Chocolate hazelnut cake with chocolate macarons

Its a new year and it’s time for new beginnings, as they say. I made the very difficult decision last year to leave my job as a research scientist to pursue a career in baking and on the 1st of January 2015 I became officially unemployed. To mark the big occasion and to say thank you and farewell to my colleagues I wanted to make a nice cake for them. I had a few thoughts on what to create and I’ve been wanting to challenge myself by making macarons, so I knew that they would feature in some way. On my first attempt I tried making some raspberry shells using raspberry flavouring that I had purchased. The taste was fine, but the macarons themselves were an absolute failure. I had over-worked the macaronage and the mixture ended up too runny. Not wanting to accept defeat I gave it another go the next day. This time I made some chocolate shells instead and hurrah! Success! I will admit that I threw out the first batch of Italian meringue that I made as I didn’t think the mixture would be stiff enough and I did not want to risk another failed batch. I find the most time consuming part of making macarons is sieving the ground almonds and the icing sugar. I used a nut/coffee grinder to process the ground almonds, but as I don’t like wasting things (apart from the discarded meringue) I really made sure that almost all the ground almonds went through a rather fine sieve. The effort was worth it though as the surface of the shells was so smooth. They are not perfect, but all in all I was rather chuffed with the results and I’m pleased to say that it wasn’t a fluke and I’ve managed since then to produce another acceptable batch. I filled the chocolate shells with a rich chocolate ganache. choc macaron Having made the macarons, I needed to settle on the actual cake. I do enjoy looking for and trying new recipes. I didn’t want a pure chocolate cake so hunted around for a recipe for hazelnut sponge. I came across a recipe on Azelia’s Kitchen that looked pretty good as it promised a ‘very light hazelnut cake’. I layered the hazelnut cake with one of my go-to chocolate cake recipes and butterscotch buttercream, and finally covered the cake with a dark chocolate ganache. For extra indulgence I then piped rosettes of chocolate (or butterscotch) buttercream around the edge of the top of the cake and placed a chocolate macaron on top of each rosette. The cake tasted lovely and it was surprisingly quite a light cake overall. Definitely one to make again, but only for a special occasion. The recipe is rather long as there are quite a few different components and it will take a fair amount of time to make. I made the macarons a couple of days in advance to spread things out a bit.

The finished article

The finished article

Not the prettiest photo but shows the lovely layers

Not the prettiest photo but shows the lovely layers

Chocolate macarons

170g icing sugar
135g ground almonds
25g cocoa powder
120ml egg whites, divided into two equal portions (you can use 
pasteurised egg whites - I use a brand called Two Chicks)
160g caster sugar

Chocolate cake

45g cocoa powder, Dutch processed or natural
90ml hot water
185g plain flour, sifted
30g ground almonds (if you don't want to use ground almonds, substitute
with plain flour)
½ teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
170g unsalted butter
80g caster sugar
100g light brown sugar
2 eggs (UK medium)
½ tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
125ml sour cream, at room temperature

Hazelnut cake - from Azelia's Kitchen

150g blanched hazelnuts
200g unsalted butter, softened
150g caster sugar
4 eggs, separated
160g plain flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
3-4 tablespoons milk

Butterscotch sauce

57g unsalted butter
100g dark brown sugar
125ml double cream
½ teaspoon fleur de sel or flaky sea salt
½ tablespoon vanilla extract

Vanilla buttercream

3 tablespoons plain flour
125ml double cream
125ml milk
140g granulated sugar
230g unsalted butter, softened
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Chocolate ganache

250g plain chocolate, min. 70%, chopped into small pieces
250ml double cream

For the chocolate macarons:

  1. Line two baking trays with baking parchment or use a silicone mat.
  2. Using a food processor, blend together the ground almonds and icing sugar to combine and to help break down any bigger pieces of almond. Do not process for too long as the almonds will start to release their oils – about 10-12 pulses should be sufficient).
  3. Sieve the blended almond mixture into a large bowl. Discard any particles that remain in the sieve. Add one portion of the egg whites to the almond mixture and beat together to form a thick paste. Set aside.
  4. Place the caster sugar in a saucepan together with 50ml of water and set over a medium-high heat. Bring to the boil, stirring occasionally and cook until all the sugar has dissolved. When the syrup is clear, place an instant-read thermometer into the saucepan and continue to cook the syrup until it reaches 118°C (244°F).
  5. While the syrup is cooking, place the remaining portion of egg whites into a large, grease-free bowl. Using an electric whisk or a stand mixer with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on high speed until you have soft to firm peaks once the syrup reaches about 112ºC. If you are using liquid egg whites, this can take longer than fresh egg whites so start whisking much earlier. Remember that the egg whites can sit around for a little bit, but the syrup once ready needs to be used immediately.
  6. When the syrup has reached temperature, remove from the heat and pour into the whisked egg whites in a slow and steady stream at the side of the bowl, being careful to avoid the whisk. Continue to whisk on high speed until the meringue is thick, glossy and forms firm peaks. The mixture will have cooled slightly and the bowl is likely to still be warm to the touch. If your meringue is still loose and wet, continue to whisk for longer. If it still refuses to thicken, it is likely that the egg whites had not been whisked enough before adding the hot syrup and you will need to start again with the meringue.
  7. Carefully scrape the meringue onto the almond mixture and mix together until it is still fairly thick. The phrase lava-like consistency is bandied about a lot, but if like me you have never had the (mis)fortune of seeing lava up close and personal, I would say that the mixture should be thick enough so that when you fill a piping bag the mixture doesn’t all instantly fall out through the nozzle. You need it to be thin enough to pipe, but thick enough so that it doesn’t lose its shape too much. I try to err on the side of under-beating than over-beating the mixture as there’s no way to save a runny macaronage.
  8. Once you are happy with the macaronage, fill up a piping bag fitted with a 1cm plain nozzle to about two-thirds full. Pipe rounds of about 2.5cm diameter onto the parchment lined trays, ensuring that you leave a gap of about 2-2.5cm to allow for a bit of spreading. Once a tray has been filled, drop it against the counter or table 3-4 times from a 2.5cm height. This is to eliminate the bigger air bubbles that might later ruin the surface of the macaron.  Leave the piped macarons to rest for at least 30 minutes, or until they have developed a skin and no longer feel sticky.
  9. Pre-heat the oven to 180ºC/160°C fan/350ºF. Bake for 12 minutes or until you can lightly tap the macarons and they feel firm. If they are still a bit delicate, continue to bake for a few more minutes but check on them regularly. Remove the trays from the oven and slide the parchment onto the work surface and leave to cool for a few minutes before gently peeling off the macarons. If the undersides are still sticky the macarons are likely to be a bit under-baked. Leave to cool completely.
  10. Once the shells have cooled, pipe chocolate ganache onto the flat surface of one shell and place another shell on top.

For the chocolate cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F. Grease and line the base of 2 x 8″ sandwich tin and grease the parchment.
  2. Mix the cocoa powder and hot water. Whisk until smooth.
  3. In a separate bowl, add the flour, ground almonds (if using), baking powder, baking soda and salt and whisk to combine.
  4. Melt the butter and sugars in a saucepan over a medium-low heat, stirring to combine. Remove from the heat and pour into a mixing bowl. With an electric mixer on medium-low speed, beat until the mixture is cooled (approximately 4-5 minutes).
  5. Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat on medium speed ensuring it is fully incorporated before adding the next. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed.
  6. Add the vanilla extract, and beat until mixed thoroughly. Then add the cocoa mixture and beat until combined.
  7. Reduce the speed to low. Add the flour mixture in 2 batches, alternating with the sour cream and beating until just combined after each addition.
  8. Divide the batter equally between the prepared tins, weighing out the mixture for even distribution.
  9. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until springy to the touch and a cake tester of skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the tins, peel off the parchment and place on a wire rack to cool.

For the hazelnut cake:

  1. Preheat oven to 180°C/160°C fan/350°F. Grease and line the base of 2 x 8″ sandwich tin and grease the parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until pale and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons of milk, and beat until fully combined.
  3. Next add the flour, baking powder and ground hazelnuts. Mix until incorporated. If the mixture looks too stiff add an extra tablespoon of milk.
  4. In a clean, grease-free bowl add the egg whites and whisk until you have stiff peaks.
  5. Add one third of the whisked egg whites to the flour mixture and fold together. When there are no white streaks remaining, add another one third of the egg whites and fold together. Repeat until all the egg white is incorporated. Be careful when folding not to knock out too much air.
  6. Divide the batter equally between the prepared tins, weighing out the mixture for even distribution.
  7. Bake for 22-25 minutes, or until springy to the touch and a cake tester of skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Remove from the tins, peel off the parchment and place on a wire rack to cool.

For the butterscotch sauce:

  1. Melt the butter in a saucepan over a medium heat then add the sugar, cream and salt. whisk to combine. Bring the mixture to the boil and continue to boil for 5 minutes over a low heat while still whisking.
  2. Remove from the heat and whisk in the vanilla extract. Leave to cool completely.

For the buttercream:

  1. Mix together the milk and double cream and place a quarter of the mixture into a saucepan together with the flour. Whisk together and cook on a low heat until it starts to thicken.
  2. Add the remaining cream mixture and sugar and continue to heat until the mixture comes to the boil, then cook for a further 90 seconds. Keep whisking vigorously to remove any lumps.
  3. Remove from the heat and push the mixture through a sieve to remove any remaining lumps. Cover and leave to cool completely.
  4. Place the softened butter into a large bowl and beat on a medium speed until fluffy. Add the cooled cream mixture and salt to the bowl and beat on high speed until fully incorporated. Add the vanilla extract and continue to beat until the mixture is pale and fluffy. As this receipe makes more than you will need, remove about a quarter of the buttercream and place into a clean container to be kept aside for another day. The buttercream can be kept in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks in the fridge, or frozen for 2-3 months. I used the remaining basic buttercream to make a chocolate buttercream by mixing with some of the chocolate ganache.
  5. To the remaining buttercream in the bowl, add about 60ml of butterscotch sauce (or to taste) and beat until fully incorporated.

For the chocolate ganache:

  1. Place the double cream in a saucepan and heat until steaming but do not let the cream boil.
  2. Put the chopped chocolate into a bowl and pour over the hot double cream. Stir the mixture until the chocolate has completely melted. Set aside to cool slightly.

To assemble the cake:

  1. Place one layer of the hazelnut sponge onto a cakeboard or plate and spread over about a fifth of the butterscotch buttercream using a spatula. Next place one layer of the chocolate cake on top and spread over the butterscotch buttercream. Repeat with the two remaining layers of cake. Finally cover the top and sides of the entire cake with the remaining butterscotch buttercream. Try to get as smooth a finish as possible.
  2. You need the chocolate ganache to be at a spreadable consistency so heat it slightly if it is too thick, or allow to cool a bit more if it’s too runny. Smooth the chocolate ganache all over the iced cake and leave to set. Once the chocolate ganache has set, use a piping bag fitted with a large open star nozzle to pipe buttercream rosettes around the outer edge of the top of the cake. i try to estimate about one rosette per portion. Finally top each rosette with a chocolate macaron.
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