Just look at that golden specimen of sweetness. Three thick layers of chocolate cake with a creamy chocolate-hazelnut filling and a fluffy caramel buttercream. Not to mention spiked candied hazelnuts around the rim and a melted chocolate birthday message.
So we all know I love to make cakes, especially when they’re for other people. It’s an added bonus when the person requesting the cake loves all of the same flavors you do – chocolate, hazelnut, and caramel. Basically I had to try really hard to not eat this cake along the way.
The lucky recipient of this decadent confection was my friend Liz who threw a fabulous birthday bash and asked me to do the cake. I was crazy excited to do this for her, but also a little worried because I’m prone to melt downs when thing don’t work out perfectly. And for some reason things tend to go wrong whenever I’m due to present a dessert to anyone other than myself. Also, caramel is kind of my kryptonite. As much as I love it, it is a fickle, sugary beast and it can go from golden perfection to burnt sticky mess in a flash.
The chocolate-hazelnut filling was really just a riff on peanut butter frosting, with Nutella swapped in. Butter and Nutella beat until they are super creamy and then powdered sugar, milk, and vanilla finish it off.
Because of the richness of the filling and frosting, I decided to go with a simple chocolate cake. A dense devil’s food might have been too over powering. But seriously, there’s no such thing as too chocolatey. I used Martha’s One Bowl Chocolate Cake which yielded three perfect layers. I made them a head of time and froze them, making them much easier to trim and prep for frosting.
As marvelous as this cake was, it’s not the most eye-catching part of the presentation. That would be the candied hazelnuts. Yeah, they’re insane. They seem to defy gravity. It must have taken some delicate combination of science and magic to get these to work out, but boy did they! It’s such a funky, cool way to dress up a cake and it’s a far cry from the same old piped trim.
Patience and a lot of sugar are the main necessities for making these candied hazelnuts. Oh, and hazelnuts. The nuts must be toasted in the oven so their skins release, revealing their baby white interiors primed for being skewered and dunked in hot, sticky caramel. Just look at all those skewers! I only managed to stab myself ONCE.
Once the caramel has come to a boil and cooled properly, the skewered hazelnuts are dipped in and pulled up quickly creating a long, spiky string.
A heavy cutting board or a large cookbook comes in hand when securing the dipped hazelnuts so that their spikes continue to lengthen – all the way to the floor if you let them. They’re like little candy stalagtites…or stalagmites. Which ever ones hang upside down. Damn you fourth grade science! You failed me again.
You end up with a run off of thin, wispy spider webs of caramel. The bi-product is essentially spun sugar, which I find hilarious because I probably couldn’t create spun sugar on demand but apparently I can do it accidentally.
As if the cake weren’t comprised of enough sugar in varying formats, I decided to add one more by way of caramel buttercream. This was a legit, authentic buttercream that began by heating egg whites and sugar over a double boiler until it warms up and the sugar completely dissolves. You then beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks, add an obscene amount of room temperature butter and whip until it’s utterly fluffy and creamy. Then you add the homemade caramel sauce that you
slaved over whipped up casually. You know, super easy. HA. I only make it LOOK easy.
I crumb-coated the cake while I was filling the layers with the Nutella frosting so I would have a nice, smooth, crumb-free surface on which to slather the caramel buttercream.
I love the color scheme of this cake, especially for fall. It’s not the typical colors you see on a birthday cake, with the golden caramel tones. Fortunately, the dark brown shade of melted chocolate was the perfect accent color for the writing.
I didn’t want to end up with wonky, crooked writing (and melted chocolate can be tricky to maneuver) so I piped the birthday message on to parchment paper and let it set up in the fridge. Once it completely cooled and hardened, I was able to lift the chocolate words right off of the paper and on to the cake, pressing it down lightly with extra strips of parchment. Et voila!