January 26, 2012

Hazelnut cake with praline and milk chocolate buttercream - 100th Post!

I'm not in the way of wanting to wish time away but I'm secretly glad January is coming to an end.  I felt that if I baked anything this month, it should be light and I felt guilty about the thought of displaying any decadent desserts so early in the New Year.  I've missed talking and writing about chocolate and all that good stuff.  So I'm chucking any sentiment of guilt or protocol out the window!  Here's to cake and to my 100th post on this little blog spot here!
It's awesome to consider that this is my 100th post.  I started this blog last April and while I had a small list of things I loved to bake and share with anyone who happened to land here, it became a fun hobby and a learning experience for me.  I started actually making many of the things I've always said I wanted to try.  The rewards were mainly delicious.  So here I am 100 posts later, with the overwhelming majority of them featuring a recipe I've cooked, and I'm still learning and having fun in the kitchen.  It feels great to discover a delicious recipe and be able to share it with family and friends.
I think it's fitting I made a cake for this little milestone.  This is a special cake - definitely out of my comfort zone and probably something I'd never actually go ahead and make if not for the blog and the experience from it.  It's a hazelnut sponge cake filled with not one, but two types of frosting: hazelnut praline and milk chocolate buttercream.  It's filled with the praline buttercream and frosted on the outside with milk chocolate buttercream.  I thought about switching it up and using semi-sweet chocolate  but I think milk chocolate works particularly well with hazelnuts (like those Cadbury bars I love).
Hazelnut sponge cake with hazelnut praline buttercream in the center and milk chocolate buttercream frosting
I wasn't planning on baking a cake specifically for my hundredth post.  This cake came about because of a can of hazelnut praline I bought during the holidays.  You see, I love almond paste and, specifically, the one made by Love 'n Bake.  I've been eyeing their hazelnut praline for some time (since I also love hazelnuts and the combination of hazelnuts and chocolate) and I finally went ahead and bought one with no particular idea of what I'd do with it.  After a lot of searching, I zeroed in on this recipe from John Barricelli, and here we are. 

Talk about a special occasion cake - this is one of those.  It is "Double-D" = "definitely decadent".  I adapted the recipe a bit by slimming down the amount of frosting but we're still talking 3 sticks of butter, as opposed to 4 in the original recipe (I didn't need to use all of what I made either).  I made a two layer cake instead of three to make things easier and, again, to use a little less frosting.
This cake was fun and, as with other layer cakes, a little exhausting, to make.  It was a great change of pace for me to make a cake that isn't completely chocolate inside.  I liked cutting my fork down into a piece and having a bite of milk chocolate, hazelnut cake, and praline filling altogether.  I have to admit that I'm generally not a huge fan of buttercream - I always feel guilty about it and I'm just more of a pure chocolate person - but maybe I'm starting to convert.  This is no ordinary, everyday cake (and I love those too) but a rich, decadent cake that you should by all means slice modestly and share.  I'm all for indulgence and moderation together. 
And this cake brought a lot of firsts for me as far as baking.  This was the first time I made swiss meringue buttercream and worked with hazelnut paste.  Despite having a collecting of piping tips for ages now, this was also the first time I used one to pipe something onto a cake!  It is so much fun - I could pipe cakes for a living (not really, but it was a lot of fun and I found it hard to exercise restraint but I managed).   

Making this cake takes some commitment and planning.  Whenever I'm making a layer cake like this, I read the recipe a few times (for me, it's fun) and think about what I can do ahead and what equipment I'll need.  If I have a question about a step or a substitution idea, I'll research it online.  I find it's generally the frosting that takes a bit more effort and creates more mess when you're making a layer cake. 

Here, we're making 2 types of buttercream and it was my first attempt at making swiss buttercream.  If you're like me and never worked with hazelnut praline before, be forewarned that when you open the can, the oil is separated and will be floating on top and you need to do a little muscle work to stir it all together.  I hope I don't deter anyone interested in making this but I want to be upfront.  Know that all's well that ends well and I ended up with a lovely cake that easily cut into 14 servings. 

Making the Hazelnut Sponge Cake:

This is basically a genoise.  The good news is we whip it all up in one mixing bowl since the eggs are beaten together whole as opposed to yolks and whites separately as in other sponge cakes.  And we bake it in one pan and slice later.  We do add oil to this cake but I'll mention that genoise cake is generally a bit dry so it's often used with a syrup to moisten it.  Here, it'll be filled with plenty of rich, smooth buttercream.

Start with the hazelnuts.  If you like, take a small handful, grind it up and set aside to decorate the top of the frosted cake later.  For the cake itself, we need to finely grind up 1/4 cup of hazelnuts with 1/4 cup of sugar in the food processor.  Lucky you if you can find skinned hazelnuts in the market.  Since I can't, I toast the nuts and rub off as much of their skin as possible (in a clean, dry dish cloth).  The smell of the toasted hazelnuts in the food process is amazing.
Sift this together with the cake flour and cornstarch.  If you have a lot of hazelnuts left at the bottom of your sifter, grind it up again and get as much of it as you can through the sieve. 
Beat 3 eggs, 3 egg yolks, 1/2 cup sugar, salt, and a whole tablespoon of almond extract together in a mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. 
Whipping the eggs creates the volume for this cake so whip the mixture for 7-8 minutes or as long as it takes for it to thicken and hold a ribbon when the whisk is lifted.  Use a spatula and fold in the flour mixture.  Then, drizzle in 3/4 cup of vegetable oil (I used canola) while folding.
Pour the finished batter into a 9"x3" round cake pan that's been sprayed with vegetable spray.  I also lined the bottom with a parchment round and sprayed the paper as well.  Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. 
Recipe says to turn the cake out immediately onto a wire rack and let cool at least an hour.  Run a knife or small offset spatula around the cake and it should come right out.  Just be careful because the cake pan is hot.
If you follow the recipe, the cake should later be sliced into 3 layers.  I prefer to slice it into just 2, making life easier and using a little bit less frosting.  For me, I think it would be a stretch to cut this cake into 3 layers since each would be quite thin and require a steadier hand than I have.

Making the Praline and Milk Chocolate buttercream frosting:

We make swiss buttercream for this cake.  This was the first time I made swiss meringue buttercream and I learned a lot.  If you're as confused as I was/am about the different kinds of buttercream, I'll just say that swiss buttercream should be creamy and rich, with a texture that lends itself nicely for decorating cakes (it's often used on wedding cakes).  The typical American buttercream we think of where we whip butter and confectioners' sugar together is generally sweeter and not quite as smooth in texture. 

I reduced the amount of buttercream I made for this cake from the recipe.  Instead of using a pound, or 4 sticks, of butter, I used 3 sticks and still had a little left over. 

To start, place 4 egg whites and a cup of sugar into the heatproof bowl of the stand mixer.  Set it over but not touching a pot of simmering water and whisk together until warmed.  This will take a couple of minutes and you should test the mixture with your fingers to see that it is warm and the sugar has melted (it feels smooth, not grainy).
Wipe down the outside of the bowl and transfer it to the mixer and whip with the whisk attachment until stiff peaks form.  The mixture should be at room temperature by this point.  Start adding the butter (that you've cut into cubes) about a tablespoon at a time and let each addition mix in on low-speed.  I continued to use the whip attachment for this but next time, I'd consider transfering over to the paddle at this point (I see recipes that use either at this point).  I thought I might've over-whipped the buttercream but after working it with the paddle attachment later and incorporating the other ingredients, it was very smooth.
With a few sticks of butter to incorporate, this process takes some patience.  You might see the buttercream separating/looking curdled (pictured below) but I learned that you keep mixing and the buttercream will come back together.
Keep beating and the buttercream will come back together and be smooth
Once the buttercream comes back together, add the vanilla extract and you'd have plain vanilla buttercream.  In other instances, you could use this plain or add food coloring to tint.  In this case, we divide the frosting into 2 to make the 2 kinds of buttercream. 

In one, we add 6 ounces of melted milk chocolate and 1 1/2 tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder that's been mixed together with the same amount of water to form a paste.  I really like this addition of the cocoa powder paste because it darkens the frosting and gives it a deeper flavor.  Switch over to the paddle attachment in the stand mixer and beat in the chocolate mixture and you have the milk chocolate buttercream frosting.  It is nice and smooth.
Milk chocolate buttercream frosting
Now for the hazelnut praline buttercream, we start with the ingredient that started all this: a can of hazelnut praline. 
When you open the can, you'll see a layer of oil at the top that has separated from the paste.   You need to stir the mixture back together.  I transfer the contents to a larger bowl to make the job a little easier.  The hazelnut praline smells and tastes terrific on its own.  If you like Nutella, you'll like this.
As you can see, the praline has lumps in it so before adding it to the plain buttercream, we need to work out the lumps.  As I was tasting it, I ended up using more hazelnut praline in the buttercream than the recipe called for since I wanted a distinct hazelnut flavor.  For the amount of buttercream I made, I used about 1/3 cup.  I put a large piece of parchment paper down on a work surface, added the buttercream on to it and worked it with a small offset spatula.  You want to smooth out the lumps and then add a big scoop of the buttercream and work them together to combine. 
Once you have the mixture smoothed, add it to the rest of the buttercream and fold it together.  Then, finally, you have the hazelnut praline buttercream that really makes this cake special.  I love the specks of the hazelnut in the praline.  Picture it as a filling for a hazelnut macaron; I'm swooning! 
Hazelnut praline buttercream filling for the cake

Putting the cake together:

This cake was intended to be a 3-layer cake, where you slice the cake that's been baked into three.  I find it much simpler to make 2 so to start, slice the cooled cake across in half.
Spread the hazelnut praline buttercream over the first layer.  You'll probably have a little more than you need unless you really want to load it up.
Top it with the second layer and apply a thin "crumb coat" layer of the chocolate buttercream frosting all around.  Transfer the cake to the refrigerator to chill for about 15 minutes until set.
After chilling, finish frosting the cake with more chocolate buttercream.  If you like, take about 3/4 cup of the frosting and place it in a piping bag to decorate the top of the cake.  I used Ateco tip #35 to make the decoration but you can use whatever you like.  This was the first time I used my cake decorating set to pipe something on a cake.  I didn't do a very neat job but it was so much fun - I can't wait to play around again.
I also reserved some ground hazelnuts to sprinkle on top of the cake so people can guess what it is before slicing and tasting it.  And there we have it.  It may have taken half the day to put the cake together but it feels great to end up with this!
The cake slices very easily to makes a pretty presentation.
This cake is a real treat for all hazelnut and chocolate lovers.


Hazelnut Cake with Praline and Milk Chocolate Buttercream Frosting
Adapted from this recipe from John Barricelli

- One 9-inch round double layer-cake, or 12-14 servings -

For the Hazelnut Sponge Cake:
1/4 cup whole hazelnuts, toasted and skin removed (and more for decoration, optional)
3/4 cup sugar
9 tablespoons cake flour
6 tablespoons cornstarch
3 large eggs, at room temperature
3 large egg yolks, at room temperature
3/4 teaspoon coarse salt
1 tablespoon almond extract
3/4 cup vegetable or canola oil

For the Praline and Milk Chocolate Buttercream (makes about 4 cups):
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
Pinch of salt
3 sticks butter, cubed and at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

6 ounces milk chocolate
1/2 teaspoons instant espresso powder (optional)
1 1/2 tablespoons Dutch-processed unsweetened cocoa powder, mixed with same amount of water to form a paste
1/4 to 1/3 cup hazelnut praline paste (taste and see if you prefer more or less)

The hazelnut sponge cake:

Set oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Grease a 9"x3" round cake pan with vegetable spray, line the bottom with parchment, and grease the paper as well.

If desired, grind a small handful of hazelnuts in a food processor and set aside to decorate the finished cake (you'll need 1-2 tablespoons).  Grind 1/4 cup hazelnuts with 1/4 cup of sugar until very fine.  Sift the hazelnut mixture, along with the flour and cornstarch into a bowl.  If you have a lot of hazelnuts remaining at the bottom of the sieve, grind again and pass as much of the nuts through as you can.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the whole eggs, egg yolks, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, salt, and almond extract on high speed until mixture is thick and pale yellow in color, about 7-8 minutes.  The mixture should hold a thick ribbon when the whisk is lifted.  Remove the bowl from the mixer and fold in the dry mixture gently but quickly.  Slowly drizzle in the oil while folding.

Pour batter into the prepared pan set over a baking sheet.  Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean.  Remove the cake and turn it out immediately on to a cooling rack.  Let cool for at least 1 hour.

Making the two buttercream:

Place egg whites, sugar, and salt into the heatproof bowl of an electric mixer.  Set bowl over but not touching a pot of simmering water.  Whisk mixture for about 2 minutes until it is warm to the touch and sugar has melted (use your fingers to test that it is no longer grainy).  Dry the condensation on the outside of the bowl and place it on the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.  Beat until stiff peaks form.  Then, start adding the butter, about one tablespoon at a time, while the mixer is running on low.  Allow each addition of butter to be incorporated (20-30 seconds) before adding the next.  The buttercream might separate when all the butter has been added.  Continue to beat and it will become smooth.  Beat in vanilla extract.

Divide buttercream into two.  Leave half in the bowl of the mixer.  Transfer the other half to a bowl.

For the milk chocolate buttercream, melt chocolate along with espresso powder (if using) in a bowl over barely simmering water.  Let cool and add to the buttercream that's in the bowl of the mixer.  Using the paddle attachment, beat in the milk chocolate and cocoa paste until combined and smooth.

For the hazelnut praline buttercream, first stir the hazelnut praline until the oil that has separated to the top is incorporated back into the paste if you are using a new can (transfer it to a medium size bowl to stir the mixture together).  Set a large piece of parchment paper over a work surface.  Take 1/4 cup of the praline and smooth it out with a small offset spatula, working out any lumps in the paste.  Add a large scoop (about 1/2 cup) of the reserved buttercream to the praline paste and fold it together using the offset spatula.  Once combined, fold this into the remaining buttercream until evenly incorporated and smooth.

Assembling the cake:

Slice the cooled cake into 2 layers using a serrated knife.  Spread hazelnut praline buttercream on top of first layer.  Place second layer on top and spread a thin coat of the milk chocolate buttercream around the entire cake to create a "crumb coat".  Chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes to set. 

If desired, fill 3/4 cup of the milk chocolate buttercream into a piping bag fitted with a star tip (I used Ateco #35) for decorating.  Removed chilled cake from the refrigerator and frost completely with the remaining milk chocolate buttercream.  Pipe decoration on top of the cake and sprinkle ground hazelnuts in the center or around the top of the cake. 


  1. What a spectacular little cake, Monica! I love hazelnuts, especially toasted. Cakes with an entire ganache covering, look so elegant and frankly, irresistible. Will definitely embark on this one.



  2. god, this sounds delicious. Thank you for sharing this.




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