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On her birthday, I served her favorite dessert, blueberry pie. A month later, friends were still clamoring for a chocolate birthday cake. Is it really a birthday if you can’t have your cake and eat it too? So we celebrated again.

I first made this cake for a party I catered 15 years ago. One of the guests liked the cake so much I renamed the cake for him. Five years ago, I married him; yes, the way to a man’s heart is through chocolate cake!

Chocolate-Hazelnut Cake with Caramel Icing (“The Cori Cake”)

for the cake:

  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 3/4 cup Valrhona cocoa powder
  • 1 cup coffee
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 3/4 cup buttermilk
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter and remove from heat. Stir in the cocoa powder until dissolved. Whisk in the coffee, vanilla, buttermilk, and eggs. Whisk in the sugar. Mix together the flour, baking soda, and salt. Fold into the chocolate batter. Pour into two 10-inch cake pans lined with parchment paper. Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted comes clean. Let cool completely.

for the hazelnut meringue:

  • 6 ounces peeled hazelnuts 
  • 6 egg whites
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • dash of salt

Spread the hazelnuts on a sheet pan and toast until golden brown, at 350 degrees for about 5 minutes. Let cool completely and grind finely in a food processor. Whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks. Continue whipping while very slowly adding the sugar. Fold in the nuts by hand. Spread in a 10-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper. Bake at 250 degrees for 60 minutes.

for the frosting:

  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 6 egg yolks
  • 1 pound butter at room temperature

In a small saucepan, heat the sugar with 1/2 cup water on high until a candy thermometer reads 240 degrees. Meanwhile, whip the egg yolks in a stand mixer. Very slowly, pour the sugar syrup into the whipping eggs. Continue whipping until the mixture is cool, about 20 minutes. Add the butter, pat by pat, and whip until the frosting is smooth.

for the chocolate ganache:

In a skillet, melt the sugar with 1/2 cup water and cook on high (without stirring) until the sugar browns and caramelized. Turn the heat to low and add the cream. Raise the heat and stir until melted and smooth. Add the chocolate and stir to melt.

to assemble:

Place a chocolate layer on a 10-inch cardboard round. Top with a layer of frosting. Top with the meringue layer. Spread a thin layer of chocolate ganache on the meringue layer. Top with a layer of frosting. Top with the other chocolate layer. Use an offset icing spatula to frost the top and sides of the cake with the rest of the icing. If desired, use the chocolate ganache in a parchment triangle to write “happy birthday.”