Rustic hazelnut cake

I've never been to Italy but in my daydreams, I could picture myself out in the countryside, eating a piece of cake like this one on a perfect sunny afternoon...  
Of course, if I was in Italy, there'd be lots of pasta, seafood, pizza, as well as coffee and gelato involved, too.  But focusing on cake, I generally think of low-fuss, rustic cakes when I think of Italy. This particular one is a hazelnut cake, heavy on rich, fragrant, toasted hazelnuts.

It's natural to associate hazelnuts with Italy when the Piedmont region produces what's arguably the best hazelnuts in the world.  And that reminds me that Italy is also the birthplace of gianduja - the magical, irresistible combination of chocolate and hazelnut paste for which I am eternally grateful for!
Since this rustic Italian-style hazelnut cake is so chock full of toasted hazelnuts, my mini 6-inch cake went a long way because the hazelnuts make for a very filling cake.  I made use of some semolina flour since there's some of that, along with cake flour, in this cake.  I actually find that I personally prefer having some gluten to bind cakes like this one together; it makes it just a bit less heavy.  But for the most part, the ground hazelnuts (a full cup in my small cake) are the workhorse providing both the texture and flavor.
Texture-wise, it's gritty, crumbly, and somewhat drier than what we typically think of when we hear "cake".  It's intended to be that way.  I think it just goes naturally with a cup of coffee or espresso on the side.  If you need a bit more moisture or something to balance out the distinct hazelnut flavor (which I personally love), whipped cream or a fruit compote or sauce would be nice.

Do you remember when I mentioned that my son loved that almond semolina cake I made recently?  I made this one right after and that almond cake set expectations high.  In the interest of diversity, disclosure, and maybe some comic relief, I thought I'd tell you that my son hated this cake.  Yes, I said that (he is 8 years old, bare in mind)!  So perhaps this cake isn't a great choice for a child.  From an adult's point of view and as a hazelnut-lover, I enjoyed it, with one problem...the one technical complaint I do have about it is that it turned out too salty! I'm fairly confident I followed the recipe accurately and assuming that, I have to tell you that the salt needs to be dialed down significantly.  I've adjusted the recipe attached accordingly.  Now, if this were still my daydream...the cake would have turned out perfectly and I wouldn't have this problem with the salt, of course...


Recipe:

Rustic Hazelnut Cake
Adapted from the Piedmontese Hazelnut Cake recipe in The Dahlia Bakery Cookbook

- Makes one 9-inch round cake (I divided the recipe in half and baked the cake in a 6-inch round pan) - 

7 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus more for greasing pan
1/4 cup semolina flour, plus more for the pan
2 cups hazelnuts, toasted, skinned and cooled
1/2 cup cake flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (dialed way down from 1 teaspoon in the original recipe since I found the cake much too salty using the original amount)
1 cup packed light brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons pure vanilla extract
2 tablespoons olive oil
Confectioners' sugar, to dust cake

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Butter a 9-inch cake pan.  Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper.  Butter the paper and dust the pan with some semolina, shaking out excess.  Put the pan in the refrigerator to set the coating while you continue with the recipe.

Put toasted hazelnuts in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped.  Be careful not to over do it or it could turn into a paste.

In a small bowl, whisk together cake flour, the 1/4 cup of semolina, baking powder and salt.

Place butter and brown sugar in the bowl of a standmixer and cream the mixture together for a few minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.  Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as necessary.  Add ground hazelnuts and beat briefly to combine.

Remove bowl from mixer and add the dry ingredients, folding together gently with a rubber spatula.  Fold in vanilla extract and olive oil, then scrape batter (it will be thick like a paste) into prepared cake pan, smoothing out the top. 

Bake cake until top is browned and a cake tester inserted into the cake is mostly dry with just a few moist crumbs attached, approximately 30 – 35 minutes [roughly 25 minutes for a 6-inch cake]. Remove pan from the oven and let cool for about 15 minutes.  Run a small knife around the cake and turn the cake out, removing parchment paper, and place onto a serving platter.  Cake can be served warm or cooled to room temperature.  Dust confectioners' sugar over cooled cake or over individual slices, if serving warm.




52 comments:

  1. This is so pretty, Monica! I'd love to have a slice with a cup of coffee right now :)

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    1. Thanks, Marie. A little something in the afternoon is a must. : )

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  2. I adore hazelnut flavor. I know this is a cake I would enjoy eating and baking (bet your kitchen must have filled much flavors while the cake was being bake).

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    1. I love hazelnuts, too...so rich and such a strong flavor and the smell is great, as you said. : )

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  3. This cake looks wonderful Monica! I love the sound of all the toasted hazelnuts in here, the flavor and texture of this cake sound perfect with a nice cup coffee! Great idea to make use of some of your semolina flour in here too. Aaw sorry to hear that the cake turned out a bit salty, it's disappointing when a recipe doesn't always live up to the way we expect them to turn out.
    Thanks for pointing it out for us but this cake still looks and sounds wonderful! I'd still love a big slice of this :) Thanks for sharing Monica and hope you have a great week!

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    1. Hi Kelly - I'm sure it's altogether possible I did something off but the original amount of 1 tsp salt (1/2 tsp in my half-size cake) is heavy-handed. I wish it wasn't salty or I would've enjoyed it a lot more. Thanks for coming by and reading my mumbling and ramblings. I appreciate that!

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  4. Oh, what a great looking cake! Love the look of the powdered sugar dusting.

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    1. Thanks - powdered sugar makes everything look better! It's like a great pair of shoes or something. haha

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  5. Yum. I love the idea of this cake with a nice big cup of black coffee!

    Sues

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  6. Hehehe, I can't say I had any cakes when I went to Italy, but mainly it's because we were too stuffed after dinner to think about dessert! I could totally see a rustic cake like this being eaten at some grandmother's big italian table in the countryside though :) It certainly doesn't surprise me that an almond lover like yourself would also be a fan of hazelnuts. Anytime I get gelato, I ALWAYS get hazelnut. This looks so yummy!!

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    1. I bet, Amy! And you've totally captured what I imagine with this kind of cake. : ) I adore hazelnuts (chocolate bars with hazelnuts and almonds are my fave). And I too always look for and get hazelnut (or chocolate-hazelnut) gelato! Always...and most gelato shops don't disappoint and have it; I'm grateful for that.

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  7. I don't think I had hazelnut cake. It sounds very homemade and delicious! I haven't had a chance to try chiffon cake yet and I wish I can bake cakes and desserts as often as you do! I want to be your kid. :) I will run to go home everyday looking for today's tea time snack. :)

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    1. I think you would enjoy these simple, no-frosting type cakes, Nami. My kid isn't too adventurous and he's not into everything, believe me. He was no fan of this in particular but I personally love hazelnuts so I have to branch out sometimes... : )

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  8. Hmmm I tried posting something via iPhone, but I'm not sure it went through so I'll just comment again! Hazelnut seems to fall into the category of acquired tastes sometimes, so perhaps your son has hope yet ;) I love that you experiment with so many different flours! It's so refreshing to see cakes made from something other than AP flour. The crumb on this looks fantastic, and I'm a huge fan of drier, crumbly cakes anyhow.

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    1. Thanks for re-posting, Irina. I hear you - hazelnuts are definitely an acquired taste. He'd love a Ferrero rocher but most hazelnut things, he is not a big fan of yet. Maybe it'll change. I, too, like a drier type of cake and crumb often. A nice change from the frosting types once in a while.

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  9. Rustic cakes like this sound amazing to me, and I'm definitely a big fan of hazelnuts, so I'd love to try this soon. What's better than a fuss-free cake that also tastes amazing?

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    1. There's something really great about simple, rustic things, I totally agree!

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  10. I just love the texture of the cake, it look so comforting , perfect for this chilly day

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    1. Thanks - I think so...it makes me think of a warm, cozy kitchen or a warm day outside and having a coffee break midday. : )

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  11. I don't think I have ever had hazelnut cake Monica but I'm intrigued! I love cakes without a lot of fuss and this sounds like it's my kind of cake! :) A cup of coffee with this and I'm a happy camper. Delicious and happy Friday! Have a great weekend. :)

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    1. This with a shot of espresso with your new machine would do very nicely, Anne! Have a great weekend!

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  12. I love hazelnuts and this recipe looks and sounds so good..Bookmarking it :)

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    1. Hi Shema - as I'm neither patient nor creative, I like simple cakes that this that don't require an offset spatula or decorating. Unlike you! I need lessons...

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  13. I like this kind of cake...simple and without fattening frosting.

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    1. To each their own, I think. For the most part, I favor these kinds of everything cakes but there's a time and place for everything...in my world, anyway.

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  14. I love it when I'm drooling over a recipe, then I scroll down and notice I have all the ingredients for it! I really have to make this! Maybe served with some ice cream... lovely

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    1. Ice cream makes everything better, Aimee! I should've thought of that! : )

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  15. Mmmmm! I could see myself drinking this on a chilly fall evening sitting by the fire with these delicious cake.

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    1. I'm craving lots of hot drinks lately, too...

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  16. I am dying to go to Italy too Monica! Someday ... at least that's what I tell myself : ) One of my best friends just went there on her honeymoon ... can you say jealous?? hehe

    And I love the sound of this cake. While I love lots of frosting, etc ... this type of cake is my favorite to go along with coffee for breakfast or a snack! And all those hazelnuts ... sounds so good!

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    1. Honeymoon in Italy sounds so sweet! I am reading a mystery book right now and the couple is celebrating their anniversary there...I think I'm more into the description of the meals than the plot! : )

      I can definitely appreciate your love of frosting. I'm kind of grateful that I just happen not to be a huge frosting person (though I am crazy about chocolate ganache) because I'd be in serious trouble otherwise! But I totally get the love and there is room for variety and all kinds of treats in life. The days are long, right? ; ) Enjoy the rest of your weekend, Ashley!

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  17. We try to celebrate "big" birthdays with a trip rather than a tangible present. Memories last longer than objects. :) My son and I went to Rome for his 16th birthday. His older sister had a trip for her "sweet 16th" ,and trying not to be sexist, I said my son was entitled to a "sweet 16th" too. :) We researched carefully. Not the obvious historical/archeological sites (though we saw them too), but where to go for pizza, pasta, and gelato! I would love to go back to travel in the Italian countryside!
    Rustic nut cakes, like your beautiful cake, abound in Italy, probably because, just as you say, they are perfect with an espresso! How frustrating to carefully follow a recipe including your favorite flavors and have the cake turn out too salty, especially when everything else about it is so wonderful! I am always nervous about salt in recipes and often halve the amount.

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    1. Wendy - I am seriously jealous of your children right now and I'm not the jealous type! What a wonderful mom you are! That trip to Rome must be amazing and a gift/memory to last a lifetime. I'm visualizing all the amazing pizza, pasta, and gelato right now!

      Great tip about the salt. The ironic thing is I hesitated a bit right at that point. It seemed too much to me so lesson here - I should've followed my gut! I'm going to play it safe from now on and your tendency to reduce the salt is something I'm going to keep in mind! Thank you!

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  18. Beautiful cake, love the powdered sugar dusted on top. Would make a fantastic breakfast cake in my house! :)

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    1. I believe the Sicilians have brioche stuffed with ice cream (!!) for breakfast...if they can do that, we can certainly have some cake for breakfast once in a while. : )

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  19. I've just found your blog through Shannon at A Periodic Table.

    I think I'm gunna like it here...

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    1. I love it when someone new stops by - so thank you! I'm nothing like Shannon as far as knowledge, skill, or seriousness level but please do swing by sometimes if you don't mind all that! : )

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  20. Love nuts in a cake especially hazelnuts. This one is just perfect for me..nutty, crumbly and delicious! I can almost smell the hazelnuts in it.

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    1. Hazelnuts are so fragrant, aren't they! I keep meaning to incorporate it more in savory eating too...

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  21. Monica, your pictures are so beautiful as usual.
    Hazelnut cake sounds so delicious and the way it looks is very inviting. Your dreams sounds so dreamy, would be so nice to sit around the cafes at mid afternoon, sipping coffee with this lovely cake.
    You are such a great baker..I am pinning this not to bake later.

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    1. You are too kind, Asha! I'm sure you are an even better baker!

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  22. Oh this looks amazing, Monica! I happen to have some hazelnuts lying around, so I think I'll have to try out this recipe sometime! Hazelnut cake sounds amazing right about now... (:

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    1. I like to keep hazelnuts in my pantry, too, Monica! : )

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  23. Love simple and aromatic cakes like this! Best indulged with an afternoon tea :)

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    1. I agree...I do really appreciate these types of cakes.

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  24. Love hazelnut ... It really adds a flavor to the cake.. I'm sure it tastes best with afternoon tea :) Bookmarking it to try :)

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    1. Hazelnuts do pack a punch and I love them! This has got me thinking about these milk chocolate hazelnut cookies I haven't made in a while...

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  25. i love the honesty there about your son hating this cake: you know, hazelnuts are difficult for some adults, and i would imagine that they don't have a large kid following, either. Compared to almonds, i always think that hazelnuts have a more "earthy" flavor, and i feel like "earthy" never sits well with kids. almonds are just more familiar, more sweet somehow. thankfully, i like hazelnuts, and i think they're at their best when ground into a cake or cookies. it's beautiful.

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    1. Yes...I figure we (or maybe it's just me) always get into the habit of saying how much our family, or our child, loved something but in reality, there are plenty of things I make that's just for grownups or I hope my son will like and he does not! He was pretty clear on this one. : ) You said it on the hazelnuts. He loves nutella and certain cookies I make with it but he's certainly not a hazelnut flour in cake type guy right now. He's a big fan of almond paste like his mom (though he wouldn't admit that)... : )

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