Hazelnut-brown butter cake with sauteed pears

I was so confident about this cake that I announced before serving that it should be the best cake my guests will ever taste. In their lifetime.

It might not even be much of an oversell. Roasted hazelnuts, vanilla and nutty browned butter flavour this deceptively light cake.

Serve with sauteed caramelised pears and cream

Serve with sauteed caramelised pears and cream

Browned butter (beurre noisette) provides the richness as only the whites of the eggs are used in this recipe. Commonly used in French cooking, beurre noisette literally translates to hazelnut butter. To make it, all you do is heat up butter in a saucepan until the milk and butterfat solids separate. The milk solids slowly turn brown as it fries in the butterfat and when they do, a warm nutty fragrance appears and you should quickly take it off the heat before it burns.

I’m not someone who likes to eat cake batter but even I was tempted with the intoxicatingly mixture of roasted hazelnut, vanilla and brown butter. If you’re short on time or feeling lazy, you can use hazelnut meal but for this cake, it’s really worth roasting raw hazelnuts and removing the skins yourself. The praline like fragrance that pervades the room will be your first reward.

Vanilla flecked hazelnut-brown butter cake batter

Hazelnut, vanilla and brown-butter flecked cake batter

The recipe is from Sunday Supper at Lucques, written by Suzanne Goin, a wonderful cookbook I bought over a year ago. The vegetable recipes are especially good. This particular cake has been blogged about many times but most people don’t seem to serve it as in the original book. Smitten Kitchen blogged about it years ago, blanketing with chocolate ganache and that seems to be the most popular way to serve it.

Rising in the oven. Don't overbake!

Rising in the oven. Don’t overbake!

The original recipe asks you to cut the cake into six wedges to serve but even for 8 people, it was a hefty serving. I’d estimate that each cake more realistically provides 8-12 servings. Forget chocolate, pair it with the sauteed pears as per Suzanne’s cookbook. Butter, sugar and vanilla seeds form a light salted caramel around the pears.

You can tell it’s not an ultra pretty cake but don’t let looks deceive you. I’m pretty sure I heard some gasps when I served it to my Winter Feast guests and Suzanne Goin insisted on having it as her wedding cake. I think that says it all.

Fragrant like hazelnut praline

Fragrant like hazelnut praline

Feeds: 8-12 people
Start cooking: 2 hours before serving

Hazelnut-brown butter cake with sauteed pears
Adapted from Sunday Supper at Lucques by Suzanne Goin (Buy it! Tis’ good.)


  • 140 grams (5 ounces) x whole hazelnuts
  • 225 grams x unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon melted butter for the pan
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 170 grams x icing sugar (confectioners’ sugar)
  • 43 grams x all-purpose flour
  • 5 extra-large egg whites
  • 3 tablespoons x white (granulated) sugar
  • 1 cup x heavy cream, for serving
    Sauteed pears

  • 1 kg x Barlett pears
  • 1/2 vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons x unsalted butter
  • 1/4 teaspoon x sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons x granulated sugar
  • 50 grams x crushed toasted hazelnuts (optional)


  1. Preheat your oven to 180 C (350 F). If your hazelnuts are not blanched, place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and toast hazelnuts for 12 minutes until fragrant – otherwise, skip this step. Remove your hazelnuts from the oven and place directly onto a clean teatowel. Wrap the nuts and rub between the towel to get the brown skins off as best you can.
  2. Brush a 25cm (10 inch) pan with melted butter. Cut a circle of baking/parchment paper out and line the cake tin.
  3. Split half a vanilla bean and scrape your knife down the length to get the seeds. Add the vanilla seeds and vanilla pod with the butter into a saucepan and cook over medium heat for 6 minutes, stirring until the butter turns brown and smells nutty.
  4. Take the saucepan off the heat, remove the remains of the vanilla pod and cool.
  5. Place the toasted hazelnuts and icing sugar in a food processor and finely grind. Transfer to a large mixing bowl. Add flour and gently mix through.
  6. Whip egg whites with 3 tablespoons of sugar until stiff peaks form. Test by turning whisk upside down and the peaks should hold.
  7. Gently alternate folding the egg whites and brown butter mixture into the dry hazelnut-sugar mixture. Make sure you get all the brown nutty bits in the melted butter.
  8. Pour the batter into the pan and gently level the top and place into the preheated oven.
  9. Bake cake for 35-40 minutes until a skewer comes out clean.
  10. Cool on a rack for 30 minutes before inverting to peel off paper base. Gently place cake onto a platter. If you are serving it later that day or the next day, when cool, cover with cling wrap so it doesn’t dry out.
  11. Prepare sauteed pears by cutting pears in half and then into inch thick wedges, leaving the peel and core in place.
  12. Split the remaining vanilla bean half and scrape knife down to get seeds. Add half the vanilla seeds to 1 tablespoon of butter in a saute pan or non stick frying pan and melt over medium heat until foaming.
  13. We’ll saute the pears in two batches. Place half the pears into the butter. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt and one tablespoon of sugar and let the pears cook on each side for 3 minutes.
  14. Turn the pears over and cook on the other side for a further 2 minutes, basting with the vanilla butter mixture. Remove when pears are tender but not mushy and keep warm.
  15. Continue the remaining pear wedges with one tablespoon of butter, remaining vanilla seeds, sugar and salt until tender.
  16. Cut the cake into wedges and serve with 3 pear wedges, making sure to pour over some of the caramlised juices.
  17. Serve cake and pears with heavy cream (whipped if desired). I added some crushed toasted hazelnuts to add crunch but this is completely optional.
Some roasted hazelnuts add some crunch

Some roasted hazelnuts add some crunch