Hazelnut Espresso Layer Cake / by Chelsea Zwieg

I am a very boring coffee drinker. If I don't have coffee within 20 minutes of waking up, God help us all but as far as the actual coffee goes I just want it super strong and black. Cream just cools it down, which I don't like. And sugar in coffee is wrong to me on so many levels. Unless we're talking Starbucks drinks, in which case get at me, sugar filled lattes. But as far as my daily 4am coffee goes, I keep it big time boring. 

But. There's always a but. I was buying coffee last week and something came over me and next thing I knew, I was rolling through the checkout with hazelnut flavored coffee. Who even am I?? I'm pretty sure it was a sale coupled with some vague memory of liking the hazelnut coffee at a bagel shop I used to live across from in college. Whatever the reason, I am here to tell you that I am completely obsessed. So obsessed that I made a cake about it. 

Hazelnut, coffee and chocolate are three of the very best flavors in my opinion so how could they not marry together into the most perfect cake? I used my favorite chocolate cake recipe, subbing in hazelnut coffee for the hot water. When it is time to assemble the cake, each layer gets brushed with a little extra coffee which soaks into the cake and keeps it moist. The buttercream is a combination of nutella and coffee and I will never ever get tired of that. To finish it off I made a chocolate espresso glaze for some chocolate drip action and then added some chopped hazelnuts. It's definitely not the fastest cake you can make, but it is right up there among the most delicious. And for me, that's worth it every time. 

Hazelnut Espresso Layer Cake

Makes a 3 layer 6" cake

| Ingredients

For the cake: 

  • 1 3/4 cup flour
  • 1 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  •  1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 2 eggs 
  • 1 tbsp. vanilla 
  • 3/4 cup hot coffee (I used hazelnut coffee, but any kind will do) 

For the hazelnut coffee frosting: 

  • 1/2 cup egg whites (3-4 large eggs)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature 
  • 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • pinch of salt
  • 1/2 cup nutella
  • 1/4 cup + 2 tbsp. espresso or very strong coffee, cooled to room temperature
  • chopped hazelnuts, for garnish

For the chocolate glaze: 

  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 tbsp. corn syrup
  • 1 tsp. instant coffee
  • 2 oz. dark chocolate


Preheat oven to 350. Butter and flour 3 6" cake pans. 

Sift the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer. Sifting is super important when making chocolate cake to get rid of any cocoa powder or flour lumps. Let the mixer run on low to combine the ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk the buttermilk, oil, eggs and vanilla. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Scrape the bowl and paddle well and add the hot coffee. Mix on low, scraping as needed, until combined and smooth. 

Divide the batter evenly among the three cake pans. Bake 20-25 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool in pans for 15 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. 

For the frosting, whisk the egg whites and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water and cook, whisking often, until the mixture reaches 155 degrees on a candy thermometer. Carefully transfer the bowl to the mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Beat on high for 8-10 minutes until the egg whites are medium-stiff peaks and have cooled to room temperature. Swap out the whisk for the paddle attachment. With the mixer running on low, add the butter a few tablespoons at a time, letting it incorporate after each addition. The butter needs to be room temperature to work in properly. Once the butter has been added add the vanilla and salt. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the frosting is fluffy and smooth, at least 3 minutes. 

Scrape the bowl well and add the nutella. Beat to combine. With the mixer running on low, slowly stream in 2 tbsp. coffee, letting the liquid incorporate before adding more. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat until the frosting is smooth. 

To assemble the cake, trim the layers so that they are level. Brush the layers with the remaining 1/4 cup coffee/espresso, letting the liquid soak into the cake before assembling. Fill and stack the layers with the hazelnut buttercream. Frost the outside of the cake, smoothing the top and edges. Place the cake in the freezer to firm up before applying the chocolate drips. 

To make the chocolate glaze, heat the cream and corn syrup in the microwave until simmering. Add the instant coffee and stir to dissolve. Add the chocolate and whisk until smooth. If the chocolate doesn't melt fully, microwave the mixture in 20 second intervals, stirring between each, until you have a smooth glaze. Let the glaze cool at room temperature for 10 minutes before using. 

Once the glaze is ready, remove the cake from the freezer. Spread a thin layer of glaze across the top of the cake and use a spoon to create drips down the sides. A great tutorial on this can be found here. Let the glaze set, then decorate the rest of the cake as desired.