Vanilla Cake with Hazelnuts and Fresh Figs

 This is a "two birds with one stone" kind of cake. We had a birthday to celebrate this past weekend - so what better excuse did I need to make my entry for the world's best cake? I had spent a few weeks thinking of what I'd make - as a vanilla addict through and through, I knew the base would be my favouite vanilla cake. I added mascarpone cream (with vanilla seeds, of course) as a change from buttercream icing, and then hazulnut praline for crunch and texture. Finally, beautifully ripe and seasonal figs, for their delicate flesh and flavour - and of course, their beauty too.

This cake is a triumph. I would happily make it again, and often. The soft, matressy cake is the perfect base for the rich, but not too sweet mascarpone cream. The nutty praline adds a little surprise of crunch every few bites. and I don't think anything could be bad with figs on top! As there were only four of us, I made a little 11cm cake, but feel free to double it to make a 23cm cake (feeding 6 - 8 people).
Vanilla Cake with Mascarpone Cream, Hazelnut Praline and Fresh Figs
Serves 4

Vanilla Buttermilk Cake (I made 1/2 the quantity)
For the mascarpone cream:
115g mascarpone cheese
1/4 cup icing sugar
125ml double cream
1 vanilla pod, split and seeds scraped out

For the hazelnut praline:
50g shelled, toasted hazelnuts
200g caster sugar

To serve:
6 fresh figs, halved

Make the vanilla cake (baked for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean). Allow to cool on a wire rack, and place in the fridge to cool while you make the praline and mascarpone cream - placing the cake in the fridge makes it easier to cut it half horizontally.

To make the praline, place the hazelnuts on a non-stick baking tray, while you make the caramel. Place the sugar in a non stick saucepan, over a medium-high heat, and allow to melt, swirling the pan so it dissolves easily. Pour over the hazelnuts, and allow to cool and harden. Once set, break into smaller shards, and bash with a pestle and mortar until you have a mixture of small pieces and crumbs.

To make the mascarpone cream, place the mascarpone, double cream, vanilla seends and sifted icing sugar in a bowl and beat until thickened and smooth.

To assemble - cut the cake in half horizontally. Divide your icing into two portions, and using a piping bag, pipe one portion on top of each "half" of your cake. Sprinkle praline over the cream of the bottom half, then place the top half on top. Arrange the cut figs on top of the cake, and sprinkle with remaining praline.


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