Posts tagged nuts
Sunday, November 15, 2009

hazelnut chestnut cake

hazelnut chestnut cake

If you had to describe the hazelnut, what words would come to mind? Small? Plain? Uncommon? Well, Gina DePalma, the pastry chef at the famed Babbo, calls the hazelnut “enigmatic” and I can’t disagree with her. Aside from Nutella and Fererro Rocher chocolates, it’s not exactly a popular nut (giggle)* you find on the shelves of many grocery stores.

The hazelnut, otherwise known as the filbert, has never won a popularity contest – having never grown to be as popular as a peanut or an almond, who are the mainstream nut darlings. If you think of Kristin Stewart as the It-Girl of the moment – the peanut, is its nut equivalent. The hazelnut, on the other hand, is more like Zooey Deschanel, with a cult following but not the kind of a blockbuster hit that invokes teen hysteria. You don’t find hazelnuts in many stores and I’ve yet to see a commercial exalting its virtues (unlike the pistachio, the commercials of which are now on every channel).

hazelnut chestnut cake

Aside from not winning any popularity contests, the hazelnut is wildly adaptable and makes friends with virtually everything from baked goods to wintry salads (more on that soon). I like having a bag on hand for snacking and keep a stash at work, lest I become tempted by the sugary cereal shelf.

hazelnut chestnut cake

Because, I’ve always had a soft spot for the humble hazelnut, I’m a bit biased towards recipes that allow it to be the star of the show. And when I saw this recipe and realized that it was created by my all time chef crushes – Gina DePalma, I pretty much changed my morning plans to bake this cake. That’s right, I skipped my Saturday morning spin to bake (those of you who know me, realize this is huge!). And before I keep you in suspense any longer, and with apologies to my all time favorite spin instructor (hi, Kristin!), I can tell you now – it was well worth it. Gina DePalma has never let me down – the woman practically walks on water as far as I’m concerned.

hazelnut chestnut cake

Speaking of chef crushes (and I’ve got a few) mine are almost exclusively pastry chefs and women (though a few men are sprinkled in the mix like the creator of those celestial meatballs). I don’t know if that says I gravitate towards a certain kind of cooking, but chefs like Gina DePalma, Karen DeMasco, Claudia Fleming (whom I met last summer when she signed my book and was speechless, no doubt, making a lasting impression as the mute who likes to bake), Gabrielle Hamilton and Anne Burrell all create the kind of food I want to eat and make for others. There something warm, honest and approachable about their cooking. It’s the kind of meal you have at the end of your day, and even if your day was the kind that makes you just want to crawl into bed, that first bite instantly brings a smile to your face and wraps you in comfort. And while I can’t eloquently describe or put my finger on it, it is, for me cooking always meant creating that warmth, memories and comfort. Bringing people together, making them smile, taste, feel loved. This cake is an embodiment of the kind of cooking I love – unfussy, simple, comforting, yet festive and celebratory. It’s both everyday and special occasion. And its sweet, nutty smell is perfect for the holiday season as it fills your house with its welcoming, warm fragrance.

hazelnut chestnut cake

I like this cake for the holiday season because in the next few weeks we will be inundated with overly sweet desserts, and it’s nice to have an option of something more restrained for the palate. Though I’m always up for dessert, I tend to steer clear of overly sugary things. I find that with dessert, as with people, the ones who are overly sweet are off-putting. I like a little bit of sarcasm, some edge, a bit of a dark side, if you will. And I like dessert that challenges my palate – gives me a bit of sweet but not overwhelmingly so. A dessert that holds back a little. World, meet this cake – it’s got some edge, all right.

hazelnut chestnut cake

This cake calls for hazelnut paste, which isn’t the easiest thing to procure, as I learned. But since I decided to make this cake on a whim at 8 o’clock in the morning, I wasn’t as well prepared ingredients-wise. Though I’m a bit sad that I couldn’t locate hazelnut paste anywhere in the vicinity of my house and had to settle for chestnut paste, I have to admit the results were anything but disappointing.

hazelnut chestnut cake

A perfect finish to a meal on a cold fall day, some friends and I had this over glasses of tawny port, but it’s the kind of dessert that goes well beautifully with a fresh pot of coffee or espresso. A dollop of unsweetened whipped cream not only makes for a festive presentation, but also lets the flavors sing even more. And though I didn’t think that chestnut and hazelnut would go well together – necessity (or desperation) is the mother of invention – because they do. With dessert like this, the hazelnut could very well be propelled from obscurity into the spotlight. Which would make it the It-Nut?

hazelnut chestnut cake

*Since I have a maturity level of a 5th grader I giggled every time I wrote the word “nut” and hope you do as well reading it. Because, this and also this, never get old.

I chose this dessert for the Bon Appetit 2009 blog envy bake-off because I love its simplicity, yet uncompromising taste and complexity of flavors. If you want to raise the ante, you can double the recipe and make a marron butter cream (please let me know if you wish for me to post the recipe for it). Otherwise, it’s a wonderfully comforting and clean holiday dessert that resists going into the extremely sugary zone. In the meantime, go over there and vote for your favorite dessert – I hope it’s mine, but there are lots of amazing entries!

Continue reading hazelnut chestnut cake.

Friday, July 20, 2007

zucchini stuffed with feta, pinenuts, and dill

one of those perfect summer meals

Oh man, sometimes I get into the mode when I want to write about a recipe and words just flow, you know. And sometimes, I make a dish and it is heavenly. And I can’t wait to share it with all of you. And then – my mind goes all fragment-y and vacant. I write a few pieces and nothing quite flows and I scrap the whole thing and begin all over again. And this recipe is one of them.

And yet I cannot figure out why – because if anything this dish is so amazing, easy, delicious and healthy that I should have no problem singing it praises. I should just feel so inspired by the fact that there is nothing about this dish not worth noting, but instead I look at the pictures, salivate a bit and go back to the blank sheet to type something, anything that might induce a bit of sex-appeal for the dish. You know, every dish wants to be sexy in some way or another. It needs to have its edge, its je ne sais quoi, its mojo!

vessels

But here’s the rub – if say gossip magazines were loaded with nothing but positive and wonderful news of celebrities, the gossip magazine industry as we know it would cease to exist. Or sell a lot fewer magazines. Because people like to read stories with a little bit of hair on them. No one wants to read a happy-go-lucky story. We eat up negative tabloid news like nothing else – and someone’s making a mint on this! Some actress falling off the wagon and the next day a picture of her passed out in her car is front pages news; an innocent looking heartthrob getting caught with a hooker in an alley; a cherubic, stunning model videotaped doing cocaine. This is the stuff that really propels the sales into the stratosphere. I guess because this dish is the equivalent of a Meryl Streep celebrity-type, there’s little edge that it has. Talented, elegant, appealing, but not in the least bit scandalous or mysterious – when was the last time you read about Meryl in People, US Weekly, or OK?

I guess the missive is this – unless you dislike any of the ingredients listed, you need to make this dish. Soon. And if you dislike, pine nuts for example, just take them out and make the dish without them. I suppose if you don’t like zucchini, then you’re pretty much out of luck as the rest of the dish goes out the window, but few people I know dislike zucchini. In fact, no one I know, dislikes it.

stuffed

So, it’s quite simple, you see. Make the dish. Taste for yourself. And let me know if you don’t love it – because I’ve yet to make this and have leftovers the next day. And there you have it, short, sweet, to the point. Nothing controversial about stuffed zucchini (unless you want to make a juvenile crack about me saying “stuffed”) – but I tried to come up with something zany for you, and it amounted to nothing. I suppose this would make me a failure at a tabloid magazine – I like happy stories both in print and on my plate!

Continue reading zucchini stuffed with feta, pinenuts, and dill.