Pensaba que ya te había dejado mi cimentario pero mal volver aver tus maravillas tartitas me he dado cuenta de que no…


    Yo también intenté hacer esas avellanas tan monas pero se quedaron en eso, en el intento…

    O dejo la enfermería o no se como me lo voy a hacer, no tengo tiempo para nada……



  46. marion says:

    maaaaaaaaaaaaaaaarvellous !
    It doesn’t seem that your kid has made his own touch of pastry in ;)
    Congratulatiosn ! I wish I could make something as perfect !

  47. Chris says:

    Exquisite! I would order something like this over and over again. Thanks for a fabulous job!

  48. cindy* says:

    aran, how beautiful!

    and i love the smell of christmas…i really enjoy summer for all of its fresh produce, but the holidays are my favorite time of year. such wonderful homey smells and sentiments.

  49. Sandie says:

    Wow, this looks great, I love the hazelnuts!

  50. Hi :)

    Just a short note to let you know that you have been nominated to August edition of Inspiring Food Photography Poll:


    Have a nice day, Margot

  51. cookworm says:

    Aran, I’m still hoping for time to complete this month’s challenge, but what I really want is to take a pastry class taught by you! Your cake is stunning as always. I love the drama of the gold leaf with the caramelized hazelnuts. :)

  52. Bea says:

    Aran, so perfectly executed and beautiful to watch. Es fantástico¡

  53. Me encantan las tartitas chicas! estan preciosas. Yo también hize las avellanas como tu y es verdad aqui también olia a Navidad!

  54. Your presentation is always so beautiful and elegant. Its such a pleasure visiting your site.

  55. Everything looks delectable!! I’m always ready to try a new receipt,so glad to have found your blog!

  56. Cakelaw says:

    I really dig your “pointy decor” – if I was your son, I probably would have taken one too.

  57. pixxienix says:

    oh my goddd..these mini cakes are hands-down drop dead gorgeous! I hope you don’t mind me lurking/stalking your website a bit :o) Beautiful pictures every single time! Truly inspirational.

  58. Lauren says:

    Wow, your cake looks amazingly beautiful. I absolutely Love the pointy hazelnut creations!

  59. SENSATIONAL….It’s a treat for the eyes. I’ve been just sitting & staring at these beauties. One day I will garner the courage to try these pointy thingies that your sweet 2 year ole ran away with. How sweet he sounds…

  60. vana chupp says:

    I came across your blog via Mrs. French’s blog. I am in love with everything here….The images are just to die for…Will be back soon

  61. Really stunning! Your cake looks terribly good and extremely beautiful!



  62. miri says:

    Aran, your cakes are stunning! I simply love your styling and the photos you take!

  63. I tend to lean toward fruit desserts, but I love the combination of chocolate and hazelnuts. These gateaux are completely gorgeous and mouthwatering, even in the middle of summer!

    Aran, I swear we are channeling each other sometimes. I was thinking and daydreaming about this flavor combination a couple of days ago because a friend asked me to make a Marjolaine!

    Always look forward to your work. THANK YOU.

  64. What a lovely cake – everything I wish mine could have been.

  65. Anonymous says:

    hi can you post the recipe please, your cake louk very yammi. thank’s.

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