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Birthday Cake

The post title makes this sound like an incredibly broad request for help, but here are the parameters that make it somewhat more of a challenge.

We're hosting a surprise party for my boyfriend, and I want to make the cake rather than buy it. I had originally planned to make the chocolate bourbon cake with caramel frosting, because I made it once before and it was excellent.

However, I'm concerned because 1) his sister is pregnant, so I really shouldn't make the birthday cake inedible to her, and 2) I need to be able to do it all between about noon and 7 pm on one day (no time to refrigerate anything overnight).

So I'm looking to you all for suggestions for an equally delectable cake, not boozy, and doable in a long afternoon. Chocolate is good, but not necessary. Hazelnuts are something he likes as well. Both he and I have a preference for not-chocolate frostings on chocolate cake, and not-vanilla frostings on white/yellow cake. I'm a good baker, and open to unique flavors (although probably not the vegan chocolate-avocado cake for this occasion).

Any help would be much appreciated!!

Oh, P.S. not the Elvis cake! Thanks!

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  1. does it have to be the standard frosted cake? a chocolate hazelnut torte would suit his tastes perfectly. or if you'd rather do a regular cake, how about a super-rich, moist chocolate layer cake with hazelnut mousse/icing?

    2 Replies
    1. re: goodhealthgourmet

      No, it doesn't have to be a standard frosted cake. What I would like - more than a suggestion of a kind of cake - is a tried-and-true recipe. There are a million recipes for cakes on the internet, and probably even more seemingly-great IDEAS for cakes, but I trust you guys!

      1. re: pamiam

        understood - just wanted to get a more defined feeling for what you wanted before taking the time to post recipes that wouldn't interest you.

        this Gourmet recipe is always a hit:

    2. If it doesn't have to be hazelnut, I recommend this one (although I don't see why you couldn't substitute hazelnuts for the almonds) -- http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...
      I made it earlier this year for my son's bday and everyone swooned over it. Mine turned out looking exactly like the photo. It is definitely do-able in a long afternoon (although I broke it up over a couple evenings). So. Yummy.

      2 Replies
      1. re: mdepsmom

        I love this almond praline cake. With the marscapone frosting. Yum! I think this is the best cake I've ever made. And visually it's a showstopper.

        It does have a pronounced almond flavor from the almond paste. (Which is something I liked about it.) But agree it be better with the almond praline rather than a hazelnut praline.

        1. re: karykat

          I agree that it sounds amazing - I think I will make it for the next big occasion (when the birthday boy hasn't specifically mentioned hazelnut+chocolate). But since I'm a big fan of almond, it WILL get made!

      2. recently made a couple of cakes for myself and a few friends lately.

        one that stood out is:
        almond cake and whipped chocolate frosting from here: http://smittenkitchen.com/2009/05/alm...
        mascarpone cream in the middle studded with raspberries and a layer of very fine praline between cakes: http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/foo...

        although i baked me a moist chocolate cake, chocolate mousse (Jchild) in the middle with ganache frosting (or swiss buttercream if you are looking for contrast) for my own birthday.

        you can always boil off the alcohol in the basing liquid if anyone is prego.

        1. For a special cake, I like the triple chocolate celebration cake. If you want hazelnut flavor, you could do a nutella mousse.


          For a non-chocolate cake, lemon layer cake with lemon curd with mascarpone frosting is amazing.


          1. When I made Suzanne Goins' Hazelnut brown butter cake, my DH pronounced it the best cake I'd ever made. It's a single layer 10-inch cake made with ground hazelnuts and iced with a chocolate glaze. It's a really, really wonderful cake:


            1. The chocolate stout cake on Epicurious is excellent, and because you boil the beer before baking, there are no worries about the alcohol. It's a really wonderful cake, and it has never failed me. The only note I'd add is that the recipe as posted makes a huge cake, so if you are only cooking for a few, you may want to halve it (it halves well into two thinner layers or a bundt).

              10 Replies
              1. re: katecm

                Thanks for the suggestions so far!

                I'm leaning toward the almond praline cake recommended by both goodhealthgourmet and jeniyo. However, based on recipes I saw in Nick Malgieri's Perfect Cakes and elsewhere, it seems that there are many variations on a cake with both almonds and hazelnuts. Since the flavor combination isn't out of left field, I was pondering keeping the layers and filling as-is (I'm worried about substituting the pastes in the baking mixture unless I make the hazelnut paste myself), but making a hazelnut praline and giving the frosting a hint of hazelnut. Thoughts?

                I've also heard excellent things about that hazelnut brown-butter cake. I may have to bake some mini-cakes in advance to taste-test! The only thing I'm concerned about is that it doesn't look as festive (I know I said it didn't have to be traditional frosted, but...it seems like I could whip that out for a special meal another time, rather than at a party).

                Katecm: Re: the chocolate stout cake - there are three on Epicurious. I assume, based on the boiling, you were talking about the 2002 version (and the other one that calls for boiling has prunes in it....)

                Any other ideas still welcome!

                1. re: pamiam

                  Sorry, yes, the 2002 one (though I think another is the same recipe highlighted in a "best of the past" issue ). No prubes! No sneaking anything healthy in it.

                  1. re: pamiam

                    i'd have to say, the almond cake with the paste is already very almond-y, i'd go easy with the almond extract on this one. i don't think you'll be able to cover the almond paste flavor with your hazelnut praline and frosting. i think you might be better off doing a hazelnut paste in your good o' processor. (though i have not tried making this myself).

                    maybe you can get away with making that almond cake, doubled, into two layers?

                    1. re: jeniyo

                      i mean, making that hazelnut brown butter cake and stack it... =) oops!

                      1. re: jeniyo

                        I made a half-recipe of the hazelnut brown butter cake tonight - delicious! Has anyone here tried, as jeniyo suggested, stacking two of them to make a more classic "birthday cake" presentation? I know they say Suzanne Goin used it as her wedding cake, but they don't mention whether it was layered (though that would be the assumption) or not.

                        1. re: pamiam

                          Update - I stacked portions of the cake I made, and experimented with different fillings.

                          1) Whipped chocolate ganache - as much as I like it on yellow cupcakes, it was not as tasty as the regular chocolate ganache on this cake, and also didn't provide enough of a contrasting color (the cake and the ganache were a similar tone of brown, but different hues...trust me, it was ugly).

                          2) Brown butter buttercream frosting - delectable when eaten off the spoon, but WAY too sweet for this cake.

                          3) Sabayon - I was going to make both choc. and plain, but the base sabayon I made was so nasty that I had to dump it right away - the wine must have picked up a cheesy off flavor from the refrigerator.

                          SO...I'm going to make plain ol' chocolate ganache (a fairly thick rendition), and put that between the layers with a sprinkling of hazelnut praline. I'll use a thinner ganache for the top, and decorate the cake with whole candied hazelnuts like the ones here: http://whatdidyoueat.typepad.com/what...

                          (p.s. the cake sounds excellent for another time!


                          I'll report back after the party....

                          1. re: pamiam

                            yes! please report back. i'd like to know how it came together.

                            i'm making the hazelnut cake and chocolate ganache as well for a casual get together this weekend.

                            did you end up making the sabayon? why, oh why do i have the habit of saucing everything?? >_< which recipe did you use?

                            do you think this cake is freezer friendly? making it a couple days ahead prior to stacking..

                            1. re: jeniyo

                              we just polished off the entire cake this weekend and it was a hit. i made a double batch of the cake and frosted with a light glaze of chocolate ganache. it was a special cake- and simply enjoyable over a coffee/tea with friends.

                              the cake sat in the box for almost the entire day, totally my fault though, the ganache formed a light crust. it was kinda odd to me..

                            2. re: pamiam

                              Wow, just stumbled across this thread while looking for cake recipes for (new) boyfriend's birthday. Sorry I never reported back! I ended up making two cakes: the Suzanne Goin hazelnut torte (two layers stacked) with chocolate ganache and candied hazelnuts, and the Nick Malgieri Chocolate Mousse Cake with Cinnamon Cream (though I subbed Frangelico for the dark rum and made Frangelico whipped cream). I don't think I have any pictures of the final cakes (why oh why not?) but I have a pic of my practice hazelnut cake. The day of the party was quite humid, so the spun sugar didn't work too well, but the hazelnuts came out fine (though it was a bit of a pain hanging the skewers over the sink waiting for them to set up, as I recall). They both went over well and were totally devoured.

                      2. re: pamiam

                        Just a note about boiling alcohol out of beer... I saw some show recently, can't remember it for the life of me, and someone on it said it is a myth that all the alcohol burns out of alcohol (beer/wine/liqueur) when it is reduced. Most of it does but not all of it the person said.

                        Whether that is true or not I do not know, but just something to keep in mind and use your best judgment.

                    2. i don't have my recipe with me, but my most requested cake right now is my italian cream cake. it is a very light cake with coconut and pecans iced with cream cheese frosting, although sometimes i use my suisse meringue buttercream. it really is fantastic!

                      1. This is a bit late, I know, but thought I'd share another delicious and quite elegant almond cake. It's got a lovely sherry/lemon buttercream frosting: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/06/din...

                        Could you post the bourbon cake recipe (or link to it)? The cake you ended up making sounds fabulous!