Almost Aunt Rachel’s Cake
Inspired by memories of my Great Aunt Rachel’s spectacular nut cake, this makes a very old fashioned nut sponge. If you’ve never made a cake with hand ground nuts, I encourage you to try it. The texture is wonderful.
6 large eggs, separated
1 cup ground toasted hazelnuts or almonds
1 cup less 2 Tbs. sugar or vanilla sugar*
½ cup matza cake meal or fine, plain bread crumbs (during Passover, use only matza meal)
zest and juice of one medium sized orange or two sweet clementines, if in season
2 tablespoons grated semi-sweet Perugina chocolate
confectioner’s sugar, unsweetened cocoa powder, or both
*To make vanilla sugar, split a vanilla bean lengthwise and bury it overnight in a canister of white sugar.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
Line the bottom of an ungreased, 10-inch springform pan with baking parchment.
Spread the nuts on a raised-edge baking sheet and toast them in the oven just until they begin to release their fragrance, around ten minutes. If using hazelnuts, wrap them from the oven in a dish towel and when cool enough to handle, roll them between your palms to remove the skin.
Grind the nuts. If you’re grinding by hand, first wrap them once more in the dish towel and smash them lightly with a mallet. (This is to prevent them from rolling all over the place). Using a sharp, heavy, chef’s knife, chop the nuts on a wooden board, as fine as you can, or finish grinding them with a large mortar & pestle. You’re not trying to mill flour here, so grinding by hand is less time-consuming than you might imagine, and the results are amazing. Otherwise, pulse them in a food processor to a fine, sandy texture.
Separate the eggs, putting the yolks into a bowl large enough to hold all the ingredients. Using a sturdy wire whisk or an electric mixer, beat the yolks for several minutes with the sugar (less one tablespoon), orange juice, and zest, until the mixture is creamy yellow. Blend in the matza meal, ground nuts and grated chocolate with a rubber spatula.
Beat the egg whites into soft peaks, adding the remaining tablespoon of sugar when the whites begin to bubble and look glassy. Don’t over-beat them, or the cake will be dry. They should be moist and shiny and just holding their shape. Fold one quarter of the beaten egg whites into the nut mixture to loosen it, then gently fold in the remaining egg whites, a quarter at a time. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan, even it out with a spatula, and place the pan in the oven on the center rack.
Bake until light golden and tiny bubbles have formed and “popped” across the entire cake, about 40 minutes depending on your oven. Take the pan from the oven and let it rest on a wire rack until cool.
To remove the cake from the pan, run a thin, sharp, smooth-bladed knife around the edge of the cake pan. Open the spring hinge and lift the ring. Slide the cake onto a serving platter.
To serve, dust with sifted confectioner’s sugar & unsweetened cocoa powder (optional).