One of my dearest friends, Aja, recently had a Birthday and it was the first time I got to celebrate with her in many many years, so of course I had to bake her a Birthday cake! She had come to visit me when I first moved to LA and we went to this divine restaurant in Topanga Canyon, called Inn of the Seventh Ray. They have an outdoor patio full of beautiful floral arrangements and twinkly lights that is just stunning! And better yet, they focus on all natural organic meals and cater to specialty diets like vegan and vegetarian. Definitely try it if you’re in the area.
We were there with her dad and his wife who had been married there a few years back. When we told the waitress, she brought out a piece of the very same cake they had at their wedding–how sweet is that?! And the cake was amazing. Coming from someone who typically doesn’t get too excited about cake, that’s saying a whole lot! Aja and I were going ON and ON about this cake so the waitress gave us a few tips that it was made with hazelnut flour and the cake was then soaked in a custard, giving it a perfectly moist texture. This was no ordinary cake. The frosting was a simple whipped cream and the layers of the cake were filled with fresh summer berries–wow I could really go for another piece of that cake! Anyway…I wanted to try to re-create this magnificent dessert for her big day. I searched and searched for the recipe online but those smart cookies at the restaurant are keeping that gem under wraps. So I was looking for something similar. Obviously I wanted a hazelnut based batter, but I couldn’t seem to find any cakes soaked in custard, but rather filled with custard. So I opted for this hazelnut brown butter dacquoise (or meringue-based cake) from the trusty Smitten Kitchen. I doubled the recipe and used a smaller (8″) pan for two taller layers, and swapped out the chocolate ganache for light fresh whipped cream and seasonal strawberries. We had one happy birthday girl!
Oh! For my primal and gluten-free readers, I tested a primal version of this cake a few days before that was lovely, but I still need to perfect the texture for layering. I will share when I get around to that someday, but I only had a narrow window of time to make the birthday cake and I wanted to ensure that it was going to be perfect, so alas, I used some flour, and a whole lotta confectioner’s sugar.
Hazelnut Brown Butter Layer Cake with Whipped Cream and Strawberries (Adapted from Smitten Kitchen) (Difficulty-Advanced; Serves 12-16)
**As any baker knows, working with egg-white based batters can really be a pain! Get more specifics on this particular recipe from professional chef, Shuna Lydon here!
For the Cake:
- 10 oz. (about 2 heaping cups) hazelnuts, blanched to remove dark skins*
- 1 lb. (4 sticks) unsalted butter (plus 1 Tbsp. melted to grease pans)
- 1 vanilla bean
- 2 c. powdered sugar
- 2/3 cup all-purpose flour
- 12 large organic cage free egg whites, at room temperature**(this is very important)
- 1/4 c. plus 2 Tbsp. granulated sugar
To Fill and Frost:
- 1 pint organic heavy whipping cream
- 2-3 Tbsp. raw honey
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 quart organic strawberries, sliced
Bake the Cake: Preheat oven to 350 °F.
*To remove the hazelnut skins, briefly boil the nuts in 8 cups of water with 4-6 tablespoons of baking soda, and rinse with cold water. The skins fall off most of them, and you can easily slip them off the rest. Be forewarned, however — use a large pot. The baking soda/hazelnut/boiling water combo makes a pretty pink but lofty foam that threatens to spill all over your stovetop.
Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown and smell nutty. Let them cool.
Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of two 8-inch round cake pans. Brush the pan with a little melted butter and line the bottom with the paper.
Place the rest of the butter in a medium saucepan. 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. 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. Mix on high speed 5 to 7 minutes, until the mixture forms very stiff peaks. When you turn the whisk upside down, the peaks should hold. Once the whites have formed stiff peaks, add the granulated sugar and mix to combine. Transfer the whites to a large mixing bowl.
Alternate folding the dry ingredients and the brown butter into the egg whites, a third at a time. Remember to scrape the bottom of the brown butter pan with a rubber spatula to get all the little brown bits and vanilla bean pods.
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pans, distributing evenly, and bake for 20-30 minutes, rotating the cakes half way through. Cool on a rack 30 minutes. Run a knife around the inside edge of the pan, and invert the cake onto a plate. Peel off the paper, and turn the cake back over onto a serving platter.
Assemble the Cake: Place a metal or copper mixing bowl in the refrigerator or freezer for up to 30 minutes prior to making the frosting (this speeds up the whipping process). Pour the cream into the bowl and beat with a stand or handheld mixer fitted with a whisk attachment until soft peaks form. The same test for the egg whites works here too–the peaks should hold when you turn the beater attachment upside down. Add the honey and vanilla and mix well to incorporate.
Add a thick layer of whipped cream to the first cake layer and cover with sliced strawberries. Add another layer of whipped cream to the strawberries so their juice does not seep out into the cake. Place the second cake onto the first and continue frosting with whipped cream. Top with remaining strawberry slices.