If you know me at all or have been following the blog for any amount of time, you know that brown butter and hazelnuts are some of my favorite ingredients. So it should come as no surprise to anyone that this brown butter hazelnut layer cake with brown butter buttercream was born!
I tend to opt for cupcakes over everything else and I almost never make layer cakes because they take so long to make properly, but when I do make them it's just so satisfying! Honestly I forgot how fun it can be, so I think there might be more layer cake recipes in the future! Layer cakes can seem intimidating, but I promise they actually aren't that hard! It just takes a few good tools, techniques, and patience (the worst part).
Before we get started, please note I use hazelnut flour* in this recipe for extra hazelnut flavor. It can be hard to find so you can always make your own (just put whole hazelnuts in the food processor) or you can just sub almond flour or cake flour.
So let's dive in! First things first, you need to make a LOT of brown butter because it goes in both the cake and the buttercream. I recommend making layer cakes over the course of 2 days because it's just easier. So make the cake layers and all the brown butter the night before, then do the buttercream and decorating the next day.
Day One: Make the Layers and Brown Butter
Neither of these steps take a ton of time, so I usually just do them both the evening before I want to decorate my cake.
How Do You Get Perfect Cake Layers??
There are a few tricks that will help you get perfect, even layers!
First, you need good nonstick cake pans and pan spray. I use three 6×2 inch Fat Daddio’s* layer cake pans and I love them!! It's super important to get actual layer cake pans because the sides are perfectly straight! It's a little annoying because this means you can't stack them, but your layers will have perfect sides! With just a tiny bit of pan spray, the cakes just slide right out and never stick! For pan spray, I love both Everbake Pan Spray and Baker's Joy*!
Next, is trimming your cake. This can be a little tricky, but it's super easy once you do it a couple times. Let the cakes cool completely to room temperature, then take a large bread knife and very carefully slice off the very top of the cake so that you have a perfectly even layer. I like using a big bread knife because it's sharp, serrated, and long enough to go through the entire layer at one time.
And of course freezing the layers! So after you've let the cake layers cool completely and trimmed them. Wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap in place in the freezer overnight. Don't take them out until right before you start assembling the cake! This allows the frosting to slide on smoothly and prevents any crumbs from getting in the frosting.
How to Make Brown Butter
If you're afraid of calories, you might want to just stop reading because this cake calls for 2 ½ cups of butter. Yep, you read that right. But I promise it's so so good!
Both the cake and buttercream call for brown butter, so I find it easier to just make 2 separate batches. But you can also make it all together and weigh out the difference if you have a food scale* (½ cup of butter weighs about 110 grams). So you’ll need 220 grams for the cake and 330 grams for the buttercream.
- In a small saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.
- Once melted, stir frequently and watch closely for the formation of brown specs on the bottom of the pan and a nutty aroma.
- Once you see brown specs, stir for just a few more seconds (it browns super quickly).
- Remove from the heat and immediately pour into a different bowl to prevent it from burning.
- For the cake, let the butter cool slightly (5-10 minutes) before using.
- For the buttercream, it needs to cool completely to room temperature so that it’s solid but pliable.
Day Two: Make the Buttercream and Decorate
After you make the brown butter buttercream, remove the frozen cake layers from the fridge. Assemble the cake with buttercream and chopped hazelnuts between each layer and then smooth a very light coating of frosting around the top and edges of the cake. Then put the assembled cake back in the freezer for about 30 minutes to an hour. This is called the crumb coat. It helps trap any crumbs in that thin layer of frosting so that your final layer of frosting is perfectly smooth. The crumb coat isn't always necessary when you're working with already frozen cake layers, but I recommend doing it every time.
- To decorate all of my cakes and cupcakes, I use this Wilton Decorating Kit* and I love it! It’s super easy to use and has a ton of tips in different sizes. For this brown butter hazelnut cake, I used the 1M tip*.
- I absolutely love my rotating cake stand*! I hesitated buying one for a long time, but it really does make getting nice, even frosting so much easier!
- My must have tools for frosting cakes are an offset spatula* and an icing smoother*. Both are super helpful in achieving that perfect, smooth outside frosting.
- I use a 6 inch cake board* to transfer my cakes from the turning caking stand, to the stand I like to photograph with.
More brown butter recipes
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Brown Butter Hazelnut Layer Cake
Brown Butter Cake
- 2 cups cake flour, substitute all purpose flour
- ½ cup hazelnut flour, substitute almond flour or all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 cup brown butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon almond extract
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 ½ cups toasted hazelnuts, roughly chopped
- I highly recommend making the cake layers and the brown butter for the buttercream the night before so that they both have time to chill!
Brown Butter Cake
- Brown the butter: In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Once melted, stir frequently and watch closely for the formation of brown specs on the bottom of the pan and a nutty aroma. Once you see brown specs, stir for just a few more seconds (it browns super quickly). Remove from the heat and immediately pour into a different bowl to prevent it from burning. Let cool for 5-10 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and lightly spray three 6 inch layer cake pans with pan spray.
- Whisk the cake flour, hazelnut flour, baking powder, and salt together in a large bowl.
- In a separate bowl, whisk the brown butter, sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, and almond extract together until combined.
- Stir in about half of the flour mixture. Then stir in the milk and the rest of the flour mixture and mix until fully combined. The batter will be thin.
- Pour ⅓ of the batter into each cake pan (they will only be about half full).
- Bake at 350°F for 20-30 minutes or until a cake tester comes out clean.
- Place a cooling rack on top of each cake pan and invert. The pan should slide cleanly away.
- Let the cakes cool completely to room temperature before trimming.
- Using a sharp bread knife, trim the cakes until the layers are even. Wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap and place in the freezer overnight.
Brown Butter Buttercream
- Brown the butter: In a small saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. Once melted, stir frequently and watch closely for the formation of brown specs on the bottom of the pan and a nutty aroma. Once you see brown specs, stir for just a few more seconds (it browns super quickly). Remove from the heat and immediately pour into a different bowl to prevent it from burning. Let cool completely to room temperature. The brown butter should be solid but still pliable.
- In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter until smooth.
- Add in the powdered sugar ¼ cup at a time until fully combined and smooth.
- Add in the vanilla extract and salt and mix until creamy.
- Add in milk 1 teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.
Assemble the Cake
- Remove cake layers from the freezer. Place the bottom layer of cake on your cake stand and spread about ¼ of the buttercream evenly on top. Then sprinkle with ¼ cup of chopped hazelnuts. Place the next layer on top and repeat. Place the final cake layer upside down so that the top of your cake is as even as possible. Spread a thin layer of buttercream (your crumb coat) over the top and sides of the cake. Then place the cake back in the freezer for 30-60 minutes.
- If desired, set aside a small amount of buttercream in a piping back to decorate the top of the cake (a little less than 1 cup is plenty). Evenly smooth the rest of the buttercream on the top and sides of your cake as desired. Pipe the remaining buttercream around the top edge of the cake (I used a Wilton 1M tip in these photos). Gently press about half the remaining hazelnuts onto the bottom edge of the cake and sprinkle the remaining half on top.
- Slice and enjoy!
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