Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Hazelnut Cake with Apricot Preserves

I was a huge True Blood fan (for the first few seasons, at least...) and despite the cheesiness and the werepigs and fairymermaids and whatnot, I did appreciate the very real issues that some of the characters experienced. For me, one of the most poignant moments in the entire series was the scene that took place after Sookie's grandmother had been killed.
The power in this scene came from the fact that Sookie's grandmother had baked a pecan pie before she met her end, and it would be the last one she ever made. Sure, others could prepare a similar recipe, but theirs would never be quite the same, because it wasn't Gran who had made it. As Sookie ate, it was obvious that each bite was taken mindfully, with immense appreciation and gratitude, knowing that it would be the last time... and that each bite was filled with the love and care that her Gran had poured into that glorious, sweet pie.

I'm a big fan of mindfulness, and of eating with intent and care: savouring every bite instead of just hoovering in food whilst watching TV or otherwise being distracted. If we knew that this was going to be the last bite of food we'd ever eat, would we take the time to enjoy it? Are we really conscious about the source of each ingredient, and the care that goes into creating each dish? Even items that are mass produced have origins that are usually very human, from the people who pick cacao beans or vanilla pods to the farmers who wake at dawn, day after day, to sow fields of grain.

This is one of my family's recipes, and I'm delighted to share it here in the hope that others can enjoy it as much as we have. Much like our potato salad, this cake is prepared for any and all family gatherings, and you can rest assured that any funeral we attend has at least 2 of these cakes on the buffet table. As I continue to research funeral foods, I find that many cultures indulge in some kind of dessert after the dead have been buried so that sweetness counteracts the bitterness of sorrow and grief. I hope that this cake can do just that.

Please don't feel that you need to use apricot jam for this if you have a preference for another kind, as it's really lovely no matter which preserves you use.
For summer get-togethers, it's rather exquisite when made with lemon curd, peach jam, strawberry preserves, or even ice wine jelly. In the autumn and winter months, I've also made it with fig or plum jam, and added a bit of cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg to the batter to spice it up a bit.

For the Dough:
  • 1/4 pound (1/2 cup) butter or Earth Balance
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (for a GF version, I use Robin Hood gluten-free flour)
  • 2 egg yolks 
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (I use demerara brown)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • The grated zest of 1 lemon
For the Filling:
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 8 egg whites
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 8 oz finely ground hazelnuts (or walnuts, or almonds, or any nut mixture you like)
  • 1/2 small flask of lemon essence, or 1/4 tsp lemon extract
  • 1 pack vanilla sugar
  • A pinch of salt
Additional ingredient needed: apricot jam or preserves (or any other jam that you like better).


Preheat oven to 325F-350F, depending on your oven.

To make the dough:
Blend the dough ingredients in a food processor or mixer until a soft dough forms, then roll that out and press into a greased 9" x 12" baking pan, pressing the dough halfway up the sides. Spoon some preserves or jam onto this dough and use a spatula to spread it around the dough's base until it's covered with a thin layer. Feel free to add as much or as little of the jam as you'd like.

To make the cake filling:
With your mixer on high, beat the egg whites with a tiny pinch of salt until they form stiff peaks, then set that bowl aside.
In another, large bowl, blend the egg yolks together with sugar, then add the lemon essence, nuts, and vanilla sugar. Gently fold the egg whites into this mixture until blended, making sure not to agitate too much: it has to maintain its fluffiness. Pour the mixture onto the dough, and even out the top with a spatula.

Bake for 1 hour: the cake is ready when a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean when removed. If desired, dust with icing sugar once it's cooled.
To serve, cut into squares or wedges and lift them out of the pan one by one.

Note: I've also made a lower carb/lower sugar version in a bundt pan, skipping both the jam and the shortbread base in the process. If you go this route, be sure to really grease the pan well beforehand, and let it cool completely before attempting to get the cake out afterwards. 

Considering the number of eggs this uses, this cake is obviously not vegan. I haven't yet tried to make a version using aquafaba (aka chick pea liquid), but if you do and it works out okay, let me know! Be creative, make this your own.

Blessings to you. x

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