How to warm up on a cold Spring day…St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake

Every time I think spring is here and summer is just around the corner, we have yet another cold snap. I’m fighting off this weeks’ frostiness with St. Louis Gooey Butter Cake. The oven warmed up my kitchen, while we were warmed up by this masterpiece of a baked treat, made even more masterful with the perfection that is le beurre salé de Bretagne (salted Breton butter).IMG_8222

 St. Louis Gooey Butter CakeIMG_8210

From Melissa Clark at the New York Times, with a few notes from Caely
Makes 16 to 20 servings

For the cake:

45 ml (3 tablespoons) milk at room temperature
1 3/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
85 grams (6 tablespoons) butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt (if you used unsalted butter)
1 large egg
195 grams (1 3/4 cups) all-purpose flour

For the topping:

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon light corn syrup (I subbed for honey as corn syrup kind of freaks me out)
2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (I’m running low on my precious vanilla supply from the states and this seemed like a lot, I used 1 teaspoon)
170 grams (12 tablespoons or 1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
340 grams (1 1/2) cups sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1 cup plus 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Confectioners’ sugar, for sprinkling.

In a small bowl, mix milk with 2 tablespoons warm water. Add yeast and whisk gently until it dissolves. Mixture should foam (very) slightly.

Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and the milk mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition. Beat dough on medium speed (I subbed paddle attachement for a dough hook at this point) until it forms a smooth mass and pulls away from sides of bowl, 7 to 10 minutes.

Press dough into an ungreased 9-by 13-inch baking dish at least 2 inches deep (I did grease the pan as I always, always have trouble getting things out of a dish cleanly and in one piece). Cover dish with plastic wrap or clean tea towel, put in a warm place, and allow to rise until doubled, 2 1/2 to 3 hours.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. To prepare topping, in a small bowl, mix corn syrup with 2 tablespoons water and the vanilla. Using an electric mixer with paddle attachment, cream butter, sugar and salt until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. Scrape down sides of bowl and beat in the egg. Alternately add flour and corn syrup mixture, scraping down sides of bowl between each addition.

Spoon topping in large dollops over risen cake and use a spatula to gently spread it in an even layer. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes; cake will rise and fall in waves and have a golden brown top, but will still be liquid in center when done. Allow to cool in pan before sprinkling with confectioners’ sugar for serving.

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Honey Lemon Yogurt Cake

Maybe it’s my way of shaking off winter, but I’ve been craving lemons something fierce. Their clean fruity brightness convinces me that summer is on it’s way, even if the thermometer outside say otherwise (it snowed again today, very out of character for the end of March in Brittany). This sweet lemony cake with a hint of honey is the perfect fix for my cravings.

Honey Lemon Yogurt CakeIMG_8194Serves 8

2 eggs
250ml (1 cup) whole milk plain unsweetened yogurt 
200g (1 cup) sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) vegetable oil
250 g (2 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
a good pinch of salt
3 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon pure vanilla paste/extract
the juice and zest of half a lemon

Preheat the oven to 180° C (350° F), line the bottom of a round 25-cm (10-inch) cake pan with parchment paper and grease the sides. In a large mixing-bowl, gently combine the yogurt, eggs, sugar, vanilla, oil, honey and lemon juice and zest. In another bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the flour mixture into the yogurt mixture a little bit at a time, scraping down the sides as you go. Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the top is golden brown and a cake tester comes out clean. Let stand for ten minutes, and transfer onto a rack to cool.

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Brownies are an ex-pat’s best friend

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Whenever the urge for brownies strike, it’s all-powerful and consuming. To the point that I’m checking the clock every other minute while they are in the oven, urging them to bake faster, and once they finally do emerge from the oven in all their gloriousness, I never let them cool before I cut into them. I’d rather burn my tongue than wait one more minute!

Living abroad has made this insatiable brownie craving rear it’s ugly head all the more often, I suppose because brownies are so terribly American and I reach for them instinctively during bouts of homesickness . Here is my go-to recipe in times of dire brownie need.

Best of BrownieIMG_8179

100 grams (3.5 ounces) dark chocolate, roughly chopped
115 grams (1 stick or 4 ounces) unsalted butter, plus extra for pan
200 grams (7/8 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
85 grams (2/3 cup) all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350°F (180°C). Line an 8×8-inch square baking pan with parchment paper.

In a medium heatproof bowl over a double boiler, melt chocolate and butter together, stirring occasionally until they are just incorporated together. Remove from heat and stir together until it’s smooth and glossy. Whisk in sugar, then eggs, one at a time, then vanilla and salt. Fold in flour with a spatula and scrape batter into prepared pan, spread until even. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted into the middle just comes out clean.

If you’re feeling fancy, use a sieve to dust the brownies with powdered sugar or cacao powder before serving. Or, if you’re into that whole salty sweet combo (who isn’t?) sprinkle a pinch of flaky sea salt over the top. Let cool before you dig in (or don’t, but try not to burn your tongue like I do) and cut into desired size.

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Snow Ice Cream

Last week we had a blizzard, which to some people is a perfectly normal part of winter,  but to us Brittany folk is a rare occurrence to be treasured and enjoyed to the fullest. It doesn’t matter how cold it is, we’re out romping around in the snow all day and practically all night, savoring every moment.

IMG_8142IMG_8083 IMG_8088  IMG_8145  IMG_8075IMG_8096 IMG_8119 IMG_8128  When I first came to Brittany to do my TEFL certification several years ago it was an unusually cold winter by Breton standards. There was snow several times, snow deep enough to go up and over our wellies. Growing up in San Diego, I always had to drive to get to the snow. I never experienced the excitement of going to sleep to a snowless landscape, to wake up the next morning to a white one. But that winter I did, and I even had a snow day off from school (I missed my phonetics test)! When I wrote to my family to report the arrival of snow, my aunt suggested that I make snow ice cream. This stuff is so simple, so brilliant and so delicious. When I dug into my first bowl of it, I had one of those “why haven’t I thought of this before?” moments.

Needless to say, we’ve have plenty of snow ice cream recently. If you look up snow ice cream on google, you’ll find all sorts of more complicated recipes than mine. I went off of what my aunt explained to me, and I love the result so much that I’ve never felt the need to try one of those “fancier” recipes.

The snow has all but melted now, but the memory of snow ice cream will tide us over until next winter, when hopefully, we’ll get enough snow to make snow ice cream again…

Snow Ice Cream

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Makes 1 serving

A  bowl of fresh, powdery, clean snow
1/4 cup milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 capful of vanilla (if like me you live in France and don’t have easy access to great vanilla, sub the sugar and vanilla for 1 packet of vanilla sugar)

*The amount of milk used is flexible as it depends on the quality of the snow. I would recommend starting with a 1/4 cup, flavor to taste and add more if needed.

Simply combine the milk, sugar, and vanilla together in a bowl. Pour this mixture delicately over the snow. Dig in!

If you’re feeling organized, you can gently heat the milk and sugar together ahead of time, as this will melt the sugar into the milk. Let it cool completely before you add to the snow. But, if you’re like me, you won’t be organized enough to do this ahead of time, instead you’ll be outside making snowmen or pummeling your better half with snow balls. Anyways, those granules of sugar at the bottom of the bowl aren’t the worse thing…

Bon appétit! 

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Triple Apple Cake

If you’ve been reading regularly you know I had buckets and buckets of apples to use up last autumn. Pounds and pounds of them. I know, woe to me. Many of those apples made it into desserts such as Apple Brownies, Yogurt Apple Cake and Apple Banana Bread with Roasted Hazelnuts. But even more of them ended up peeled, cored and cooked into apple sauce that is now buried in the depths of our deep freeze. Cleaning out the freezer the other day, I stumbled upon this cache of apple sauce and decided it needs to get used up to make room for the many peas and broad beans I’ll be freezing in a couple of months once spring has finally arrived.  

In my quest to use up apples, I’ve found a very efficient recipe: The Triple Apple Cake. A cake that is light on the oil and sugar because it is so heavy on the apples. Apple sauce makes it moist, apple cider boosts the flavor, and sliced apples on top make it texturally interesting.

 

Triple Apple CakeMakes 1 large cake, approximately 8 servings

30 ml (2 tablespoons) vegetable oil
150 grams (2/3 cup) sugar plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
225 grams (1 cup) apple sauce
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon apple cider (can sub apple cider vinegar or white wine)
330 grams (3 cups) flour
1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3-4 medium sized apples

Preheat the oven to 180 ° C (350 ° F).

In a large bowl, mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla and apple cider. Once the mixture is smooth and free of lumps, mix in the apple sauce.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and soda, salt and seasonings. Slowly add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, taking care not to overmix. Pour the batter into a greased 25 centimeter (10 inch) cake pan.

Slice the apples into thin slices and arrange them as you please over the top of the batter. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of sugar evenly over your apples. Bake for 30 – 35 minutes or until a cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.

Bon appétit!

 

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Ginger Lady’s Carrot Soup

My best friend Kelsey is obsessed with ginger. The ladies who worked at the sushi restaurant down the street from our apartment in San Francisco dubbed her “the ginger lady” because she was forever asking for more ginger.

I know the internet is chockfull of recipes for Ginger Carrot Soups, but thanks to a little inspiration from my friend Kelsey, this one sticks out from all the rest. This recipe is for you Kels, because its heavy on the ginger and the attitude, just like you my friend.

Ginger Lady’s Carrot Soup

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Serves 4

2 tablespoons butter or olive oil
1 onion, peeled and chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 pounds carrots (1 kil0), peeled and sliced
1 large potato, peeled and chopped into small cubes
6 cups (1.5 quarts or 3 pints) chicken or vegetable broth
2-4 tablespoons ginger, peeled and minced (It’s a strong flavor for some people, so start with less and add more to taste)
1 teaspoon ground coriander
The juice and zest of half a lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup (60 ml) crème fraîche plus  for serving (about 1 tablespoons per person) If you don’t have crème fraîche handy, you may substitute sour cream or a thick plain yogurt such as a greek yogurt 
A handful or fresh herbs, chopped (I’ve used basil and parsley)

In a large saucepan, heat the butter or oil over medium heat. After a minute, add the onion. Sauté until translucent, about 5 minutes, pay close attention that the onion does not brown! Add the potatoes, carrots and garlic to the onion and sauté for about 2 minutes, taking care not to burn the garlic.  Add the broth, ginger and coriander. Cover and bring to a boil. Remove cover and simmer gently until carrots and potatoes are tender, time depending upon how thickly the carrots were sliced.

Once the vegetables are tender, remove the soup from heat and transfer to a large bowl. Add the lemon zest and juice, crème fraîche and salt and pepper to taste. Blend carefully with an immersion blender (if you do not have one, blend soup in batches in a blender), making sure not to splatter yourself with hot soup as I have done too many times to count…

May be served hot or cold, with a dollop of crème fraiche and a sprinkling of fresh herbs.

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A twist on a Breton classic: Sablés au chocolat

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Any French person, whether they be Parisian or Provincial, will tell you that the best butter comes from Brittany. The combination of happy grass-fed cows and epically magnificent sea salt (Sel de Guérande) makes for  some pretty righteous stuff. So righteous in fact that when I smuggled some home to California for Christmas one year and busted it out for my family to taste, they all closed their eyes and sighed as it melted on their tongues. Heaven, they said.

This salted butter is Brittany’s culinary gem and it pops up in every famous Breton specialty. No galette would show it’s face on a plate without a heaping portion of beurre melting all over it. The display cases of every boulangerie are bursting full of butter, from the  kouign amanns to the tart crusts to the cookies. But one cookie is particularly symbolic of Brittany and its butter: the sablé.

Sable means sand in French. Not the most appetizing name for a cookie I suppose, but it makes sense as the cookie is crumbly and crunchy and grainy like sand. The best comparison for a sablé is shortbread, though they are lighter and less dense than their Scottish counterparts.

Sablé au chocolat                                                                                                Adapted from Smitten Kitchen 

Makes 40 to 48 2-inch thin cookies, fewer if thicker

1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (30 grams) cocoa powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup (1 stick, 4 ounces or 115 grams) salted butter, at room temperature
1/2 to 2/3 cup (100 to 135 grams) granulated sugar (less for a more bittersweet cookie)
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 large egg yolk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) dark chocolate,  finely chopped until almost powdery in a food processor (you can grate the chocolate if you don’t have a food processor, but this is a long and tedious project)
Coarse sugar for decor (optional)

Sift together the flour, cocoa and baking soda together into a bowl and set aside.

Cream butter, sugar and salt together in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and vanilla, beating until combined, then scraping down sides. Add dry ingredients and grated chocolate together and mix until just combined.

Scrape dough onto a piece of plastic wrap, wrap it up and chill it in the frige until just firm, about 30 to 45 minutes.

Heat oven to 350 degrees. On a floured surface, roll dough gently to desired thickness (they will puff ever so slightly in the oven).  I did half of mine very thin (1/8″) for a crispier cookie and the other half a bit thicker (approximately 1/4″) for a more toothsome cookie. They’re delicious both ways!

Once the dough is rolled out to desired thickness, cut into creative shapes with cookies cutters and space them an inch apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle decoratively with coarse sugar. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes (for thinner cookies) or 10 to 12 minutes (for thicker ones). Leave cookies on baking sheets out of the oven for a couple minutes before gently, carefully transferring them to cooling racks, as they’ll be fragile until they cool.

Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to two weeks of 4 p.m. rations.

 

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Paris, San Diego, Los Angeles, Brooklyn, and then back to the middle of nowhere

The middle of December saw me packing my bags to get back home to sunny San Diego before the holiday rush at the airports began. Luckily, in between my long bus and train ride to get to Paris, and my painfully long flight from Paris to San Diego, I got to spend the day romping around the city with my friend Kelsey. Paris welcomed me back with cold, crisp weather and sunny skies.

We started the day with a picnic in the Jardin des Plantes near Kelsey’s school, then went to warm up with some mint tea at the Paris Mosque.

DSC_0006 DSC_0009 DSC_0010 DSC_0011The rest of the afternoon was spent walking around the beautiful Parisian streets, occasionally ducking out of the cold for coffee (and later, cocktails). DSC_0003 DSC_0007 DSC_0008 DSC_0014 DSC_0018DSC_0017 DSC_0015 DSC_0024 DSC_0021 DSC_0019Then, all too soon, after an amazing girl’s night out in the city (which I really needed after 4 months in the quiet countryside) it was off to Charles de Gaulle for my early morning flight back to San Diego. It had only been 4 months since my last visit, but once people you love start having children, the time away stretches and warps in a funny way. Whereas 6 months away from home used to seem like nothing, it now seems like a small eternity: when you come home and your infant nephew has, since your last visit, become a toddler and is suddenly starting to walk and talk and has teeth like a real little man, you get this deep-seated anxiety to not miss another moment.

Once back in San Diego and recovered from my jet-lag, I got right down to the business of being sick with the stomach flu, shortly followed by a cold. After a few day quarantine, I could finally hang out with my best friends and their children without fear of spreading my cooties (even though they and everyone else in San Diego had already been sick before me). A short four days after my return my sister flew in from New York with my nephew, and the sight of all my favorite little babies playing together was enough to break my heart.                                                                              photo (8)photo (5)photo (4)photo (7)photo (6)

Coal and "Rogie" (Coal can't say Rowan yet)

Coal and “Rogie” (Coal can’t say Rowan yet)

After the time being sick, my 3 weeks in San Diego was a blur of family, friends, seafood, sushi, Mexican food, wine and delicious home-cooked meals that all went by way too fast.

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Before I knew it my time at home was coming to a close, and I was heading up to LA to visit my friend Kate. I took the train up, enjoying the ocean view to my left, and the hills to my right.

The view from the train, to the East

The view from the train, to the East

Once in LA, I went to see Kate’s adorable apartment on the edge of Venice/Santa Monica, and we hung out and caught up over a couple of coupes de champagne. The we went down the street a few blocks and met some of her friends for amazing cocktails at The Tasting Kitchen. All that drinking made us hungry so we headed across town to West Hollywood for  dinner at The Eveleigh. This is an amazing restaurant, if ever you are looking for a place to eat in LA, I highly recommend it. The patatas bravas are a must.

Too soon my time with Kate was over, and it was time to head back to San Diego…

photo 2…but not before my sister and I got our Italian passports. What!? No more French visa malarky for me.

Once back in San Diego we just had a few more San Diego sunsets to enjoy…

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…and then I piled onto a too-small airplane with my sister, brother-in-law and nephew and we left San Diego behind for New York.

My time in New York was short but sweet. I barely had 2 days there, so we made it count. We went (as per usual) for a long walk in the Brooklyn Botanic Gardens (free every Tuesday!)DSC_0045 DSC_0039 DSC_0034 DSC_0033

I met up with my friend from San Diego, Janese. She just moved to New York in August, and has an adorable apartment and is loving her new life in the city. We also met my friend Emma (maybe you remember her from my days in Rennes?) for lunch at Ippudo, the crazy popular Ramen restaurant in Manhattan.If you ever decide to go there, I suggest going on Wednesday as it is an abnormally slow day for them, we didn’t even have to wait. If you go any other day, plan on being there by the time they open their doors at 11 (they don’t take reservations) and expect a wait of up to 40 minutes, even if you get there before it opens. Is it worth it? Yes. Don’t miss the shishito peppers.

Reunited and it feels so good

Reunited and it feels so good

DSC_0065 DSC_0064 DSC_0063 DSC_0062DSC_0051 DSC_0053   After our divine lunch (I can never get enough Asian food when I’m not in France), we spent part of the day wandering around the Picasso exhibit at the Guggenheim and then met my dear friend from France Augusta for too many martinis at Rouge Tomate.photo 5 photo 4

Rowan was having a blast feeding Augusta popcorn

Rowan was having a blast feeding Augusta popcorn

 

The next day it was off to the plane to the train to the bus and then finally back to my little nook in the middle of nowhere, and some much needed after my vacation!  IMG_8044 IMG_8046  IMG_8037 IMG_8039

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Thanksgiving…better late than never

The Thanksgiving Spread

The Thanksgiving Spread

I only celebrated Thanksgiving one day late, but am about a week late in doing this post.

Last week, during my third amazing Thanksgiving in France, I was feeling pretty grateful. Grateful for my American friend and her French boyfriend who came to visit for the weekend and celebrate the holiday with us. Grateful for the amazing food we cooked. Grateful for my British friends who came over to celebrate their first (and not last) Thanksgiving. Grateful to live in such a beautiful place. Grateful for the delicious eau de vie the farmer down the road makes. Just overall grateful.

Normally when Thanksgiving rolls around I am all about trying new recipes. One year we even had an all vegan Thanksgiving. Maybe as a reaction to being abroad during the holiday, the last few years I’ve wanted as traditional a menu as possible. The only untraditional thing about our meal this year was that we roasted chicken instead of turkey as there were only 6 of us and whole turkeys are difficult and expensive to find in France (maybe you remember the giant 60 euro beast we consumed last year?).

Our menu consisted of roast chicken, gravy, sautéed brussel sprouts, roast carrots and parsnips, heaps of buttery garlic mashed potatoes, sage and celery dressing and cranberry sauce (made with fresh cranberries, a rare find here!).

We had some breakfast mimosas to get us in the mood to cook

We had some breakfast mimosas to get us in the mood to cook

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The brussel sprouts, parsnips, celery and herbs all came from the garden, making it all the more delicious (at least to me, having put so much sweat into that garden recently).

Free-range brussels

Free-range brussels

Picking some herbs

Picking some herbs

Steven helping me by looking serious

Steven helping me by looking serious

Gettin’ that celery

Dans mon potager (In my vegetable patch)

Dans mon potager (In my vegetable patch)

After two servings of all that Thanksgiving glory on Friday, we felt the need to get out and walk a lot that weekend. Luckily, we’re not short on beautiful places to walk around here…OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

All in all, I would say Thanksgiving in France has been pas mal these last few years…

***Thanks to Kelsey and Steven for the photos!

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Apple Banana Bread with Roasted Hazelnuts

As predicted, more apples are popping up in my baking. This time they have some bananas and roasted hazelnuts to keep them company.

Apple Banana Bread with Roasted Hazelnuts

220 grams (2 cups) flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
4 very ripe bananas, mashed
2 eggs
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
115 grams (1/2 cup) apple sauce
170 grams (3/4 cup) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
80 grams (1 cup) roasted hazelnuts (may sub walnuts)

Preheat the oven to 350 F (180 C). In a large bowl mix the dry (first four) ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mash the bananas with the oil and applesauce. Mix in the eggs and then the sugar, vanilla and spices. Slowly incorporate the flour into this mixture. Once the batter is mixed, fold in the hazelnuts. Pour the batter into 2 9×5 inch pans lined with parchment paper. Bake for 40 minutes to 1 hour or until a knife comes out clean from the center of the bread.

Variation: For a vegan version, leave out the eggs and add 1 tablespoon of apple cider vinegar

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