I spent a long weekend in Reno, NV recently, soaking up all the sunshine and heat it had to offer. I stayed in a casino resort, but being that I don’t gamble, I had to find other things to do. Mostly those other things involved stuffing food into my face, which is one of my best skills if I do say so myself. This casino resort very strategically placed a coffee shop and accompanying pastry display case right next to the elevator bank.
What kind of evil genius dreamt that positioning up!? I mean, it definitely worked because I certainly fell victim to these delectable delights who were staring at me from within the glass display case every time I was leaving AND going to my room.
Honestly, part of me is still kind of huffy about the fact that I was unsuccessful in abstaining from the siren call of pastries, but I digress.
The first treat that I didn’t resist was a hazelnut mousse tart with a whipped cream crown and a caramel drizzle. There are no photos because I utterly obliterated it. But trust me when I say that it sparked some inspiration within me - not only to create something with those amazing flavors, but to also refocus myself on my ultimate goal: to open my own bake shop so these delicious treats will be readily available to all of you.
The second (and third) hazelnut treat was supposed to be cinnamon latte, but the little coffee shop with the killer positioning in the hotel was out of their cinnamon additive. So the barista suggested some alternatives, and my ears shut off after she suggested hazelnut. There were no other reasonable options for me at that point. The very next day, I attempted to order their cinnamon latte again, but I was prepared when a new barista informed me that they were still out of cinnamon. Hazelnut it is!
I know I'm going all fangirl over hazelnut right now,
but it is not a new favorite of mine. I grew to really appreciate hazelnut during pastry school. French pastry uses it quite a bit, such as in a hazelnut dacquoise (a cake batter that is made by whipping egg whites and sugar to make a meringue, then folding in nut flour and powdered sugar to complete the batter) from this Chocolate Hazelnut Cake recipe that my chefs taught my class how to make since it won the World Pastry Cup in 1997.
Hazelnut is also frequently used in the form of praliné (prah-lee-nay) paste, which is ground hazelnuts and caramel blended in a food processor until a paste forms. We made an excellent classic French dessert called a Paris-Brest (named after 2 cities in France) which uses praliné paste in the filling between the top and bottom halves of a baked ring of pâte à choux (the same batter used in éclairs). Here is the first and only one I’ve ever made:
And here’s what it should look like:
I tell you all of this to really build the point that hazelnut is a foundational flavor to all things French pastry and if you haven’t tried much of it, now is the time. Recently I invited some friends of mine over for chicken enchiladas and I wanted to make a delicious dessert to top it off. I had been in the mood for cheesecake (a clear favorite of mine, since it appears in so many forms on this blog) for a while and decided that it would be delightful to make a cheesecake to share with them.
After having so many encounters with hazelnut in Reno the week before, I knew that hazelnut had to play a part in this dessert. I made the crust entirely out of hazelnut meal and butter and it was tasty but it could have been better.
Here’s my tip of the week: toast your nut flour before you use it, even if it will be baked later, to ensure that the rich nutty flavors will be prominent. I did not do this and my crust had a somewhat underdeveloped flavor profile. It still tasted delicious, but could have had more depth in my opinion. I also folded the almond meal into the cheesecake filling itself, which also was quite delicious but could have benefitted from the effects of toasting.
Just before I served the cheesecake, I whipped up a quick crème chantilly and topped the cheesecake with piped puffs of cream for fun, and raspberries for an acidic balance.
And there you have it! A delicious hazelnut cheesecake.
Bon appétit, mes amies! (Translation: Happy eating, y’all!)