Hazelnut Praline Triple-Layered Cake

THERE’S a frenzy of baking going on around the country.

The revival of interest has been further whipped up by the ICA, the TV series The Great British Bake Off and Rachel’s Allen’s Cake programme which really takes the mystery out of baking.

Millions tuned into watch the Great British Bake Off — it’s become a national phenomenon. Baking equipment is flying off the shelves in kitchen shops as people on both islands rediscover the joy of home baking.

Those who have never whipped up a bun or cupcake in their entire lives are rapidly gaining the confidence to produce gorgeous cakes and tortes.

Baking is all about confidence and accurate recipes. As ever, one needs to start with good quality ingredients. Use good Irish butter rather than margarine or any of those other spreads. Butter is a shortcut to flavour, pure natural and better for us. If one puts time and effort into making something it might as well be delicious.

It’s also worth remembering that baking is an exact science so it’s really important to have an accurate scales and to measure each ingredient carefully. Chucking in fists of this and that may accidently produce a brilliant confection, but more often than not, the result is more likely to disappoint.

If you’ve never baked a thing in your life, start with something easy like a tray bake that merely needs to be stirred and baked, like flapjacks.

ICA members have been perfecting and sharing recipes since 1910 when the association was founded to improve the standard of life in rural Ireland through education and co-operation.

Cake is Rachel’s ninth book, her failsafe easy to follow recipes, thoughtful tips and down to earth advice have won her a myriad of fans over a few short years.

There are a ton of new baking books but here I include recipes from Rachel Allen’s Cake and Aoife Carrigy’s The Irish Countrywomen’s Association Cookbook published by Gill & Macmillan both of which are carefully tested and will produce pleasing presents. www.cookingisfun.ie darinasblog.cookingisfun.ie

Hazelnut Praline Triple-Layered Cake

Serves 14–18

A triple-layered praline cake makes a fabulous birthday treat. The three layers of sponge are lightened with a good amount of whisked egg whites. For the filling, praline crumbs are mixed into a divinely rich custard cream. The cake is topped in a thick, snowy-white American frosting, crisp on the outside and fluffy and marshmallow-like beneath. As it’s covered in icing, the cake will keep for 3 – 4 days in an airtight container. If you don’t have an airtight box big enough, you can use a large mixing bowl upturned over the cake.

375g (13oz) plain flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
225g (8oz) butter, softened, plus extra for greasing
675g (1½lb) caster sugar
325ml (11½ fl oz) milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
9 egg whites (about 250ml/9fl oz)

For the praline
100g (3½oz) caster sugar
100g (3½oz) hazelnuts (skin still on)

For the custard cream
25g (1oz) caster sugar
3 egg yolks
175ml (6fl oz) milk
15g (½oz) cornflour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
100ml (3½fl oz) double or regular cream

For the frosting
4 large egg whites
250g (9oz) caster sugar
pinch of salt
3 x 20cm (8 inch) diameter cake tins

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4, then butter the sides of the cake tins and line the bases with a disc of baking parchment.

First make the sponge: Sift the flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Cream the butter until soft in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Add 450g (1lb) of the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Add about a third of the sifted flour along with about a third of the milk and continue to mix gently, in thirds, until all of the flour and milk is well mixed in, then stir in the vanilla extract.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, whisk together the egg whites until foamy, then add the remaining sugar and whisk until the meringue holds stiff glossy peaks. Mix in a quarter of the meringue to the cake mixture, then carefully fold in the rest until fully incorporated.

Tip the mixture into the prepared cake tins and bake for 30 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of each cake comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes, then loosen the sides of each tin with a small, sharp knife and carefully remove the cakes from the tins before placing on a wire rack to cool completely. (The sponge can be made up to a day in advance and kept in an airtight container.) To make the praline, first line a baking tray with baking parchment and set aside. Place the sugar in a frying pan and scatter the hazelnuts over the sugar. Place the pan over a medium heat to allow the sugar to caramelise, swirling the pan every so often to ensure it caramelises evenly. Cook until the sugar has completely melted and is a deep golden colour and the hazelnuts are coated evenly.

Transfer the coated nuts to the prepared baking tray. Before the caramel has a chance to harden, set apart about 10 hazelnut clusters (with 4–5 hazelnuts in each cluster) for decorating. Using two forks, spread apart the remaining hazelnuts and leave the praline to cool completely. Once cool, break up the praline using your hands, then place the pieces (but not the reserved clusters) in a food processor and whiz until it resembles slightly coarse breadcrumbs.

To make the custard cream, place the sugar in a saucepan with the egg yolks, milk, cornflour and vanilla extract and whisking all the time bring just to the boil, then reduce the heat to low. Then cook, continuing to whisk, until thickened. Immediately remove from the heat before transferring to a bowl to cool completely. In a separate bowl, whip the cream just until it holds stiff peaks. Add the praline to the cooled custard and mix in, then carefully fold in the whipped cream. Cover the praline custard cream and place in the fridge until you are ready to use it.

You can now assemble the cake. Place one of the cakes on a cake stand or plate. Spread with half of the praline custard, then cover with a second cake. Spread the other half of the custard cream over the cake, then top with the third cake. Use a pastry brush to brush off any excess crumbs from the cake.

Next make the frosting. First place a palette knife in a jug or bowl and put the kettle on. It makes it really easy to frost this cake if you can use a palette knife that has been dipped in hot water. Place all the frosting ingredients in a heatproof bowl, add 2 tablespoons of cold water and set over a saucepan of simmering water. (The bowl should sit snugly over the pan, with its base high enough above the water that it does not come into contact with it.) Whisk slowly by hand until the sugar has completely dissolved and the mixture is foamy. Continue to heat and whisk until the mixture reaches 60°C (140°F) when measured with a sugar thermometer — this will take about 4 minutes. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can gauge whether the mixture is ready by how it feels and looks: it should be hot to the touch, glossy white in appearance and starting to thicken.

Quickly remove the bowl from the pan and pour the mixture into the bowl of an electric food mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Alternatively, whisk in the original bowl using a hand-held electric beater. Whisk on a high speed for about 3–5 minutes or until the frosting is very thick, glossy and has cooled.

Pour boiling water into the jug or bowl holding the palette knife. Before the frosting has a chance to cool and therefore set, spread it with the hot, wet palette knife over the top and all around the sides of the cake, covering it as evenly as possible. You can go for a smooth appearance or a slightly peaked look by tapping the flat side of the palette knife over the frosting. As you pull it up, it should create little peaks. Do this all over the cake.

Decorate around the top edge of the iced cake with the reserved hazelnut praline clusters.

Taken from Cake by Rachel Allen

Madeleines

Makes 12 madeleines

Madeleines are the quintessential delicate treat. The airy batter is baked in the traditional shell- shaped moulds to make a cake that is just crisp on the outside and elegantly light in the middle. This recipe is quick and easy to make, but there are many twists you can give to this recipe which are all delicious variations on a classic theme and are available in Rachel’s Cake book.

1 egg
50g (2oz) caster sugar
50g (2oz) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ tsp baking powder
50g (2oz) butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
½ tsp vanilla extract icing sugar, for dusting
12-hole madeleine tray

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas mark 4.

Brush a little melted butter over the madeleine moulds (making sure to coat every ridge) and dust a little flour into each one, tapping out any excess.

Place the egg and sugar in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer. Using a hand-held electric beater or the food mixer with its whisk attachment, whisk on a high speed for about 5 minutes or until the mixture is pale, thick and mousse-like and has grown almost three times in volume.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the whisked egg and sugar and carefully fold in, then fold in the melted butter and vanilla extract, taking care not to over-mix. Either pouring the batter directly from the bowl or using a tablespoon to spoon it in, divide the batter between the madeleine moulds, filling each almost to the top.

Bake for 12–15 minutes or until golden and lightly springy to the touch. (Try not to overcook them or they will be dry.) Remove from the oven and carefully remove each madeleine from its mould using a palette knife, then place on a wire rack to cool, if you must, as there are few things more delicious than warm madeleines served straight from the oven with nothing more than a light dusting of icing sugar.

Taken from Cake by Rachel Allen published by Harper Collins

Hot tips

The pheasant season opens from Nov 1. Learn how to cook game at the Ballymaloe Cookery School with George Gossip, the revered game cook. The one-day course on Game on Saturday, Nov 10 is not to be missed, limited places available. See www.cookingisfun.ie for more details

The Grain Store at Ballymaloe presents A Christmas Food & Crafts Fair in association with Cork Craft & Design. Over 3,000 people are expected at the annual event, now in its third successful year. There will be pottery, jewellery, wood turning and carving, fine art, sculpture, children’s games and toys, cosmetics, toiletries and christmas foods. Nov 17/18, 11am — 7pm.

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