Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake

This is an elegant little cake – very classy and not too sweet (which is why I felt compelled to drizzle it with Nutella).

I bookmarked this cake a long time ago when browsing around on Smitten Kitchen. It took a while to get around to baking it because a) hazelnuts are expensive and can’t usually be found lying around my pantry, and b) it’s a small cake.

The recipe makes a single, 9 or 10 inch round. And that’s not really enough cake for most of the occasions to which I would bring a cake. Cake, to me, usually means a big, layered affair. Or, it’s a super-casual sheet cake to feed a crowd. But this lil’ guy – it’s good for 4-6 people.

So when a friend invited me over for a small game night back in November (I’m so behind on posting!), and I had time and hazelnuts to spare, it seemed like it was finally time to make this happen.

This turned out to be a lovely, flavorful, dense little cake. It’s sophisticated. Much more a “dinner party with grown ups” kind of cake. I think it would’ve been marvelous with some homemade ice cream, and maybe I’ll do that the next time I have a “let’s bring out the fine china” kind of gathering. It’s that kind of cake.

The original recipe suggests a ganache topping, which I assume would be great. But I didn’t have time for that. I took it over there plain, and that was very nice. But when I brought the leftovers home, I drizzled it with Nutella, and that hit the spot for me. But then, Nutella pretty much always hits the spot for me.

Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake (from Smitten Kitchen)

Grade: A- (’cause it’s a bit too fancy on not quite sweet enough for me)

5 ounces (about one heaping cup) hazelnuts, blanched to remove dark skins*
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean
1 1/3 cups powdered sugar, plus extra for dusting the cake
1/3 cup all-purpose flour
6 large egg whites
3 tablespoons granulated sugar

Preheat oven to 350 °F.

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown and smell nutty. Remove the skins**. Let them cool.

Grease a 9 or 10 inch round cake pan. Since I used a silicon pan, I didn’t bother with parchment paper, but cutting out a round and fitting it in the bottom of a normal pan can’t hurt.

Place the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise down the center, and using a paring knife to scrape the seeds and pulp onto the butter. To make sure not to lose any of the seeds, run your vanilla-coated knife through the butter. Add the vanilla pod to the pan, and cook the butter until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). It helps to frequently scrape the solids off the bottom of the pan in the last couple minutes to ensure even browning. Set aside to cool. Remove the vanilla pod and discard.

Grind the hazelnuts with the confectioners’ sugar in a food processor until they’re finely ground – being careful not to turn it into paste/hazelnut butter. Add the flour and pulse to combine. Transfer to a large bowl.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Add the granulated sugar and mix on high speed 4 to 5 minutes, until the mixture forms very stiff peaks. When you turn the whisk upside down, the peaks should hold. Transfer the whites to a large mixing bowl.

Alternate folding the dry ingredients and the brown butter into the egg whites, a third of a time. Remember to scrap the bottom of the brown butter pan with a rubber spatula to get all the little brown bits.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 35-50 minutes – depending on your oven and the size of the pan. I used a 9-inch, and it was done around 35 minutes, so keep an eye on it!

Cool on a rack 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a plate. Top with chocolate ganache (see original recipe) or warm up some Nutella in the microwave and drizzle over the top.

**I didn’t totally follow her directions when I removed the skins, which explains why it was such a pain. I suggest getting the skins off by wrapping the warm nuts in a dish towel, letting it steam for five minutes and then vigorously rubbing them together to remove the skins or by plunking them in a colander and using a hard, dry, clean scrub brush to brush their skins off. (I skipped the steaming part, and I think it matters).

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