A hazelnut latte has been my go-to drink at coffee shops since I started drinking coffee. And since I don’t go to coffee shops very often, preferring to have my caffeine pumped in by an IV drip in the mornings (kidding! But I do drink two cups before I leave the house), I think of a hazelnut latte as a real treat. Much like these cupcakes, which taste astonishingly like the frothy coffee drink but with the benefit of being an actual dessert.
Like my stubborn streak and my love of mystery novels, my thing for hazelnuts and coffee comes from my mom. I started drinking coffee in high school both because my parents did it and it seemed like an adult-like thing to do, and because I had bouts of insomnia and was often pretty tired. I’ve been hooked on the stuff ever since, with the exception of two pregnancies that both started with a month of caffeine headaches. But my thing for hazelnut lattes came about because my mom was the first person to take me to an actual coffee shop, and I had no idea what to order so I just copied her. And I’ve got to say, of all the things on the menu, I think I lucked out with her choice. Something about the rich nutty taste of the hazelnuts, the dark coffee, and the creamy milk make for a pretty magical combination that I realized I needed to reinvent in cupcake form.
I started with the basic white cake recipe from my trusty How to Bake Everything. I toasted a half cup of hazelnuts and pulsed them in my food processor until they were ground up as fine as flour, then swapped them in for a half cup of the all purpose flour in the recipe. Then I decreased the amount of vanilla extract, and replaced it with a half teaspoon of hazelnut extract to really bring the flavor home. For the frosting, I remembered making a whipped cream frosting out of Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book years ago. I thought that the whipped cream would taste like the frothed milk in an actual latte, so I dug out the recipe and found that they already had a variation listed that added espresso powder to the frosting for a rich coffee taste. And since I don’t believe in reinventing the wheel, I tried it, and it was perfect with the cupcake base. This probably also explains why I never order anything else at coffee shops. Why reinvent the wheel when you’ve found what you love?
The key to the cupcakes is only using egg whites in the batter. This gives them their white color, and it also adds an airy texture that pairs beautifully with the toasted hazelnut flour. To make the batter, first mix together the dry ingredients in a separate bowl. In a large bowl, cream the butter with an electric mixer until it’s smooth, then add the sugar and beat for another 4 or 5 minutes. This will also help get a good rise on the cakes. Then it’s time to add the egg whites. I am a big believer in using cake ingredients at room temperature, so I warmed my eggs up in a warm water bath, then separated them all. I saved the yolks for an ill-fated experiment with french buttercream, but here is a nice list of other ways to make sure the yolks don’t go to waste. Add the egg whites a little at a time to the butter and sugar, beating for a minute between each addition to get lots of air in the batter, then add the vanilla and hazelnut extracts. Finally, alternate adding small amounts of the dry ingredients and milk, stirring on low or with a rubber spatula to only just combine everything. Add the batter to greased or lined muffin tins, and bake for 15-18 minutes.
While the cupcakes bake, it’s time to make the frosting. Get the water boiling (I used the microwave), then stir in the espresso powder and let it dissolve. Whip up the heavy whipping cream until it forms stiff peaks, then add the powdered sugar and espresso mixture and whip to combine. Let this sit in the fridge until the cupcakes are out of the oven and completely cool.
To get the frosting swoops in these photos, I fitted a gallon Ziploc bag (I ran out of pastry bags) with a coupler and a really big open circle piping tip. It’s from an old set I have, and I sadly don’t have the specs on it to give you a link to it. But the big circle let me do a simple swirl, starting from the outside of the cupcake and working my way in and up. I also sprinkled some leftover hazelnuts over the top for some extra flavor and crunch. These cupcakes are seriously delicious and beautiful, and I had to fend my kids off (no caffeine for them!) until I could get them out of the house.
- 1 ½ sticks butter, softened
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ cup hazelnuts
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sugar
- 6 egg whites
- ½ teaspoon hazelnut extract
- 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 cups heavy whipping cream
- 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
- Toast the hazelnuts over medium heat in a small saute pan for 2-3 minutes, until the nuts are fragrant. Be careful to take them off the heat as soon as they start to darken; the taste of burned hazelnuts would throw off the flavor of the cupcakes. Put the toasted hazelnuts in a food processor and process until they are the consistency of flour.
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Insert paper liners into a muffin tin, or grease the tin well with softened butter.
- Whisk together the flour, ground hazelnuts, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl.
- With a handheld electric mixer or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until it is smooth. With the mixer running, gradually add the sugar. Beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the egg whites one at a time, mixing for a few seconds between each addition, then add the vanilla and hazelnut extracts.
- Turn the mixer down to low. Add a small portion of the flour mixture, followed by a small amount of the milk. Repeat, alternating, until the batter just comes together.
- Fill the muffin tins two-thirds of the way full. Bake for 15-18 minutes, until a tester inserted to the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Let the cool in the pan for 5 minutes, then carefully remove them from the pan and transfer the cupcakes to a wire rack to cool completely.
- To make the frosting, first place the water in a small microwaves safe cup or bowl and microwave on high for 25 seconds. The water should be boiling. Mix in the espresso powder, stirring with a fork until combined and dissolve. Let this cool completely.
- Meanwhile, whip the heavy cream, either in a stand mixer with the whisk attachment or with a handheld mixer, until it forms stiff peaks. Add the powdered sugar and espresso mixture and whip to combine. Frost the cooled cupcakes and enjoy!