By the time you’re reading this my Birthday will be gone and the cake in the pictures will only be a memory. Most likely I’ll have had a nice day with many nice memories and ready for another year of my life. I’ll be 24. I don’t care so much about age anymore, once you’ve passed 20 it’s just another number and once other people pass 20 they don’t really change much with one year, three years, ten years… You’re like a stone and one year is like 100 water drops on your surface; they don’t do much difference but in a few years there might be a small, noticeable difference anyway. Ever drop is an experience of your previous year, a meeting with a new person, a journey somewhere new, a new hobby, a new skill you learnt or just an important train of thought like an insight or a decision made. Small drops, just little things that slowly turns you into who you are and one day in one, three or ten years you’ll wake up and realize that these Birthdays, these drops of rain and these small things after all managed to change you even though you feel like things and people will always be the same.
I tried some of the banana mousse I made last week with some leftover brownie pieces. I had planned my Birthday cake to be a thin brownie topped with a praliné layer, bananas, chocolate mousse and with banana mousse around and on top of everything but it didn’t work; the brownie took over too much. After much thought and sleepless nights I decided to make a hazelnut sponge topped with a thick layer of caramelized hazelnut spread, grilled bananas, a layer of hazelnut dacquoise and chocolate mousse around and over everything and some caramelized hazelnuts for decoration. I wasn’t quite sure how to incorporate the bananas but one day when I had a grilled banana with yoghurt I took a piece of the banana and tried it with a Nutella type spread. There is one thing you have to understand about grilled bananas; if you grill or bake bananas the banana flavour becomes a lot stronger and suddenly it tastes like caramel. The banana slices leak syrup and turns everything it comes in touch with into a luxurious, syrupy, caramel-y dessert. Together with hazelnuts and chocolate you get something that feels like velvet on your tongue. Comforting, soft, caramel bananas complimented with the earthy flavour of the hazelnuts and finally the rich, luxurious taste of chocolate. I was planning on incorporating a layer of toffee-fudge sauce in the cake but by grilling the bananas I eliminated that need.
And let’s talk about textures. You’ve most likely heard that in terms of flavour a perfect dish needs to be balanced. White chocolate with a caramel filling topped with meringue? No, too sickly. Salted caramel on top of buttered toast? Probably too salty. The same goes for textures and consistencies, something I had in mind when thinking up my Birthday cake. Chewy meringue, crunchy praliné, soft bananas, more softness in the shape of a hazelnut sponge, velvety and airy mousse and finally more crunch in the shape of caramelized hazelnuts.
This cake is perfection. It’s pure decadence and love and joy and luxury and velvet in the form of a cake.
(Of course, before I forget it, I better mention that the chocolate mousse recipe is from good old Joe Pastry. The hazelnut sponge recipe is from The Baking Life and I made half the original batch size)
Also, you’ll get one leftover meringue disc and one leftover sponge.
Hazelnut dream cake
70 g/2.5 oz toasted, peeled and ground up hazelnuts
18 g/0.6 oz coarsely chopped toasted and peeled hazelnuts
2 egg whites
90 g/3.2 oz sugar
Put the oven on 175 degrees C/347 degrees F (150 degrees C/302 degrees F if using a convection oven). Draw two circles just under 5 inches/12.7 cm on a sheet of greaseproof paper. Whip the egg whites into a stiff foam, you should be able to hold the bowl up side down without anything falling out. Whisk in the sugar and whisk until it’s dissolved. Fold in the nuts and pipe the batter in the circles and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes.
75 g/2.7 oz toasted and peeled hazelnuts
70 g/2.5 oz flour
Pinch of salt
68 g/2.4 oz sugar
22 g/0.8 oz vegetable oil
Put the oven on 175 degrees C/347 degrees F (150 degrees C/302 degrees F if using a convection oven). Butter and flour two 5 inch/12.7 cm tins. Blend flour, nuts and salt until it’s like a flour. Whisk the eggs and the sugar until it’s tripled in size. Fold in the nut mixture in two additions. Transfer a large blob of batter to a bowl and whisk in the oil. Foil this back into the other batter. Pour the batter into the two tins and bake in the oven for about 15 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean.
Caramelized hazelnuts for the praliné layer and decoration
100 g/3.5 oz toasted and peeled hazelnuts
200 g/7 oz sugar
5 g/0.2 oz butter
4 tablespoons water
Put the sugar and the water in a saucepan and heat it to the soft ball stage (118 degrees C/244 degrees F). Put the hazelnuts in the saucepan and keep stirring. The sugar will crystallize and then melt again. When the sugar is completely melted and browned nicely you stir in the butter. Pour the praliné on a greaseproof paper and separate the nuts as well as you can.
Most of the caramelized hazelnuts, leave however many you want for decoration
About 40 g/1.4 oz butter
Big pinch of sea salt flakes, or to taste
Put the caramelized hazelnuts in a blender and blend until it’s the consistency you want. I recommend that you blend it so that it just started to form a paste but it’s still very thick so that when you’ve mixed in the butter and it’s been in the cake in the fridge overnight and it’s time to eat the cake it has formed a hard, crunchy layer in the cake rather than a soft layer, like butter or Nutella. Remove from the blender and stir in the butter and the salt
113 g/4 oz paté a bombe
227 g/8 oz whipping cream
170 g/6 oz dark chocolate, chopped finely
Whip the cream to just under stiff peaks (if you’re unsure, better to whisk it too little than too much). Prepare your paté a bombe if you haven’t already and while it’s whipping, melt your chocolate, careful not to burn it. Add the chocolate to the paté a bombe (make sure you don’t use the whole batch of paté a bombe, but only FOUR ounces of it), which should also be warm and stir until well incorporated. Add in a third of the whipped cream and whisk until it’s smooth and fold in the remaining cream.
Assemble the cake
3 medium bananas
Leftover caramelized hazelnuts
If you have some suitable acetate sheets then take one or two of these and line the spring form tin with it, grease the bottom of the tin with vegetable oil. The acetate sheets needs to be so thick that they don’t feel flimsy and so that they hold their shape in the tin, if you don’t have any then just grease up the sides of the tin. Slice the bananas and put them under the grill on a low heat until they are soft. Put the hazelnut sponge at the bottom of a 6 inch spring form tin. Carefully put the praliné mass on top of it, put the bananas over the praliné. As you assemble the layers you pipe chocolate mousse around the edges, making sure it gets all around the cake. Top with the hazelnut meringue and pipe the rest of the mousse on top of it and spread it as evenly as you can with a palette knife. Put in the fridge overnight and decorate with caramelized hazelnuts. Carefully loosen the spring form tin from the cake and carefully peel of the acetate sheets. If you didn’t use any sheets the risk is that your mousse might break a little bit. If you’re brave then try to move the cake from the bottom of the tin, if you don’t want to risk anything then just leave it.