Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hazelnut Diplomacy

When I first got to Germany for my study abroad program, the other students I would be sharing the flat with hadn’t yet come back from summer break. Which means that the shared living spaces were absolutely disgusting. I do not want to turn your stomach since this is a food blog, but I will just say that I got very good at catching fruit flies one-handedly while eating muesli in the mornings.

As the other students came back and moved into their rooms, we determined that some form of mass cleaning was in order. Being the new American student I was not met with open arms, and maybe my less than stellar language skills had a role in that as well.
After an appointed time, it was decided that we would all meet to clean the entire flat and to schedule our “Putzplan” or cleaning plan. And that seemed oddly reminiscent of the chore wheel my mom had tried to institute when I was a child. The circle of chores would be moved once a week, while the names of all the roommates stayed stationary on the perimeter of that circle. Except for the condescending explanation I received about how the Putzplan would work and what it meant, I was looking forward to have a clean apartment.
Since I was new to the apartment and apparently some Europeans view all Americans as being vapid, self-centered egotists. Well, I wasn’t going to have that be the only impression of me, so if I had to prove to them that I was a worldly, knowledgeable egotist, then so be it.
I originally thought that a good way to practice some practical German language would be to buy a cookbook. I got a baking book on sale for 3.50€ - which here can be a gamble on the accuracy of the recipes, but Germans take their baked goods a little more seriously. The first recipe I decided to make was a pound cake. And what better time to make this pound cake than the apartment cleaning day we had scheduled?
The recipe in the cookbook was a base recipe with several variations. One of the variations was for a hazelnut pound cake, which seemed like a good option for bridging cultural differences. After scouring and fumigating, we managed to all sit down together as a group over some coffee and pound cake. And even if I only proved myself later during a wine fueled political conversation, I still believe that the pound cake was really my winning strategy.

Hazelnut Pound Cake

The texture of this pound cake is slightly different then the spongy dense pound cakes you buy in the store. I like to toast and chop the hazelnuts roughly, so that some of them are pulverized, but some remain in chunks. The pound cake may seem a little dry when it first comes out of the oven, but would do well to have a drizzle of macerated fruit and ice cream. Or if you can stand to wait, the cake tastes even better the next day – with or without the accompaniments.

250 g butter (1 cup)

180 g Sugar (3/4c)
Pinch of salt
1 packet vanilla sugar (2 tsp vanilla sugar, or 2 tsp sugar and 1 tsp vanilla)
4 eggs
250 g Flour (1 2/3 c)
½ teaspoon baking powder
100 g roughly ground, toasted hazelnuts (under 1 cup)

Preheat oven to 375. Cream the butter, sugar, vanilla sugar and salt together. Add the eggs one at a time and mix until just combined. Mix in the hazelnuts. Sift the flour and baking powder together, then add to the butter mixture, until just combined.

Pour batter into a greased and floured loaf pan. Bake for about 55 minutes. Mid-way through, cover the pound cake with foil, to stop the top from browning. Continue baking until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean (mine took about an hour and ten minutes).

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