Oh France. J’taime. I love your language. I love your varied landscapes. I love your history. And I really love (most of) your food. Vive la France!
Gâteau à la Noix
Recipe Adapted From: a long-ago cake-baking course from a local kitchen/culinary store
Level of Difficulty: low, as long as you know what you’re doing when you whip egg whites
Time Consumption: low
Kitchen Destruction: low, though you will dirty a surprising number of bowls and pans for such a simple cake*
Wow Factor: low upon seeing, high upon tasting
- 12 TBS (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
- pinch salt
- 1 vanilla bean
- 5 oz (mostly) skinned hazelnuts
- 1 1/3 C powdered sugar
- 1/3 C all purpose flour
- 5 large egg whites
- ¼ C granulated sugar
- fleur de sel
Preheat oven to 350° F. Place a medium skillet over low heat and add the butter and salt. Cut the vanilla bean in half lengthwise. Scrape the seeds out with a sharp knife and add them to the melting butter, then add the bean halves. When the butter turns golden (about 15 minutes, but keep an eye on it—if you burn it you’ll have to start again), remove from heat. Remove and discard vanilla bean and transfer butter to a bowl.
Spray a 10″ round cake pan with cooking spray and line the bottom with parchment.
Grind hazelnuts with powdered sugar in a food processor. Place this mixture in a large bowl with the flour and stir well.
Beat the egg whites and sugar together until stiff peaks form. (See picture below. If the tip flops over like a spoon at a Uri Geller performance, it’s only a “soft peak.” Not good enough. Keep whipping.) Fold the whites into the nut/flour mixture. Fold in the cooled butter.
Pour the mixture into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick in the center comes out clean, about one hour. If you then use the toothpick to clean your teeth, do not reinsert in the cake.
Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around the edge and unmold. Cool completely, then upturn cake so it’s right-side-up.
Cut into servings and sprinkle with fleur de sel or other large-flake sea salt. If words like “fleur de sel” make you roll your eyes, go ahead an use regular ol’ table salt, but whatever you do, don’t skip the salt.
Confessions of an Imperfect Baker: Miraculously, none!
Notes: When separating your whites and yolks, it’s imperative that you get absolutely no yolk in the whites. If you do, the whites will not form peaks. (Ditto if your mixing bowl has any schmutz in it from the last time you used it. It must be perfectly clean and dry before adding the egg whites.) If this whipping woe befalls you, let loose a string of expletives if that helps (it always does for me), dry your tears, and start again. Chin up—you can use your ruined whites in an omelet.
Another tip: separating yolks and whites is easier if the eggs are cold.
And another: always crack eggs on a flat surface rather than the edge of a bowl. You decrease the chances of a) introducing bacteria from the outside of the shell into your whites and yolks, and b) getting bits of shell in your whites and yolks.
*Final dirty dish count: Three bowls and two pans. Get ready for dishpan hands.