Every January for the last eight years or so, I’ve been baking my own birthday cake. It makes me so happy to whip up something with my very favorite ingredients, and share it with my very favorite people.
A few years ago, I became friends with a cute guy at work. He was kind and funny and super talented. We hit it off, left the friendzone, became a couple, and now I am incredibly lucky to have him as my best friend and husband. Matt’s birthday happens to be two days before mine. So now, I bake us a joint birthday cake, and I couldn’t be happier.
Matt also happens to like Nutella, which I am a little bit obsessed with. Let’s look at: Nutella Crunch Brownies, Nutella Oreo Truffles, Nutella Cream Cheese Brownies, Nutella Muddy Buddies, Dark Chocolate Nutella Cherry Truffles to name a few (there’s a lot more over the years). So when I was brainstorming with him what kind of birthday cake he wants and he said something with Nutella, I knew exactly what I was going to make.
Vanilla cake layers, Nutella filling, whipped dark chocolate Nutella ganache frosting, topped with candied hazelnuts and crushed chocolate wafers. Gold star sprinkles as a bonus. It was as perfect as I imagined it to be.
For those of you who are intimidated by layer cakes, don’t be! It just takes some patience and an extra cake pan or two, but it’s actually pretty simple. And there are lots of tips that have helped me over the years, such as:
- Read the recipe thoroughly, so you know what steps you need to take, all the ingredients you need to prepare, and overall instructions
- Bake the cake layers a day before or at least a few hours early, so you can freeze them, which makes it easier to level off (if you end up with a slightly domed top) and frost (ever tried frosting a still warm cake? Don’t.)
- If your cake layers come out a little dry (hey, it happens), you can still save it by brushing on a little simple syrup or orange liqueur before frosting it (even if my cake layers aren’t dry, I still love brushing it with Cointreau if the orange flavor is a good match, which it usually is since I’m always using chocolate)
- There is nothing wrong with shortcuts: boxed cake mix, jarred caramel, prepared cookies, etc. Use whatever you think would make it easier or fool-proof. For this year’s cake, I used boxed vanilla cake and salted caramel from Trader Joe’s. I also bought raw and peeled hazelnuts from Wegman’s. (Neither of these grocery chains are blog sponsors, but I do love both and I like spreading the good word!)
- When assembling the cake, pu a dollop of frosting on the cake stand to serve as “glue” for the bottom layer, so the cake layers don’t move around when you’re frosting it
- When frosting the cake, do a crumb coating first. This is a thin layer of frosting that seals in the crumbs. I like refrigerating the cake for a few minutes after the crumb coating, before finishing with the rest of the frosting
For this year’s Nutella Cake, I spread a thick layer of Nutella as the frosting, and mixed more Nutella with dark chocolate and cream to make a ganache, and then whipped that into frosting (after stealing a couple spoonfulls to taste, of course). I used full fat Greek yogurt instead of the typical milk (or water) used with box cake mixes. I toasted hazelnuts in the oven, and then tossed them with salted caramel, and I crushed up some famous chocolate wafers to add even more crunch on top.
Matt and I spent our birthday weekend bundled up at home, looking out as snow came down, watching movies, and eating Nutella cake. It was such a sweet way to enter into a new year.
Nutella Birthday Cake
Vanilla cake layers with a Nutella filling, whipped dark chocolate Nutella ganache frosting, topped with candied hazelnuts and crushed chocolate wafers
Prep Time: 3 hours
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 3 hours 30 minutes
1 box vanilla cake mix (I used Trader Joe's)
1 cup Nutella
1/2 cup dark chocolate chips
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup Nutella
1 cup raw and peeled hazelnuts
1 tablespoon salted caramel (I used Trader Joe's)
8 pieces chocolate wafers, crushed (I used Nabisco Famous Chocolate Wafers)
1 teaspoon edible gold star sprinkles (optional)
- Make the cake. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter and flour two 8-inch round pans.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, melted butter, and Greek yogurt. Add cake mix. Mix until the batter is smooth. Divide batter evenly between the two cake pans. Bake for 30 minutes. Set aside and let cool completely. Wrap the cooled cake layers in plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze for at least an hour to overnight.
- While the cake is cooling, make the candied hazelnuts. Pour the prepared salted caramel is a small microwave-safe bowl and heat for 30 seconds. Set aside. In a small pan over medium high heat, toast hazelnuts until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Watch the nuts closely as they can burn easily. Transfer to a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and then pour heated caramel over nuts. Immediately separate nuts with two forks so they are not clustered together. Let cool completely.
- Make the ganache. In a medium microwave-safe bowl, combine chocolate chips, Nutella, and heavy cream. Heat for 30 seconds, and then stir. Heat again for another 30 seconds, and keep stirring until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and place in fridge for at least an hour to two hours. The ganache will thicken in the refrigerator, but it will still be moldable. Transfer to a large mixing bowl and beat with a mixer on high for 2 minutes, until it has lightened in color and is fluffy in texture. Set aside.
- Assemble the cake. Take the cake layer from the refrigerator and remove plastic wrap. Slice off any domed tops to have a flat/even surface on both sides of each cake layer. Place a small dollop of frosting in the middle of the cake stand, to "glue" the cake down while you are frosting it.
- Place the first layer down and spread Nutella for the filling. Stack the second layer on top.
- Frost the top and sides of cake with the whipped chocolate ganache. Top with crushed chocolate wafers, candied hazelnuts, and sprinkles (is using). Enjoy!
You can use yellow cake instead of vanilla cake if that's what you prefer. You can also substitite whole milk for the Greek yogurt for a less dense cake.
If you’d like to see previous years’ birthday cakes, check out: Chocolate Birthday Cake, Chocolate Almond Cake (a Julia Child recipe), Chocolate Cake with Sour Cream Frosting, Chocolate Rum and Dulce de Leche Pie. Hmmm maybe next year I’ll make a non-chocolate cake!