Vanilla and hazelnuts are two of my favorite flavors, and combing them into one luscious vanilla hazelnut cake is downright marvelous. I’ve been on a vanilla kick lately, adding it to hot tea and iced tea, drizzling a bit in my coffee, and folding it into every bit of baking I’ve done this week. The fragrance is irresistible to me, at once comforting and warming, invigorating and soothing. Add to that the scent of roasting hazelnuts and you can imagine there’s been a fair bit of swooning in this little kitchen of mine.
As nice as a cake is with ground or chopped nuts folded into the batter, I much prefer my cakes with a nutty crumble on top where they toast beautifully and gain an added depth of rich caramel flavor when mixed with dark brown sugar and melted butter. I like the texture they bring and the special layer of deliciousness that perks up each bite of cake.
I start with a simple butter cake made with extra lashings of vanilla that fills the house with wondrous scents while it is baking. If you want a bit of nutty flavor in the cake as well, grind up a handful of hazelnuts and fold them gently into the batter before pouring it into a paper-lined baking pan.
The hazelnut crumble is easy as can be. I just add brown sugar, whole hazelnuts, and a bit of butter to the food processor, pulsing them just enough to combine the ingredients while leaving the nuts chunky. If you really, really love vanilla, add some to the crumble as well. Sprinkle the crumble evenly over the cake batter and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
This is such an easy recipe to play around with. If you don’t have hazelnuts (or just don’t fancy them), use almonds, walnuts, pecans, or macadamia nuts instead; they all pair beautifully with vanilla. You can even add spices to the cake to further enhance the flavor. Try warming ones like nutmeg or cardamom.
This vanilla hazelnut cake is one of those lovely cakes that tastes just as good cold as warm. My favorite way to serve it is warm with a bit of butter melting into it, accompanied by a big mug of Oregon Breakfast tea. My husband likes his at room temperature, cut in half lengthwise and sandwiched with a thick slice of cold butter. It is also nice drizzled with a bit of heavy cream.
While I usually bake mine in a square pan, it also works well in muffin tins. Just fill the tin 2/3 full of batter, and press lightly on the crumble when you sprinkle it on top to keep it from falling off into the oven when the muffins rise while baking.
It also makes a lovely tea loaf when baked in a bread pan, and can be wrapped in baking paper or plastic wrap to give as a gift or bring to afternoon tea.
Vanilla Hazelnut Cake
- 1 1/2 cups self-raising flour
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 cup butter, softened
- 3/4 cup white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1/2 cup whole hazelnuts
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup butter
Preheat oven to 400 F. Line 8-9 inch square baking pan with baking paper.
In large bowl, stir together flour and salt. Add softened butter, mixing with your hands until it resembles coarse sand.
Add eggs, vanilla, and milk, stirring until just combined (don’t overwork).
Pour into prepared pan.
In food processor, add hazelnuts, brown sugar, and butter. Pulse until hazelnuts are broken up but still chunky. Sprinkle evenly over cake batter.
Place in oven and bake for 30-40 minutes until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.
Serve warm or cold by itself or with real whipped cream.