I asked my brother-in-law what he thought of this photo. “It reminds me of a map of Svenborgia,” he said, “the country in Europe only rich people know about.” (30 Rock, Season 2, Episode 1) But it’s not Svenborgia; what you see here are toasted hazelnuts trapped in a pool of caramelized sugar. It’s for everyone.
I found this recipe in Clare Ptak’s Violet Bakery Cookbook. It’s meant to top a fruit cake, but I like to pair it with her chocolate cake covered with a thick layer of salted caramel icing. Broken praline piercing salted caramel icing looks like shards of amber stained-glass, suspended. It’s edgy and delicious.
I am not a stellar cake decorator. I must have been present at cooking school for cake decorating 101; I do remember fruit fillings, boozy syrups, Italian meringue buttercreams and sheets of fondant. But the actual icing of the cake? It’s all a blur.
This is where the hazelnut praline comes in. I’ve delivered a few birthday cakes to friends this week (cake deliveries are the answer to lockdown gathering restrictions) and these lovely shards will cover any icing imperfections. Pack the cake in a proper cake box and my goodness, people might think you’ve just arrived from Svenborgia.
To make the praline:
3 tablespoons water
1 cup (200g) sugar
Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and set aside. Using a clean tea towel, rub the skins off the hazelnuts then toast in a dry fry pan until just golden. Scatter the hazelnuts onto the parchment-lined cookie sheet.
Pour water into a saucepan. Top with sugar and turn up the heat until it comes to a boil – don’t stir! When the sugar just begins to turn colour, swirl the pan gently until the sugar is uniformly golden, being careful not to let it burn, then pour over hazelnuts. Leave to cool, then crack and use to decorate a cake.