Brown Butter Hazelnut Cake (Two Ways)

Brown butter hazelnut cake

This cake has finally cured me of my fear of whipped egg whites. I've avoided whipped egg white recipes ever since I first subscribed to Martha Stewart Living (in about fourth grade), and tried to make a wedding cake for my aunt. It was a genoise without any chemical leavening, and was a total bust. The cake layers came out totally flat, and we ended up buying a grocery store cake. Since then, either my baking skills have greatly improved, or this cake is much more forgiving. I've now made it twice, and it came out light and fluffy and delicious with no difficulty both times. And didn't seem that scary at all.

The recipe comes from Deb of Smitten Kitchen; I've adapted it to fit an 8-inch cake pan because that's what I have, and also because it makes a really nice small dinner party (4-6 people) size, but if you'd like a 10-inch cake, you can use her quantities and directions in the link below. We couldn't decide whether to use the chocolate ganache or not, so I covered half the cake, black-and-white cookie style. It's delicious both ways - without the chocolate ganache, you get a nice, crunchy, sugar top, and I served it with caramel sauce and ice cream. And with the chocolate, well, it's chocolate.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen


  • 95 grams (about 2/3 cup) hazelnuts
  • 140 grams (1 stick plus 2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 100 grams (1 cup minus 2 tablespoons) powdered sugar
  • 30 grams (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large egg whites
  • 25 grams (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
  • coarse sugar for sprinkling and/or chocolate ganache (recipe below)

Preheat oven to 350°F.

Spread the hazelnuts on a baking sheet, and toast 12 to 15 minutes, until they’re golden brown and smell nutty. Wrap them in a clean dish towel, let them steam for 5 minutes or so, and then rub to remove as many of the dark skins as possible. Let them cool.

Cut out a circle of parchment paper to fit in the bottom of an 8-inch round cake pan (I used a springform pan). Brush the pan with a little melted butter or spray with cooking spray and line the bottom with the paper, then butter the paper as well.

Place the 140 grams of butter in a medium saucepan. Slice the vanilla bean lengthwise, and use a paring knife to scrape the seeds onto the butter. Add the vanilla pod to the pan, and cook until the butter browns and smells nutty (about 6 to 8 minutes). Set aside to cool to room temperature. 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 salt and pulse to combine.

Place the egg whites and granulated sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Mix on high speed 4 to 5 minutes, until the whites form very stiff peaks. When you turn the whisk upside down, the peaks should hold. Alternate carefully folding the dry ingredients and the room temperature brown butter into the egg whites, about a third at a time.

Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan, and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the cake pulls back from the sides and a toothpick comes out clean. Sprinkle the top with coarse sugar. 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. If desired, cover with ganache (below). Or do what I did, and go half and half.

Makes one 8-inch cake (about 6 servings).


For the chocolate ganache:

*Makes enough to cover half the cake; to cover the whole cake, double the amounts.

  • 60 grams (2 ounces) bittersweet chocolate
  • 3 tablespoons heavy cream

Finely chop the chocolate and place in a heatproof bowl. Heat the cream, either in the microwave or on the stove, until just barely starting to bubble. Pour the cream over the chocolate, let it sit for a minute, and then stir to melt.

hazelnut brown butter cake slice