Liam Turns Four!: Colorful Whiteout Cake and Hazelnut Cake with Praline and Milk Chocolate Buttercream

My young friend Liam just turned four, and much to my delight, he is finally old enough where he can actively participate in selecting his birthday cake. Liam has been on a purported chocolate strike of late, and his cake request was specific: "vanilla with sprinkles and M&Ms." I made the Baked Whiteout Cake and decorated it with multi-colored sprinkles and mini M&Ms. While using colored decorations goes against the intended monochromatic scheme of the Whiteout Cake, who am I to deny the birthday boy?

I needed a second cake to be able to feed all of the guests at Liam's birthday party, so I also decided to make the Hazelnut Cake with Praline and Milk Chocolate Buttercream Frosting from The Sono Baking Company Cookbook. This cake has three layers of hazelnut sponge cake filled with praline buttercream, covered in milk chocolate buttercream. I fell in love with the cake the moment I saw some photos of the version my cousin Cindy made (you can see them at her blog here). 

Cindy had difficulty finding the prepared praline paste necessary for this recipe and ended up making her own, so I decided to make my own as well. I actually had no idea that praline paste was merely caramel poured over nuts and blitzed in the food processor until it liquefies. The general rule is to use equal weights of nuts and sugar (see this recipe and the accompanying photos, for example), and I used a 50-50 blend of almonds and hazelnuts. It took about 15 minutes in the food processor to get a smooth paste, and there was still a tiny bit of grit left in the mixture -- but I didn't feel like getting out the mortar and pestle, so I figured it was good enough.

The hazelnut sponge cake used in this recipe is wonderful. It's made from ground hazelnuts, sugar, cake flour, cornstarch, eggs, salt, almond extract, and vegetable oil. You bake a single cake in a 9-inch pan and split it into three layers for assembly. The cake rose evenly and it had a very tight, dense, and moist crumb that was very easy to handle when it came to splitting the layers (the Agbay cake leveler that Cindy gave me for Christmas last year was a huge help as well, of course -- each of the layers was only one-half inch tall after splitting). 

The praline buttercream (egg whites, sugar, salt, butter, vanilla, praline paste) was nice and firm, and it was the perfect texture to fill the cake without squishing out between the layers. The milk chocolate buttercream (same as the praline flavor, except with cocoa powder and melted milk chocolate instead of praline paste) was a lot softer, but it spread beautifully, and there was plenty of it to cover and decorate the cake. I used a single hazelnut in the middle of the cake as a garnish.

The hazelnut cake sliced cleanly and was beautiful to serve; each layer of cake and buttercream was clearly delineated. The cake is fantastic. I love the flavor of the hazelnut sponge cake, and with the praline and chocolate buttercreams, it's positively decadent. The small amount of grit in the praline buttercream didn't bother me at all, and I really loved the unusual flavor from the praline paste. There's nothing I would criticize about this cake and it was a very sophisticated and impressive dessert.

All of the kids at the birthday party wanted vanilla cake, but most of the adults chose the hazelnut (well, there were of course a few who sampled both), so I think variety of cakes worked out well. Liam loved his vanilla cake and if his true feelings about chocolate weren't already clear from the fact that he had requested M&Ms, it was painfully obvious after he went around seeking M&M garnishes to consume from other people's plates. I predict that by the time he turns five, Liam will be openly embracing chocolate again; I anticipate a request for chocolate cake next year!

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