Recipes, ‘Pam The Jam’ Corbyn once said to me on Twitter, are for sharing. So are ingredients. I recently sent a pot of Norfolk saffron to an American Facebook friend (yes, I fritter away far too much time on social media) and he responded with typical generosity.
Joe Pettit and his husband Andrew Fink run Clean Bite Catering in Washington state, producing local and seasonal food for clients around Seattle and South Sound, so they know their onions. And hazelnuts and honey.
Joe sent me a bag of raw Oregon hazelnuts, which he says are a scarce, seasonal treat and a jar of unfiltered Pacific Northwest wildflower honey. He also sent some organic flaked coconut, but that’s another story. Thank you, Joe, and thanks also to Jo Browse, the mutual friend who lugged all this bounty back to the UK for me.
The hazelnuts and honey are both delicious and I wanted to do them justice. I hope this recipe qualifies. Light, nutty (obviously) and not too sweet, it’s good served with vanilla ice cream or, drizzled perhaps with a little extra honey, with crème fraîche.
If you don’t have a pal like Joe and you want to save time you could buy pre-ground hazelnuts but I’d recommend starting with whole roasted nuts for a better flavour.
Pre-heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4, line a tin with baking paper and roast for 10-15 minutes, giving them a shake every five minutes. They should smell fragrantly nutty but be careful they don’t burn.
If they’re unskinned, wrap at this point in a clean tea towel and leave for 10 minutes, then rub them together inside the cloth to remove the skins. Set aside a dozen for the garnish. Whizz the rest in a food processor until finely ground, stopping before they get oily.
The cake can be made in advance. The candied hazelnuts should be made only a few hours before you want to serve and eaten the same day. Keep them at room temperature, uncovered.
Honey and Hazelnut Cake
100g self raising flour
125g ground roasted hazelnuts
225 g butter
225g runny honey
1 level tspn baking powder
Pinch of salt
For the candied hazelnuts:
12 skinned, roasted hazelnuts
200g caster sugar
Plus icing sugar for dusting
Heat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Grease a 23cm/9″ cake tin and line the base with baking parchment, greasing that too.
Put the sieved flour, ground nuts, baking powder and salt in a bowl and stir to mix.
In a saucepan, melt the butter with the honey on a low heat. Pour into a large bowl and allow to cool, then beat in the eggs one at a time.
Add the dry mix and beat with a wooden spoon until you have a smooth batter. Pour into the cake tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 40-45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the centre comes out clean. Cool in the tin for five minutes then remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
To make the candied nuts, impale each nut on a wooden skewer: go in from the side rather than through the seam, otherwise they’ll fall in half. Set aside. Put a heavy wooden board on the edge of a work surface and line the floor underneath with newspaper.
Put the sugar and water in a pan on a medium heat and stir until the sugar has dissolved and the syrup is clear. Stop stirring at this point or you’ll end up with rocks of sugar instead of liquid caramel. Bring to a boil and continue to bubble, swirling the pan occasionally, until it is golden in colour. Remove from the heat and allow to cool for 8-10 minutes to thicken.
Holding the pan over the newspaper, dip each hazelnut in the toffee and wedge the skewer under the wooden board, allowing the caramel to drip to a point over the paper and setting them well apart. If you don’t get a long drip, allow the toffee to cool and thicken further. If it starts to harden in the pan, put it back on the stove.
Once the dipped nuts have hardened, snip off the points at about 10-15 cm (4-6″) with a pair of scissors. Dust the cake with icing sugar, gently pull the nuts off the skewers and arrange them in the centre of the cake. Eat as soon as possible.
NB: you can pour any remaining caramel onto baking parchment and allow it to cool, then break it up and eat as toffee candy.