Lavender Hazelnut cake, attempt one

the serving tray is plastic, but focus on the fact I even have one, this chunk of kitchen counter is plywood

I decided to create a cake based on the following directions: “hazelnut and lavender spongecake with italian buttercream and frosted with a little chocolate ganache” and this is what my first try looks like. For all the ingredients I tried to get the best stuff I could: good quality chocolate, milk, cream, and butter from a local dairy, and homemade roasted sugar. If I was more patient I would have gotten a few dozen eggs from a friend’s farm an hour or so away. My girlfriend was a big help when making this cake, even though it took until 2am to complete.

Starting with the easiest thing first, the ganache. 8oz dark chocolate melting wafers (I used dark because it felt right with the buttercream being so sweet) and a half a cup of heavy cream. Stir together in a double boiler and once smooth you’re done. I used the entire amount on my cake and it ended up being a large clumsy puck topping the cake instead of a thin layer frosting the entire outside. If I can get the cakes to come out smoothly next time I won’t have to hide them in so much frosting.

Next is the italian buttercream. I made way more than I really needed, but it wasn’t all that difficult. Considering I had two 9″ round cakes this website gave me the recipe and I scaled it up to 10 cups (except the vanilla). My advice for this is to use a thermometer with an alarm in the sugar so you can be informed when it hits the right temperatures instead of staring at it the whole time. In addition to that I substituted the vanilla extract for Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Paste on the recommendation of the podcast A Hotdog is a Sandwich.

I don’t know how much frosting people normally like on cakes, but 10 cups seems like WAY too much for two 9″ cakes and I have quite the sweet tooth. That is neglecting the fact I never intended to frost anything but the center layer so maybe 3 cups max for that? maybe 2? When making this it is important to have faith. Your wonderful italian meringue will separate after being refrigerated, just whip it back up. It will also look like thin soupy clumps of butter in a broken hollandaise but have faith and keep going and it will come together into a very very stable frosting. Also, fix your stand mixer beforehand so you don’t have to take the back off and hold down the governor like I did. Repairs during cooking are exciting but counterproductive.

How else could I fancy this up a bit? make it a little more special? I used roasted sugar for the cake so here’s how I did that.

  • Start with 30oz. of white sugar, empty it into an even layer in a 9”x13” glass baking dish.
  • Place the baking dish into an oven and set the oven for 300F (I did not preheat mine, it came up to temperature with the sugar in the oven).
  • Bake for one hour, then open the oven and stir the sugar. It should already have started to take on a slight color and is probably clumped together. Break it up as best as possible to avoid issues later.
  • Bake for half an hour and stir again.
  • Bake for half an hour and stir again.  At this point I decided my sugar was ready, you might want a darker color and flavor, in which case repeat the above process as needed. 
  • Remove the sugar and let cool completely (you may want to stir while cooling, I did not). 
  • Once the sugar is cooled, sift into your seal-able retention vessel (I used a hand crank sifter to break it up into a light fluffy powder and stored it in a wire-top glass container). 

Notes on the sugar: I made more roasted sugar than was needed for this cake, by a lot. To convert it into caster sugar put a bit more than you think you will need in a food processor with the metal blade and let go for… a while. Weigh it AFTER that process to make sure you didn’t lose any that stuck to things or floated away. Do not try to process all 30oz. of sugar in the food processor, this will take forever. Did this add much flavor? I dunno, but it seemed like a nice touch and it was flavored enough that my girlfriend did not like the clumps which did not sift well in her tea, so it did something.

unmodified sponge (slightly overcooked and dry) to check for what the crumb is supposed to look like

For the cake I tweaked the recipe for this Classic Victoria sandwich cake. I am not happy with how it turned out but I have thoughts on how to help it. First I did a 1.5x batch because it calls for 20cm cake tins and I had 9″ ones. I buttered the tins and coated with the roasted sugar, but I would use cut rounds of parchment paper on the bottom of the pans if I did it again. You could use cake tins where the bottom comes out, but I couldn’t find these and I don’t like having tons of parts rattling around that can get lost.

I used 1/3 hazelnut flour and used a bit more baking powder to compensate for the heaviness (perhaps more was needed?). The rest of the flour I used cake flour and just added baking powder and salt to compensate for not using the self rising flour. The extra fine texture I was hoping would offset the hazelnut flour’s coarse grind. I might try a double-whammy of whipping the egg whites separately, creaming the egg yolks, butter, and sugar, then adding the dry ingredients, then folding in the whites to give extra mechanical lift in addition to chemical leavening. If I do that I will be sure to put them in a low rack in the oven, take out all the other racks, and then never move them (so as not to deflate them) when I open the oven to check them for done-ness with a toothpick.

seems too dense and not tall enough despite the extra baking powder

The lavender ratio was from someone else’s recipe and I used the ratio of lavender to other dry ingredients to figure out how much to use. I think it was too much, but not by a lot. Redoing this I might try 3tsp. The reasoning for powdered lavender was I envisioned this being done with picked fresh lavender buds from the garden of a nice victorian or second empire house, then ground by hand. Lacking that I ordered some from Bulk Apothecary and ground them in a spice grinder. I needed 4 grams and it was too much. DO NOT buy a pound because it’s not that expensive and you’d rather not run out. In fact, e-mail me if you want any. I have a lifetime supply.

  • 300g caster sugar (from roasted sugar)
  • 300g softened unsalted butter
  • 6 eggs beaten
  • 300g self-rising flour (made from the following ingredients)
    • 200g cake flour
    • 100g hazelnut flour
    • 5tsp baking powder
    • 1.25tsp salt
  • 1.5tsp baking powder (in addition to above)
  • 3tbsp milk
  • 4tsp lavender, finely ground

I creamed together the sugar and butter until smooth, then mixed in the eggs and milk, then slowly incorporated the sifted together dry ingredients. I weighed the two baking pans, going back and forth one dollop at a time trying to get them even before spreading them evenly. Cooked until the toothpick comes out clean (I think mine were a bit too long).

cleaning the frosting off those little bumps around this cake stand is not fun, don’t be messy like me

For frosting the cake I like to run my spatula under hot water so it doesn’t stick to the frosting while I’m spreading it. Also, it’s probably important to have a real offset spatula and not just a big solid stainless steel one used mostly for burgers and grilling. If I had thought about it at the time I would have put down a cake round, carefully sliced it with my knife to make it a clean cylinder trimming the crumbly and messy edges. Then frosted the top and added my second layer, also making it a perfect cylinder of the same diameter. Then after cleanup I could have lightly frosted the whole thing in ganache (I don’t exactly know how, I think I would have had to wait for it to cool a lot more that I did this time just pouring it into the hole in the top of my frosting mountain).

This has been attempt one of this cake, there may be another but not for a while (I’m out of eggs, butter, and some other stuff…). Now I’m going to get back to house remodeling (I kid you not, the paint in the bedroom is slightly off and it’s bugging the crap out of me).

One Response to “Lavender Hazelnut cake, attempt one”

  1. Kathy Cleveland Says:

    Looks delicious!

    I make caster sugar in the blender, although the food processor certainly works, too. I have found, though, that if I leave it running too high or for very long, I go beyond caster to powdered sugar.

    What does roasting sugar do? (It seems like it would caramelize it, making a molasses-free brown sugar.)

    The extra baking powder may have been counterproductive. This type of cake rises when an acid and a base combine to form carbon dioxide bubbles (think vinegar and baking soda). In many cake recipes, the acid will come from something like buttermilk. Here, the acid is from the baking powder. But it needs some baking soda to create that chemical reaction.

    My mother taught me a couple of tricks when it came to frosting cakes. The first one is to put three toothpicks into the layers in a triangular pattern. This will hold them in place as you frost the top and sides.

    The second trick is to take some 2- to 3-inch wide strips of wax paper, and put them on the cake plate under the edges of the cake before you start to frost it. Arrange the strips so that they overlap and cover the plate, but are anchored by the layers of cake. Once the cake is frosted, just tug gently on the strips of wax paper, and your cake plate should be clean under them.

    Also, you mentioned having some trouble frosting your cake. You may want to start with a crumb coat, which is a very very thin layer. Put the cake in the fridge for a half hour, and then put the actual frosting on.

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