18 June 2010

Baking my way through writer's block...

Hazelnut Pound Cake with a Nutella Ribbon
Writer's block sucks.  I've been back from London for 10 days now, and am still "stuck" on what to write about.  There's no shortage of stories to tell, or topics to discuss - it's simply a matter of the words not coming.  I think I'm just over-thinking the whole thing.  Trying too hard and getting absolutely nowhere.

My whole routine has been slightly off kilter for the last couple of weeks.  Hubby has been gone on a couple of business trips and his absence has been very noticeable.  During the first trip, I was simply enjoying a bunch of "me" time - enjoying the silence in the house and being able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted.  If I felt like having a bowl of popcorn for dinner, I could.  Then I was off on my own excursion to the UK, discovering a whole new world full of people who are just as nuts about food as I am.  He arrived home while I was away, and got to enjoy some alone time of his own.  I returned a few days later and had just a few hours to spend with him before it was time for bed and right back to work the next day.  A word of advice: if you ever take and insanely short trip overseas and think you can handle going straight back to work 14 hours after you come home, you're wrong.  Don't do it.  Take a day off to figure out which continent you're on, do some laundry and just enjoy the post-holiday glow (something which wears off alarmingly fast at the office).  By Sunday, hubby was back on a plane and I was home alone again.  However, this time the house just felt... vacant.  All of the things he does around the house are now all on my plate, and the bed feels lop-sided with just me in it.  Sure, a couple of times I've let the dogs sleep on the bed with me, but I only wake to find myself pinned under two 60 pound dogs, clinging for dear life to edge of the mattress despite the fact that the bed is emptier than normal.  {sigh}  I miss my hubby...

Several times I have sat down at the computer to write a post, but it's like wading through wet cement.  Finally, I decided that I needed to get back in the kitchen (popcorn for dinner is only fun for so long).  I hadn't baked much since being home either - like I said, my whole routine is out of whack.  So, I shook it off and flipped through a couple of cookbooks for inspiration.  I settled on Toasted Hazelnut Pound Cake from Regan Daley's In the Sweet Kitchen - the first cookbook I ever sat down and read cover-to-cover, and still one of my favourites.  I put my favourite playlist of French music on the iPod (something else that always seems to help when I need inspiration) and got to work.

I happened to have a bag of hazelnut flour in the pantry, saving me the step of skinning and grinding up all those nuts, which was nice.  I didn't have any hazelnut oil though - something the book said was recommended, but not essential for the recipe.  Oh well - next time.  The batter was pretty straightforward and came together beautifully.  I did switch up the baking pan and the recipe a bit though.  Rather than baking it in a round spring-form pan, I baked it in my springform tube pan and added a generous swirl of Nutella through the middle of the batter.  Gorgeous smells were coming from the oven in no time - I just needed to be patient and wait for it to cool.  When it finally did cool enough for me to slice into, what did I see but a nice "smile" of chocolate-hazelnutty goodness in the middle of my cake.

If you like hazelnuts, you will absolutely love this cake.  It's a bit lighter than a traditional pound cake, but toasty and nutty and moist, with a lovely crisp crust.  I will be baking this one again - and probably very soon.  I even picked up a bottle of hazelnut oil for next time - I can't wait to see how it enhances the flavour.

Delectable cake baked and tasted.  Pictures taken.  Post written.  I think I may just have finally broken through the wall.  Whew!

*A word about my new recipe format:  while I've always tried to list both metric and imperial measurements in the recipes I post, I've decided to change the layout to make it a bit easier to read - especially for the metric cooks out there.  It's not that the old-fashioned American cooks out there don't matter, but you are seriously outnumbered here.  C'mon already!  It really is time to get on board with the whole metric system like the rest of the planet.

Hazelnut Pound Cake (with Nutella Ribbon)
next time...
Adapted from In the Sweet Kitchen by Regan Daley

240g   hazelnut flour (finely ground hazelnuts)  1 1/2 Cups
201g   sugar   1 Cup
226g   unsalted butter, room temperature   1 Cup
100g   light brown sugar   1/2 Cup
4 large eggs, room temperature 
10ml   vanilla   2 tsp
284g   all-purpose flour   2 Cups
13g   baking powder   2 1/2 tsp
3g   salt   1/2 tsp
125ml   heavy whipping cream   1/2 Cup
15ml   hazelnut oil*   1 Tbsp
*optional, but recommended by chef
180g   Nutella   3/4 Cup

Preheat oven to 350˚F and place rack in centre position of oven.  Butter a 9-inch tube pan or round springform pan, and set aside.
In a medium bowl, combine all purpose flour, hazelnut flour, baking powder and salt.  Whisk together, or sift ensuring there are no clumps.  Set aside.
In bowl of a standing mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together butter and both sugars until pale & fluffy.  Add the eggs, one at a time, making sure to mix well after each addition.  Stir in the vanilla.
Add 1/3 of the dry ingredients and mix until just incorporated.  Pour in 1/2 of the cream, and mix on low speed to combine.  Mix in another 1/3 of dry ingredients, followed by the remaining cream, as well as hazelnut oil if you are using it.  Finally, mix in final third of dry ingredients and mix just until no traces of white remain.
In a bowl, gently warm the Nutella in the microwave for about 10-15 seconds, until it is just fluid enough to pour.
Pour approximately 1/2 of the batter into the prepared baking pan and spread evenly.  Pour a ribbon of Nutella over the centre (if using a tube pan, or in two concentric rings if using a round springform pan) of the first layer of batter, making sure to distribute it as evenly as possible.  Pour remaining cake batter on top of Nutella and even out the batter with an off-set spatula.  Make sure that no Nutella is peeking out anywhere - if it is, gently spread some of the batter over it to cover.
Bake for 60 minutes, or until the top springs back lightly when pressed.  Remove from oven and run a paring knife around the edge of the pan to release the cake.  Invert cake onto a wire rack and allow to cool for 20-30 minutes.
Well wrapped, the recipe says this cake keeps well for up to 5 days if refrigerated.  Kept on the counter at the office, it lasts about 2 hours before it's completely gone.

Happy Baking!

22 June 2010

RECIPE UPDATE:  I have since made this cake again, but this time I added the recommended hazelnut oil along with about 50g of flax seeds (see, now it's "healthy"! *wink* *wink*).  Let me just say that a) toasted hazelnut oil smells *amazing*, I could just sit there and sniff at it all day; and b) the added taste of the hazelnut oil is wonderful, it just adds a bit more depth to the toasty nuttiness.  Suddenly I am reminded of a line from one of my favourite movies, Rataouille (quel surprise), where Remy is tasting some food with his brother Emile...
     Remy:     Are you detecting a certain oaky nuttiness?
     Emile:     Oh, I'm detecting nuttiness alright...
Hahahaha - so cute!  I love that movie!

So, while you don't necessarily need the hazelnut oil, it's quite nice to have it in there.



Kerrin @ MyKugelhopf.ch said...

first thing's first, i LOVE that your cake is smiling at you ! it's like winking at you, saying - hey, you did it ! writer's block and jet lag behind you. not to mention popcorn dinners and nights without hubby. (i hope) i will admit to laughing out loud at your description in bed with the dogs, ha ha !

fantastic idea to add the nutella here. i can just smell the toasty nutty aromas. and ooh, what if you actually toast a slice... a little ice cream on top... or salted butter for breakfast... fantastic !

Mowie @ Mowielicious said...

Hey Julia =)

Loved reading this post, how you found your way out of your writer's block (I often wonder if it really exists, or is it all in my mind?) and the flavour of that cake sounds amazing.

And can I just say how much I love that first photo - love, love, love how the light is reflecting on it - fabulous!

Carolyn said...

Mmmm, looks good and very "hazelnutty" (which is a good thing!).

Sinful Southern Sweets said...

Writers block is the pits! Your cake on the other hand, looks amazing!

Jamie said...

Oh, dear Julia, are you suffering from post-FBC blues like the rest of us are? Did you leave London with visions of the perfect Food Blogger Community where all of us live happily and fatly content side by side all year long? Sigh...I know. But at least you worked up the energy to make this fabulous cake (just the kind of cake my men love! Must try it!) so now just sit at the computer and tap tap tap words until something, some theme or subject pops into your head and roll from there. That is how I pump out my articles and posts and deal with my block.

Katharine @ agirlinmadrid.com said...

Beautiful post Julia! I love the Moroccan inspired green plate.

The Cooking Ninja said...

Writer's block I have many as I'm not a good writer - it's worst. Hahaha! (Hub just whispered to me that I have more of house cleaning block than writer's block.)

I love that smiling face of your cake. So cute. I'm going to try this for my hub n poppet. Hub loves pound cake and nutella - perfect combination.

debug said...

I simply love this smiley cake cake...it has my fav ingredients..hazelnut and gorgeous hazelnut spread..

Leave-Room-for-Dessert said...

Thank you all for the lovely comments...

Kerrin -when you wake up underneath two dogs who are trying to smother you to death while pushing you off the bed, all you can do is laugh. One more week till hubby's home. And I like the way you think, toasted with ice cream would be perfection. Toasting a slice right now... ;-)

Mowie - thank you so very much, I consider it high praise coming from you. Ironically I didn't set that shot up, I just walked into the kitchen and there it was. I immediately though of your talk at FBC about using backlighting and grabbed the camera. So, thanks coach!

Jamie - yep, post FBC blues it is. Thanks for the encouraging words. Guess I'll just have to keep baking and tapping away at the computer. {hugs}

Katherine - lol, picked it up at HomeSense yesterday! (where else?)

Pam - my spells of house cleaning block are 100% voluntary!

To debug, Sinful Southern Sweets and Carolyn - thanks so much. This cake is definitely worth a try, it is soooooo yummy!

Cecilia said...

Julia--love the new green background! Your cake looks so yummy. It has taken me a while to get back to my routine too. I have a couple of posts that are half written. Sometimes it's difficult to get back into it I guess. Hope you are doing well. Hugs!

Valentina said...

Dear Julia, I love this recipe. I am such a big fan hazelnut. It is indeed th most delicious of all the nuts - in my humble opionion. Now, I once tried to grind pistachio nuts to make some pistachio flour but the end result was an oily mess so I wonder if the same would happen with hazelnut. I might be better off buying hazelnut flour. The dogs on the bed have made me laugh. I used to have a god when I lived in Brazil and he used to come to my bed sometimes, and lie on top of my feet. So funny. It is terrible when we have writer's block - I get very anxious. Glad that your block is over - so nice to read your posts.

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

Hi Julia, it always takes me a while to get back in the swing of things after some time away. My advice is to work with your bursts of energy when you have them and then take it easy for a week or so when you don't have time or inclination to blog. I have weeks where I make six things and then fortnights where I bake nothing but there's always something waiting to be posted on the blog without needing to go in the kitchen.

Smiley cake! Fabulous! and Nutella too, I love it!

Leave-Room-for-Dessert said...

Thanks Sarah!
It's nice to know I'm not the only one who goes through this kind of thing. I do have a few posts that I've started on, but writer's block is certainly harder to work through than baker's block. Actually, I don't think I've ever had baker's block....hmmmm.

Jeanne @ CookSister! said...

Holy moly... a Nutella ribbon?!? now that's what I call inspired! Can you FedEx me some? Just made me a cup of tea and need some cake ;-)

Leave-Room-for-Dessert said...

Hi Jeanne!
I'd happily send you over a batch, but I've since made another & it keeps disappearing! ;-)

Aparna said...

Have been battling the "block" myself and baking is a good prescription. Its actually trying to write up an interesting post that's the biggest problem for me. :)

Btw, I'm still one of those "cup" measuring types. :D

FireintheBreeze said...

looks delicious! hazelnut and nutella would be a yummy combo, thanks for the recipe :)

Heather Davis said...

Loved your writer's block story! I often don't know what I am going to write until I sit down and start typing. Your advice re not going straight back to work after travelling from one continent to the next is spot on! I have fallen asleep at my desk many a time when I returned the next day. Jet leg is awful. It seems to get worse as you get older. It was great to me you though and FBC10 was a brilliant experience so probably worth it all in the end.

Maranda said...

Oh wow this looks delicious!! I love hazelnut!!! I also love that movie as well. I try to get my daughter to watch it all the time but she's not as interested in it as I am. LOL!