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Passover Hazelnut Sponge Cake With Citrus Syrup

Moist, fragrant and wonderfully nutty, this is my favorite Passover cake, terrific with fruit compote or juicy, sliced sugared strawberries. The recipe is based on one from Woman's Day. Be prepared; it takes time to skin all these hazelnuts. Get someone to assist and do it in advance.

1 pound hazelnuts (3 cups)
1 cup granulated sugar
6 large eggs, yolks and whites separated
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons matzo meal
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 teaspoons grated fresh lemon peel

Citrus Syrup:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup water
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

For cake: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Set out a 9- to 91/2-inch springform pan; don't grease pan.

Put hazelnuts in large baking pan. Bake 25 to 35 minutes, shaking pan several times, until nuts are lightly browned. Transfer to 2 large cotton dishtowels. Fold towels over nuts; let cool slightly. Rub nuts through towels to remove skins. Pick out nuts, leaving most of brown skins behind. Cool completely.

In food processor, in 2 batches, whirl nuts with 2 tablespoons sugar (a tablespoon per batch) until finely ground.

Put egg whites and salt in mixer bowl. Beat at medium speed until foamy. At high speed, gradually beat in 2 tablespoons sugar until whites hold stiff, moist peaks when beaters are lifted. Gently scrape whites into large bowl.

In same mixer bowl, put yolks. At high speed, gradually beat in remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Continue beating, about 3 minutes, until very thick and pale yellow, scraping bowl often. With rubber spatula, blend in hazelnuts, matzoh meal, orange juice and lemon peel.

Gently stir a big spoonful of whites into yolks. With spatula, fold in remainder until just blended. Pour into ungreased pan; gently smooth top.

Bake 40 to 45 minutes, until cake is browned and springy to the touch. Cool in pan on wire rack.

For syrup: In small saucepan, stir sugar, water, orange and lemon juice. Bring to boil over medium heat; boil 5 minutes. Poke several holes in cake with bamboo skewer. Put cake on pan to catch drips. Pour syrup over cake. (It will take a while to soak in.) Cover cake loosely with foil; let stand at least 4 hours or overnight.

To serve, run knife around edges of pan to loosen cake; remove pan sides. Cut cake into thin wedges. Makes 14 to 16 servings.

Make-ahead tips: Toast and skin nuts well ahead. Keep frozen; thaw before using. Make cake up to 2 days ahead; keep at cool temperature but don't refrigerate. Cake may be frozen up to 2 weeks but texture will be more crumbly.

Thursday, April 13, 2000

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