A showstopper dessert from The Violet Bakery Cookbook by Claire Ptak. I highly recommend this new baking book as everything I have made has been delicious! I used 8″ pans as that is what I had. Also, I had no problem with the caramel which can be difficult and think using Baker’s fine sugar may have helped. Be sure to let your cakes cool before frosting. I did add 1/2 t. of brandy to the icing. Trader Joe’s sells skinned hazelnuts which is a huge plus!
For the Sponge
12 oz. dates, pitted and chopped
5 oz. hazelnuts, toasted and chopped medium fine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. brown sugar
3/4 c. + 2 T. oil
1 c. plain flour
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
7 T. plain yogurt
For the Icing
4 tablespoons water
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar
Brandy or cognac, to taste (optional)
Heat the oven to 340 degrees. Butter two 7″ cake tins and line with parchment paper. First, prepare the sponge. Combine the dates and the toasted nuts in a bowl and set aside.
Using an electric mixture, whisk together the eggs, vanilla and sugars until light and fluffy. Continue to whisk as you slowly drizzle in the oil.
In another bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add this to the egg mixture and whisk for a few seconds to combine. Add the yogurt and whisk to combine then fold in the dates and hazelnuts.
Divide the mixture between your prepared tins and bake for about 35-45 minutes, until the cakes are baked through and set, but not dry. The tops of the cakes will not spring back as much as other cakes do because the dates make the mixture moist and dense in the best possible way. Leave the cakes to cool in their tins while you make the topping.
Line a baking try with parchment paper and spread your toasted hazelnuts on the tray. Place the tray on your worktop, near the stove. Have your icing ingredients nearby, as they will be needed as soon as the caramel is ready.
Put the 3 T. water in a small, heavy-bottomed pan and sprinkle in the sugar. Bring to the boil and just as the sugar starts to caramelize watch it very closely, then as soon as it starts to brown, pour half of the hot caramel over the hazelnuts. Leave to cool and harden and then break into shards.
To make the icing, add the four tablespoons of water to the remaining caramel in the pan. Pour the runny caramel from the pan into the icing sugar and whisk to a smooth paste. Add more water or icing sugar until it has the consistency of soft buttercream.
TASTE: Does the icing taste too sweet? It might need a splash of brandy or cognac to mellow it out. The cake itself is not too sweet so it can handle a fairly sweet icing, but cutting it with a little booze can work well here.
To finish, spread the icing on the cooled cakes and top with the shards of praline.