Italian hazelnut cake is super easy to make, yet it tastes elegant, rich, hearty, and comforting. Great on its own, but just fantastic with a spoonful of homemade chocolate hazelnut spread.
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As much as I love looking at and making fancy layer cakes for birthdays, on a day-to-day basis, I usually gravitate toward humble-looking simple cakes that come together easily. Yes, I’m saying “on a day-to-day basis,” because I do believe you shouldn’t wait for special occasions to bake a cake. In fact, the most satisfying cakes are often the ones you make “just because.”
It’s no secret I love cakesthat useground nuts: nuts add a lovely, mellow flavor to cakes and a really nice crumbly texture that stays moist for days—improves, even. Also, any trick I can use to increase the nutritional value of cake so it’s OK to turn it into a snack: I’m in.
One of my go-to nut-based cakes is Torta di Nocciole, or Italian Hazelnut Cake. This humble-looking cake originates from Piedmont, a Northern Italian province that is believed to produce some of the best hazelnuts in the world. Piedmont is where a quintessential Italian flavor was created—gianduja, an addictive combination of chocolate and hazelnuts you can use in fine chocolates, gelato, spreads, and much more—and also the birthplace of the world-famous chocolate hazelnut spread, Nutella.
Torta di Nocciole is rich-tasting, hearty, and comforting. In Piedmont, hazelnut cake is a fall and winter treat: a way to use up excess nuts at the end of the season, according to Italy-based food writer Emiko Davies. I make Italian Hazelnut Cake year-round, though: while it’s true that it may not be the best cake to serve on a hot summer day ( were created for such days!), I wouldn’t ever say no to a slice topped with gelato, a spoonful of whipped cream, and some fresh fruits.
Keep this Italian Hazelnut Cake in your arsenal of go-to recipes: Torta di Nocciole is an effortlessly elegant dessert that looks humble but makes everyone swoon and ask for more. Enjoy a slice as is for an instant mood-lifting effect, or top it with homemade chocolate and hazelnut spread or gianduja ganache or when you want to impress.
Tips for Making Italian Hazelnut Cake
Always store unused nuts in the fridge: Nuts are expensive, so you should make sure to treat them with extra care. All nuts will go bad when they’re not properly stored, but hazelnuts are especially sensitive to spoilage. Nuts will turn rancid within a couple of weeks when stored at room temperature (such as in a pantry.) You shouldn’t store nuts in the freezer, which is too harsh an environment. Refrigerator freezers are not made for lengthy storage and cause freezer burn, which damages food and renders it inedible. Unused nuts should be stored in airtight containers in the refrigerator: this will keep them fresh for months.
Measure out hazelnuts properly: Hazelnuts vary in size, so it can be hard to get the quantity right when trying to fit them into a measuring cup. To properly measure out whole roasted hazelnuts in a measuring cup, fit only as many as you can to fill the cup without heaping it. When looking at the side of the cup, you shouldn’t see nuts bulging over the rim of the cup: in fact, you should be able to set a square of paper flat over the cup. The most precise way of measuring nuts is by weight, which is why I’m also providing the weight measurements in the recipe below.
Switch up the extra flavorings: Because I’m a born citrus lover and orange and hazelnut is one of my favorite flavor combinations, I like to add orange zest in this Italian Hazelnut Cake. The sweet aroma of orange zest adds an extra dimension to the flavor and texture of this cake, which only gets better as days pass. You can play with the extra flavors you use in this Italian Hazelnut Cake, though. Here are some ideas to replace the orange zest:
1 tbsp (15 ml) finely grated lemon zest (as recommended by the Italian food bible, The Silver Spoon), OR
1/4 cup (60 m / 43 g) finely chopped semisweet chocolate, folded into the finished batter (as recommended by Italian food legend Lidia Bastianich), OR
2 tbsp (30 ml / 10 g) sifted cocoa powder, whisked into the flour and hazelnut mixture.
Make it ahead: Italian Hazelnut Cake is sturdy and gets better with age, so it’s an excellent make-ahead dessert. Once the cake is completely cool, either store it under a cake dome for up to 3 days, or wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 month.
Place the flour, cooled roasted and peeled hazelnuts, and orange zest in the bowl of a food processor. Process until the hazelnuts are finely ground. Set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs, one at a time, beating well to incorporate before adding the next. With the mixer on low speed, add the flour and hazelnut mixture and the milk in two additions, ending with the milk. Once the ingredients are fully incorporated, beat on medium-high speed for a few seconds.
Transfer the cake batter to the prepared baking pan. Bake for about 45 minutes, or until the Italian hazelnut cake is golden brown, puffed up, and a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few crumbs attached to it. Transfer to a rack and let cool to room temperature (the cake will deflate to an almost perfect flat shape as it cools down). Remove from the pan and carefully peel off the parchment paper from the bottom of the cake.
STORAGE: Store this Italian hazelnut cake under a cake dome for up to 3 days. You can also wrap it tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to 1 week, or freeze for up to 1 month.
HOW TO ROAST AND PEEL HAZELNUTS: Spread raw hazelnuts over a baking sheet and bake at 350°F (170°C) for 15 minutes, giving the tray a good shake every five minutes. When the skin of the hazelnuts is shiny and crackled, remove from the oven and transfer to a clean dish towel. Close the towel up into a bundle and rub the hazelnuts against one another vigorously to remove the skin. Open the towel and pick up the peeled hazelnuts. Some bits of skin will remain and that’s ok, simply make sure to discard all the loose papery bits. Refrigerate the roasted and peeled hazelnuts in an airtight container until needed.
FLAVOR SUBSTITUTION IDEAS: Try replacing the orange zest by one of the following options.
1 tbsp (15 ml) finely grated lemon zest, OR
1/4 cup (60 ml) cooled espresso, mixed into the wet ingredients after the eggs, OR
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