04 August 2009

For the birthday boy

Today I want to give a shout out to my father: Happy Birthday Papa! Alles Gute zum Geburtstag!

My father is a native of Germany, and he grew up in northern Bavaria, evading work in his father's bakery. (What was he thinking?! Whenever I'm in Germany visiting the family, I always try to get in on the bakery work and learn some of their awesome baking!) With that upbringing, my Papa knows good desserts, and one of his favorites is Sahnetorte. Sahnetorte is a class of traditional German cakes made of genoise (or as I always call it by the German term, biskuit) layered with whipped cream (the sahne). Both the biskuit and the whipped cream can be flavored with nuts, or chocolate, or fruits, or liquers, or whatever your fantasy is, yielding countless types of cakes. This year, my father requested a Nusstorte, which would be a Sahnetorte with ground hazelnuts in the biskuit. I'm the family Birthday Cake Baker, so I scrounged around for a good recipe that I could modify for his special cake.

I must confess, I don't have the knack of making biskuit. My Opa (grandfather) tried teaching me, before he passed away, and I keep going to my uncle (who now runs the bakery) for brush-up lessons, but getting the biskuit just right takes a special touch. It also might have to do with the quality of butter and flour being different here in America than in Germany. Anyways, all this to say that I opted to forgo a traditional genoise base for the Nusstorte and instead go with something a little more forgiving. I also decided to deconstruct the Sahnetorte, serving the cake unadorned but with a bowl of lightly sweetened and freshly whipped cream on the side. You'll have to try this hazelnut cake...it is so moist and luscious, you'll want seconds!

Birthday Nusstorte

1 1/4 cup hazelnuts

scant 1 cup sugar
1 cup (salted) butter, at room temperature
3 large eggs, plus 3 egg whites, at room temperature
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp. baking powder

1 cup heavy whipping cream, whipped to soft peaks and sweetened with 1-2 tsp. sugar

Grind hazelnuts and sugar in a food processor until fine. In stand mixer, cream the butter 2-3 minutes. Add the hazelnut mixture and beat until light and fluffy (about 2-3 minutes). Beat whole eggs lightly, then add to hazelnuts and beat in well. Mix together flour and baking powder, then gently and thoroughly incorporate into cake batter, avoiding over-mixing. Beat egg whites until stiff; gently fold into cake batter in 3 additions.

Line the bottom of a 10-inch round baking pan with parchment paper, then pour the batter into the pan. Bake at 350 Fahrenheit for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the middle comes out clean.

To cool cake, keep in pan and invert over a wire cooling rack. When cool, run a knife around the edge to release the cake onto a work platter and peel off the parchment paper. Invert onto a serving platter; serve each slice with a dollop of whipped cream.

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