Sunday, 23 February 2014

Carrot and Hazelnut Birthday Cake

I'm really not the biggest fan of your usual carrot cake that's slathered with diabetically sweet icing.  It tastes like a sugary sponge covered with cream cheese and sugar with a hint of carrots and it's just a sugary and buttery caloric bomb.

Too sweet.  I wouldn't say I don't have a sweet tooth, I like my desserts, but I like my desserts subtle and delicate.
So I went to look for an Italian recipe.  It was originally a carrot and almond cake but I just think that carrots and hazelnuts work so well together.  Have you ever had a carrot soup with hazelnuts?  Uh huh, prepare to have your mind blown.

This is easily an afternoon tea cake, but you can just dress it up a bit and it's suitable to make an appearance at a birthday party.  It was a while ago, it was the birthday of my friend, Marge. I like Marge, she's great.  You know those people, that despite not knowing them very well, you're still drawn towards them?  She's just nice and fun and alternative, and this cake was well worth the effort.
 I had one problem with the cake - see the carrot chips look nice in the photos, but because they were pressed up against a whipped cream icing, they soon became soggy and just weren't standing up straight anymore.  That was quite sad.  I'd say eat the cake right away, or...perhaps caramelized carrot slices?  Like maybe you can thinly cut them, not as thin as they are in the photos because I had peeled them with a grater. But thinly cut them, blanch them in boiling water, then make caramel in a wide pan and dip the slices in them, and leave them to cool on greaseproof paper?  I think that'd work, what do you think?

Recipe adapted from Giallo Zafferano
300g peeled and grated carrots
7g baking powder
50g hazelnut flour (you can just grind your hazelnuts in a food processor)
200g sugar
300g flour
90g rapeseed oil (or other neutral tasting oil)
3 medium eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract

500ml double cream
1 vanilla pod
2 tbsp icing sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
small handful of hazelnuts
3 large carrots
1 tbsp sugar
rapeseed oil

For the cake
Preheat the oven to 180C

Put the grated carrots on a sieve and press down using a spoon to remove as much water as possible. 

Beat the eggs together with the sugar until light and fluffy - at least 5 minutes.

Put the baking powder, hazelnut flour, flour, grated carrots and vanilla extract in a bowl.  Mix well, then stir in the oil and gently fold in the egg mixture.

Pour into baking tin and bake for 30 minutes, then lower the oven temperature to 170C and bake for a further 10 minutes, or until it's done -- check by inserting a toothpick all the way through, it should come out clean.

Take it out of the tin, place on a rack and leave to cool completely.

For the decorations
Make the hazelnut pralines by putting the 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy bottomed pan over medium high heat.  Do not stir, you can shake the pan about, but do not stir.  As soon as it turns amber, put the hazelnuts in and quickly stir it so that they are completely coated.  Pour the contents onto a baking sheet and leave to cool.  (Soak the pan in hot water for easy cleaning)

Whip the cream until very soft peeks form, cut the vanilla pod in half and remove the seeds with a knife, and put the seeds into the cream along with the icing sugar.  Beat until stiff peeks form.

Preheat oven to 100C.  Wash and peel the carrots.  Then, using a peeler, shave them lengthwise into long strips. 

Put the carrots in a bowl and toss with some oil, sugar and a pinch of salt.  Make sure that everything's coated, and then place them all in a single layer on a baking sheet - don't let them overlap. 

Bake for 15-20 minutes or until the edges begin to turn brown. Take them out of the oven and leave them to cool and crisp up - just a few minutes. 

Ice the cake with the whipped cream, don't worry about the sides too much, it doesn't have to be too neat.  Place the carrot chips along the side, using the cream as a glue.  Break the praline into pieces and place on top of the cake.  Serve immediately or the carrot chips might get soggy.

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