We’re taking the idea of a coffee cake to a new level today. This hazelnut espresso crunch cake has one of my favorite flavor combinations (coffee and hazelnut) in an elegant but totally doable cake package. Hazelnut cake layers, espresso buttercream, crunchy hazelnut praline; this cake has everything I ever want in a dessert, and I will probably eat it for breakfast.
The espresso buttercream on this cake alone is so tasty you may find yourself sneaking bits of it with a spoon. And why not have your afternoon caffeine pick-me-up in a slice of cake? I’m sold. The cake is light but sturdy thanks to egg whites and hazelnut flour, with a splash of hazelnut liqueur thrown in for extra flavor, and with the frosting it tastes a like a hazelnut latte. Then you’ve got hazelnut praline on top for extra sweetness and crunch, and to be extra fancy because we can.
As you can probably tell from the photos, getting a smooth outer layer of frosting on a cake is a challenge for me. I’ve taken a cake decorating class, I’ve practiced at home, but in the end I’ve decided that it’s going to be the rustic look of slightly swirly, never-quite-perfect frosting for me. And I’m not complaining, because I think this cake looks like I want to smash my face into it.
I have pretty specific tastes in cake; I crave something that’s not too sweet, usually without fruit or chocolate, but still with lots of flavor. I don’t want plain vanilla; I want something exciting. Hazelnut really fits the bill, with its nutty, slightly sweet flavor, and you know I’m always up for coffee. Together they make a cake that’s rich, moist, and not at all boring. So have your coffee and eat it too, because we all deserve a great piece of cake once in a while.
- 1 ½ sticks butter, softened
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup hazelnut flour (make your own by grinding hazelnuts in the food processor)
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 6 egg whites
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon Frangelico (hazelnut liqueur)
- ¾ cup whole milk
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoons instant espresso powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
- ½ cup hazelnuts
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- Butter two 8” cake pans, cover the bottom in parchment paper, and butter the parchment. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, hazelnut flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Place the butter in a large mixing bowl and, using a hand mixer on medium-high speed, beat until smooth and creamy. Add the sugar and beat two minutes more.
- Beat in the egg whites one at a time, mixing for a few seconds between each addition, then add the vanilla extract and hazelnut liqueur.
- Pour in half of the dry ingredients and mix on low speed until combined. Repeat with the milk, followed by the rest of the dry ingredients, being careful not to overmix.
- Divide the batter evenly between the two cake pans and bake for 20-22 minutes, until the cakes are lightly golden brown and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in the pans for a few minutes before turning out onto cooling racks to cool completely.
- Place the butter in a large mixing bowl. With a hand mixer, beat on medium high speed until smooth and creamy, at least two minutes.
- Add in the powdered sugar one cup at a time, incorporating each cup completely before adding the next.
- Add in the vanilla and espresso powder and mix until combined.
- Add in the heavy whipping cream one tablespoon at a time, until the frosting reaches your desired consistency.
- Put the hazelnuts in a single layer on a small baking pan.
- Place the sugar and water in a small saucepan and whisk to combine. Set over medium-low heat and cook without stirring until the mixture turns an amber color, about 7 minutes.
- Remove the saucepan from the heat and immediately pour the caramel over the hazelnuts. Allow to cool to room temperature, then chop or pulse in a food processor until the pieces are as small as you want them.
- To assemble the cake, place about a cup of frosting on top of the first layer and spread with an offset spatula. Place the second cake layer on top, and spread with another cup of frosting. Use the offset spatula to smooth frosting onto the sides of the cake. Sprinkle the praline on top of the cake, then decorate with the remaining frosting however you like.