Holy crap. Do you have a bag of hazelnuts and two sticks of butter? Then run, don’t walk, to the kitchen and make this cake. Seriously. It’s that amazing. You read the title, right? How could it not be incredible!?
I made this cake Friday night (don’t judge me – I so have a life) for my grandparents’ birthday. And, unlike my immediate family, they don’t have stringent demands about the components of their birthday cake (Brother = carrot cake, Dad = coconut and/or lemon, me = chocolate, duh, Mom = tiramisu usually), so I was pretty much allowed to bake whatever my little heart desired. Ohhh, the possibilities. Because I hate doing anything the easy way, I picked a sort of fussy cake because it came so highly recommended from the Smitten Kitchen, where I get all of my solid cake-baking advice. And, also, because how could I pass up a chance to make a cake with hazelnuts, brown butter, and ganache. Good lord, pass the mixing bowl.
And for all the fear I had (about, oh, I don’t know: the tiny amount of flour and the absence of both baking powder and soda; the fact that egg whites are quite possibly the most temperamental thing ever and this was my second go-around with them in as many weeks; that incorporating still-warmish butter, beaten egg whites, and crushed hazelnuts is maybe one of the most challenging instructions I’ve ever read on a recipe…), this cake came out unbelievably good. So good, that I am completely devastated that the last piece, hidden away in the freezer, is earmarked for Boyfriend when he comes home (!!!!) next weekend. No one ever said I was good at sharing…
Hazelnut Brown Butter Cake
5 ounces hazelnuts, with skins removed (I not only bought chopped hazelnuts, not whole, but I was unable to get all of the skins off – not the end of the world, but do your best. Deb has some great tips at the end of her recipe for this)
2 sticks unsalted butter (plus more for greasing)
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/3 cup powdered sugar
5 extra-large egg whites
3 tbsp granulated sugar
4 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
1/4 cup heavy cream
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet. Toasted 10-15 minutes, until they’re golden brown.
Grease a 10-in cake pan, and cover the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper cut to fit.
Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add vanilla and heat until the butter is golden and smells nutty (about 8 minutes – mine took a little longer), continuously scraping the solids off the bottom of the pan. Once it has browned, set the pot aside to cool.
Grind the hazelnuts in a food processor along with the powdered sugar (my food processor is small, so I had to do this in two batches) until everything is finely ground, then add the flour and pulse to combine.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites continuously, without stopping, for 5 minutes or so while gradually adding the granulated sugar – until they hold stiff peaks. Then, slowly fold 1/3 of the flour/sugar/nut mixture into the egg whites. Fold in 1/3 of the butter. Continue alternating until everything is in one bowl, and gently fold to combine. The batter will be gritty.
Pour batter into the cake pan (it will be very full, but the cake isn’t going to rise) and bake for 30-40 minutes (the original recipe says one hour, but mine was done at 35…). Set on a cake rack to cool for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake, then invert it onto a plate. Peel off parchment paper.
To make ganache, heat cream and chocolate in a double-boiler until fully melted. Remove from heat and pour over cake, letting it drip down the sides.