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Holiday dessert recipe: Chocolate hazelnut cake

Crepe cake layered with chocolate hazelnut spread.

Crepe cake layered with chocolate hazelnut spread. Credit: Marge Perry

Gingerbread cookies are a blast to decorate, and they are a sight to behold, but they aren’t exactly a dessert we long to eat. So while we are creating all new holiday traditions this year, here’s one for you: a dessert the whole family can build together—and actually want to eat.

The elements of this glorious crepe cake may all be made in advance. (Of course, you may have to hide said elements from snacking stay-at-homers, because they are all enticing in their own right.)

Make the crepes as far as five days ahead; stack them on a plate, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. (Stick them in the back of the fridge, far from hungry eyes.) The filling—oh, the filling! It is like homemade Nutella, but better. If you are not a fan of hazelnuts, make this with almonds, peanuts or cashews. Again, it can be done a couple of days ahead, but just try not to think about how good it would be spread on your toast in the morning.

The candied hazelnut topping is a job well-suited for a trustworthy teen. The drizzling of the sugar syrup is not for young ones, as a little slip can cause a bad burn. But it does give creative leeway for the inner Jackson Pollack, so let someone have a little fun with it.

For the grand finale, you can all gather ‘round the kitchen counter and begin the process of spreading the crepes with the chocolate nut mixture and stacking them on top of each other. You will build this cake much as you all have built your home and family together: piece by piece, with love and laughter and perhaps a bit of bickering along the way. And in the end, you will gaze upon your masterpiece and devour it with pride and passion.

Chocolate Hazelnut Crepe Cake

Crepes

3 cups milk, at room temperature

8 large eggs, at room temperature

8 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1/3 cup sugar

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

Additional melted butter for the skillet

1. Make the crepes: Whisk together the milk, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla extract, nutmeg and salt in a bowl. Whisk in the flour until smooth; cover with plastic wrap and chill 30 minutes or overnight.

2. Heat a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium and brush lightly with the melted butter. Pour 1/3 cup of the batter into the skillet, tilting pan to spread the batter evenly. Cook 2 minutes until the edges of the crepe start to brown; flip the crepe and cook 1 1/2 minutes longer. Transfer to a large plate. Repeat with remaining batter and additional butter, stacking the crepes as you go. Allow crepes to cool completely.

Candied hazelnuts

1/2 cup sugar

1/4 cup water

24 hazelnuts

1. Line a sheet pan with parchment.

2. Bring the sugar and water to a boil, stirring occasionally to help dissolve the sugar. Boil until the sugar turns a light amber color, about 5-6 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the hazelnuts; stirring coat. Use a fork to transfer the nuts to the baking sheet pan. Use a spoon to slowly (and carefully) drizzle the remaining caramel around the nuts. Let cool completely.

Chocolate-Hazelnut Spread

12 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

1 tablespoon hazelnut extract

1 cup finely ground hazelnuts

1. Place the chocolate in a medium bowl. Bring the heavy cream to a simmer in a small saucepan. Stir in the hazelnut extract; remove from the heat and pour cream over the chocolate. Let stand one minute; stir until the mixture is smooth. Chill at least 2 hours or overnight.

2. When you are ready to build the cake, beat the mixture with an electric mixer until it holds soft peaks. Add the ground hazelnuts and beat until it holds slightly firmer peaks.

Cake Assembly

Working one at a time, spread a crepe with a thin but complete layer of the chocolate mixture and place on the cake plate, chocolate facing up. Repeat, taking care to line the edges up as you add each crepe. Spread the top crepe with a thicker layer of the chocolate mixture.

Break up the hardened caramel drizzle and place it and the candied nuts on top of the final layer.

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