Tonka & Beurre Noisette Toscakaka

I do a lot of baking. This being so, I am regularly exposed to a myriad of sensory treats, such as the gloriously sweet aroma of fresh vanilla, the enticing sheen of silky chocolate ganache, or the soothing hum of double cream as it comes to the boil. Without doubt however, the most extraordinary sensory phenomenon I have encountered in baking is beurre noisette. Even the name, ‘beurre noisette’, is a delight to say, and moreover just sounds delicious. The process of creating the beurre noisette, or burning butter, is a wonder even without tasting it -  forget magic wands, you need only butter and a good pan to create magic. 

To begin, simply chop the butter up into rough pieces and place in the pan over a gentle to moderate heat. As the flickering flames heat the butter, stand back and marvel as it melts into yellow, liquid gold, bubbling calmly, all the while releasing intensely warming, nutty aromas into the kitchen. You may wish to swirl the pan as the butter’s yellow gold matures to an amber hue, before deepening further to a rich mahogany, persistently enveloping the area in a evocative haze of pecan pie, hot toast and firewood. Though it’s difficult, you must at this point remove the pan from the heat, and carefully pour the butter into a heat proof bowl to cool. It is vitally important that you scrape the dark flecks from the bottom of the pan into this heat proof bowl along with the liquid butter. These flecks hoard flavour aplenty, think toasted macadamia meets steamed whole milk. 

In some recipes, the beurre noisette can be used immediately in this form. For the Toscakaka recipe below however, solid butter is required. As such, the beurre noisette should be allowed to cool, before wrapping up or covering overnight to solidify. It is important that the beurre noisette is soft when you come to use it, so I recommend allowing this to occur at room temperature.

My adoration of beurre noisette inspired my Toscakaka recipe. Toscakaka (or Tosca almond cake) is a traditional Swedish cake, consisting of a light, buttery sponge and a crisp, caramelised almond topping. My variation on the classic deepens the flavour profile of the sponge by use of beurre noisette and golden caster sugar. Furthermore, the inclusion of dusky tonka bean contributes a wholesome sweetness, which coupled with the sharpness of flaked sea salt, elevates a perfectly enjoyable sponge to dizzying heights of decadence. The almond topping is the perfect union of sticky honey and molasses rich brown sugar, again with that necessary bite of sea salt and a deletable crunch of baked, buttery almonds. I revel in the subtle floral quality that honey contributes to this robust, butter-full topping, though do feel free to use any other syrup you have to hand, such as maple or golden.

The method of making the Toscakaka is one of ease. It boldly consists of two parts, those being mixing the sponge and then melting together the topping. The sponge is then partially baked, before the topping is delicately poured on top and returned to the oven a second round of baking. Here I offer a note of caution; the partially baked sponge is extremely fragile, so a light, patient hand is essential when distributing the almond topping. Resist the temptation to smooth the topping as this will encourage the sponge batter to break through, a buttery hot lava between rocks of cuddling caramel almonds, which may sound wonderful, but will in fact detract from the final aesthetic of the cake. If this does happen however don't despair, the Toscakaka will still taste sensational; happily this would also warrant an extra large helping of lightly whipped double cream or orange scented creme fraiche as cover up when it’s time to serve. 

Recipe

For the sponge - 

200g beurre noisette (brown the butter the day before)
185g golden caster sugar
3 eggs & 1 egg yolk (organic, free range)
200g self raising flour
1/2 tsp sea salt
1 tonka bean
2tbsp whole milk
1tsp vanilla paste

For the almond topping - 

200g salted butter
60g honey (maple/golden syrup)
120g golden caster sugar
80g dark brown muscovado sugar
50g whole milk
1tsp vanilla paste
30g plain flour
65g ground almonds
200g flaked almonds
1/2tsp sea salt

Method

  1. Begin by making the topping. Add the butter, honey, sugars, milk and vanilla to the pan and heat gently until the butter has melted and the sugars have dissolved. While these elements are melting, whisk the flour, ground almonds and salt together in a bowl to omit any lumps. 
  2. Add these dry ingredients to the pan along with the flaked almonds and fold through until evenly combined. 
  3. Remove from the heat and set aside for later use. 
  4. Turning the the sponge, preheat the oven to 160c (fan), and grease and line a 23cm cake tin.
  5. Add the soft beurre noisette and golden caster sugar to the bowl of a free standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and beat until light and smooth.
  6. In a small bowl, lightly beat the eggs and then slowly add to to the butter and sugar, beating constantly to help avoid any curdling. 
  7. Turn the mixer off and scrape down the side of the bowl, ready for the dry ingredients. 
  8. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and sea salt, then grate in the tonka bean using a microplane of fine grater. Add this to the mixer and fold slowly to combine. 
  9. Finally, mix the vanilla paste into a small jug with the milk and stream this into the mixer at slow speed. When this is incorporated, turn the mixer off and give everything a final fold with a hand held spatula. 
  10. Pour the cake mixture into your prepared tin and level. Place in the oven for 20 minutes, before carefully removing.
  11. Gently, pour the almond topping over the cake, taking cake not to disrupt the batter and also trying to distribute it evenly. 
  12. Return the cake to the oven for 22-27 minutes, until the caramel topping is deeply golden and a cake tester inserted into the cake shows no trace of the sponge batter below. The caramel topping will be bubbling but this will softly solidify on cooling. 
  13. Allow the cake to cool before removing from the tin, and serve in slices,  just as it is, or with a generous spoonful of cream or creme fraiche for extra indulgence.
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