Holiday Entertaining 2000: The Cake Also Rises

  Hazelnut-Praline Layer Cake

The Chef
WAYNE HARLEY BRACHMAN of Michael Jordan's The Steakhouse N.Y.C., and The Strip House, and Tapika (closed)

Serves ten.


Nonstick spray
2 cups cake flour
1 and 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup (11/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup Frangelico
1/2 cup roasted, skinned, and finely chopped hazelnuts (roasted in a 350-degree oven for 6 minutes, then chopped; roasted-hazelnut flour can be substituted)

Praline buttercream:
1 and 1/4 cups sugar
4 large egg whites
Pinch of salt
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup praline paste or filbert paste (available from New York Cake & Baking Center, 56 West 22nd Street)
3/4 cup roasted, skinned, and coarsely chopped hazelnuts

Cooking Instructions

Cake: Set a rack in the middle of the oven, and preheat to 375 degrees. Lightly coat two 9-inch cake pans with nonstick vegetable spray. Line the bottom of each pan with a circle of baking parchment. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together three times. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle, beat the butter and sugar at high speed for 15 seconds, until combined. Add the eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Continue beating on high until light and fluffy, about 6 minutes more.

With the mixer on its lowest setting, beat in a third of the flour mixture. Beat in half the buttermilk and all the Frangelico, then the hazelnuts and another third of the flour mixture. Beat in the remaining buttermilk and then the remaining flour. Spread the batter in the prepared pans and bake about 20 to 25 minutes, until cake is golden brown and the center springs back when lightly pressed and a cake tester comes out clean. Set the pans on a rack to cool. Turn out the cakes when cool enough to handle. (If the cakes are refrigerated for 2 hours at this stage, they will be easier to handle and frost.)

Praline buttercream: Put 1/2 cup water and the sugar in a small saucepan fitted with a candy thermometer. Over high heat, bring the temperature to 240 degrees (soft-ball stage). In the meantime, in the completely clean and dry bowl of an electric mixer, whisk the egg whites, salt, and cream of tartar until creamy, foamy, and barely able to hold very soft peaks. With the mixer running on slow, carefully drizzle in the hot syrup. Continue to whisk on high speed until mixture is fluffy, firm, and cooled to room temperature; gradually beat in the butter and then the praline paste. When the cakes are cold, trim the tops with a large serrated knife. Split each cake into two layers. Spread a 1/4-inch layer of the buttercream between each layer. Frost the outside of the cake with the remaining buttercream, and then coat the sides of the cake with the chopped hazelnuts.

Optional: Decorate top of cake with whole hazelnuts, blackberries, or raspberries to form a row around the edge.

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