If you were to ask Erlend, my boyfriend, he’d probably tell you that dating a food blogger isn’t easy. There are always mountains upon mountains of dishes, frequent unexpected runs to the supermarket to pick up forgotten ingredients, weeks of eating variations of the same thing until the recipe is declared just right, and of course, the many, many uncomfortable minutes waiting to eat hangrily hungrily while the food is being styled and photographed. Not to mention that sweets and desserts start to get old after a while, especially if there’s always something lying around.
There are perks too though. We arrived back from Europe the day before the 4th of July weekend, which also happened to be Erlend’s birthday weekend. Erlend had no expectations of a big celebration — we were jetlagged and exhausted, and I was getting that glum, post-vacation depression that comes from the knowledge that I was heading back to work on Monday. We agreed to skip the grilling, the fireworks, and birthday celebrations until next weekend, instead opting for cheap Chinese in the neighborhood to mark the occasion in a low-key way.
But I had a surprise for Erlend. The weekend before we headed out to Europe, I’d baked a chocolate hazelnut cake (a cake that he’s been requesting I make for years now), wrapped it carefully in several layers of plastic wrap, and stuck it in the freezer without his knowledge. Yesterday morning, with jetlag on my side, I woke up at 4:30 in the morning and quietly, stealthily whipped up the accompanying Nutella buttercream frosting and the marzipan dinosaurs, and stuck the entire thing back in the freezer unceremoniously. I crawled back to bed and fell asleep almost immediately.
Later that morning, as Erlend opened the freezer to dig out his coffee beans, he was greeted by the cheery, tricerotopped cake. “What’s this?”
“Surprise!” I said. “You didn’t think I’d really let you have a birthday without making you a cake, did you?”
Thus, one of the perks of dating a food blogger: no matter how exhausted we are or inconvenient it is, we’ll always ensure that there’s never a birthday that goes by without homemade cake.
But then again, after I surprised him with the cake, I ordered him to pose for pictures with the cake in my apron (more on that later!) for about half an hour before we actually cut into the damn thing and ate it.
But shhh, never mind that. Because really, what I’m trying to say is this:
Happy Birthday, Erlend! Thanks for being alive another year to help with the dishes, photos, and ingredient runs. I say that jokingly, but I mean it, really — I know I’m a pain in the ass sometimes. But having you in my life has made things easier and better, and for that, I’ll gladly make you a cake everyday.
Before I leave you with the recipe, let’s circle back to my earlier note about the apron. Erlend is graciously modeling my much-beloved apron from the Portland Apron Company (of which you can see a full picture of on my Instagram, as well as in the site listing). One of my favorite things about Portland, my former home, is the abundance of local, high-quality, handcrafted goods available there from pioneering, entrepreneurial creative folk. Portland Apron Company is no exception — all Portland Apron Company aprons are designed and are made-to-order by one incredibly talented lady, Erika Kelly. Her aprons (made of all-organic material, nonetheless) stand within the ranks of designer aprons like Hedley & Bennett, Fog Linen, and all others mentioned in this New York Times article. Aprons. They’re hot right now.
As a special treat, all Hummingbird High readers will get free shipping on any order from Portland Apron Company shipped within the USA throughout the month of July. Just use the code: Hummingbird
Some baker’s notes:
- Hazelnut meal is available online (I like the Bob’s Red Mill variety), or, you can make your own! Simply run 1 cup raw hazelnuts in a food processor and process until they reach a texture similar to cornmeal; be careful and watch the hazelnuts to make sure you don’t over process them, or you might end up with hazelnut butter. If you’re having trouble finding hazelnut meal, you can also just substitute the amount needed with all-purpose flour to make a plain old (but still perfectly delicious) chocolate cake.
- A note on freezing cakes — cakes freeze really well, and can keep in the freezer for an incredibly long time if packed properly (though in my personal opinion, they tend to lose their best flavor and texture around the one month mark). To freeze a cake, bake it, cool it fully, and wrap it in several layers (at least 2) of plastic wrap to make sure that every surface is covered. Once the cakes have been covered, add a final layer of aluminum foil wrap to prevent freezer burn and any freezer smells from leeching into the cake. And there’s no need to defrost the layers before lathering on the frosting — cakes are actually easier to frost when they’re cold as the freezing process helps keeps the crumbs on the cake. After frosting, simply keep the cake at room temperature for a few hours before serving.
Chocolate Hazelnut Dinosaur Cake
- dinosaur cookie cutter (or any cookie cutter of your choice, really!)
For the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
- 1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup hazelnut meal
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup natural unsweetened cocoa powder
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup freshly brewed, strong hot coffee
For the Nutella Buttercream Frosting and Marzipan Dinosaurs:
(makes around 4 cups, enough for 1 cake)
- 1 1/4 cups (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3/4 cup Nutella
- 4 ounces 70% cacao chocolate, melted and cooled
- 3 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
- 3 tablespoons whole milk
- 2 ounces marzipan
- food coloring of your choice
For the Chocolate Hazelnut Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 (F). Prepare two 8 inch round cake pans by spraying generously with cooking spray and lining the bottom of each pan with parchment paper circles. Spray the top of each parchment circle and set aside.
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour, 1/2 cup hazelnut meal, 2 cups granulated sugar, 3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 1 teaspoon baking powder, and 1 teaspoon kosher salt. Mix on low speed until thoroughly combined.
- In a separate medium bowl, combine 1 cup buttermilk, 1/2 cup oil, 2 large eggs, and 1 tablespoon vanilla. Whisk together gently until just combined.
- With the mixer on its lowest speed, slowly add the wet ingredients (from the 3rd step) to the dry ingredients (from the 2nd step). Add 1 cup hot coffee. Continue stirring on low speed until just combined, before stopping the mixer and using a rubber spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and mix into the batter. The batter will seem really liquidy, but this is normal — don't panic and trust the recipe!
- Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake in the preheated oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until a skewer inserted into the center of each cake comes out with a few crumbs and the tops of each cake bounce with a spongelike texture when poked gently with your finger. When the cakes are ready, remove from the oven and let the cakes cool in the pans on a wire rack for 30 minutes, before turning out to cool. Remove parchment paper and allow the cakes to cool completely before frosting.
For the Nutella Buttercream Frosting
- In the bowl of a freestanding electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine 1 1/4 cups unsalted butter and 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt. Beat on medium-high speed for a minimum of 5 minutes — at the end of the beating period, the butter will have lightened in color and have a fluffy texture.
- With the mixture still on medium-high speed, add 3/4 cup Nutella all at once and continue beating for another 2 minutes.
- After 2 minutes, stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the side of the bowl and the paddle. Turn the mixer back on to medium speed and slowly drizzle in 4 ounces melted chocolate.
- Once the melted chocolate has been fully incorporated, turn the mixer speed down to its lowest setting. Add 3 cups confectioners’ sugar one tablespoon at a time, until the mixture has lightened up considerably. Once the confectioners sugar has been completely added, turn the mixer speed back up to medium-high and drizzle in 3 tablespoons whole milk. Continue beating for another minute until creamy and spreadable.
For the Marzipan Dinosaurs
- Use your hands to knead a couple drops of yellow food coloring into 2 ounces marzipan until the color has fully incorporated throughout the marzipan.
- Sandwich the colored marzipan between two layers of wax paper, and use a rolling pin to roll out the marzipan to a rectangle around a 1/8-inch thick. Use your dinosaur cookie cutter to cut out dinosaur shapes from the rolled out marzipan, and press the cutouts gently on to the cake.