Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting

Need a cake for a special occasion? Make Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting. Topped with crunchy hazelnuts, it’s perfect for any celebration or milestone.

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting

Ah, stress baking. I haven’t done much of it since I left the bank. Not nearly the amount I was doing when I was still in banking. I think it’s a good thing – It’s not that I don’t still love to bake. I just don’t feel the need to constantly whip something up like I did before. But this past weekend, anxiety reared its ugly head, and in an effort to fight shutting down completely, I made cake.

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting

I could’ve cleaned the house (something that really needs to be done), I could’ve gotten the laundry done, I could’ve answered my stack of letters that’s beginning to pile up. No, when I get really super-stressed, or I feel anxiety taking hold, I get in the kitchen. Baking especially requires focus, and it helps keep my mind at bay. Which isn’t to say that I stopped feeling that twisted knot in the pit of my stomach or stopped feeling like I needed to flee – As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed that my anxieties will manifest themselves in other fun ways. My allergies are seriously out of control right now – It’s spring, that’s nothing really new. But my face has broken out in the mother of all eczema flare-ups. My eyelids are peeling. My eyelids. I haven’t slept well in about a week. I’ve been fighting the urge to just start crying, because I’ve been scared.

What brought all this on? Well, you might remember back at the beginning of the year, I mentioned I would be needing surgery. Nothing major, just an outpatient procedure that’s common enough, I know about 5 or 6 people who’ve had it done. Still, I have never had any other surgeries aside from getting my wisdom teeth out when I was 18. I had a panic attack the night before the procedure. I’d been fighting that all weekend, because I was due to have this done on Tuesday. From what I’d been told, my giving birth to the bambino with no drugs and no sleep for the prior 24 hours was a bigger deal than this.

Still, I often worry about what the bambino calls the “what ifs?” and while half my brain told me everything would be fine, the other half of my brain kept whispering “What if it’s not?” So to try and shut that half up, I made cake. Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting.

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting

I bought a jar of instant espresso powder awhile ago that I hadn’t bothered opening yet, and I love the pairing of chocolate and coffee together. This doesn’t make the cake taste like coffee – It just deepens the chocolate flavor. Of course, I love coffee, so I wouldn’t have been at all displeased if this had more of a mocha flavor to it. But it doesn’t. It’s just a really good chocolate cake.

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting

I would advise you toast your hazelnuts before topping the cake with them. I didn’t bother, and Jay was the only one who ate them. The bambino and I both picked ours off – The raw nut flavor overpowered the rest of the cake (in my opinion). The recipe reflects that change.

I am happy to say that my procedure went off without a hitch – With the exception of my coming thisclose to passing out once I got back to my room. I have random fainting spells, and I suspect it was either due to the pain meds not having kicked in quite yet, or the fact that I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink for 12 hours, so I was seriously dehydrated. Luckily it was in a controlled environment, and both the nurse and anesthesiologist were right there. As was Jay, who said that my blood pressure dropped enough that the machine that goes “Ping!” registered me as a “Code Blue.” Eek. But the nurse told him (and neither of us knows whether or not this is true) sometimes the machine is more sensitive than it should be or gives off false readings. I think that was her trying to reassure him (but I don’t recall having heard her say that, since I was completely out of it).

But all is well and I am home recovering. It’s kind of nice having the down time, especially with work being so crazy-busy still. I can catch up on my letters (I don’t think I’m going to complete my Write_On goal, sadly), my reading, and even some shows (I watch stuff online since we don’t have regular TV). And I can enjoy cake while doing all of the above.

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting

Chocolate Espresso Cake with Frangelico Browned Butter Frosting


For the Cake:

  • 2 1/4 C flour
  • 1 tsp. baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp. baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp. salt
  • 2 Tbsp. instant espresso powder
  • 2/3 C unsalted butter, room temperature
  • 1 3/4 C sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3-oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled slightly*
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 1/4 C water

For the Frosting:

  • 1/2 C unsalted butter
  • 4 C powdered sugar
  • 2-oz. heavy cream
  • 1-oz. Frangelico
  • 1 tsp. vanilla bean paste
  • 1 C chopped, toasted hazelnuts


Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 9x2-inch round baking pans, and set aside. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the chocolate and vanilla, scraping the bowl to make sure it is all combined.
On low speed, alternately add the flour-espresso mixture with the water, beginning and ending with the flour.
Divide the batter equally between the two pans, and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until testers inserted in the center of each cake come out clean. Cool the cakes on wire racks for 10 minutes. Carefully remove each cake from its pan and cool completely on wire racks.
In a small, preferably light-colored saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Continue cooking until it foams, and begin to whisk. Continue cooking and whisking until the foam subsides. The butter will begin to darken and smell nutty. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before placing the butter in a heat-proof bowl.
Add in the powdered sugar gradually, and beat on medium speed with an electric mixer. Add the cream, Frangelico, and vanilla bean paste, and beat the mixture on high speed for 1-2 minutes. Cover if not using immediately.
To toast the hazelnuts, if using, place them in a small skillet. Heat over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the nuts are golden and warmed. Remove from the heat and allow to cool (they will continue cooking).
To assemble the cake, place on of the layers on a plate. Place about 3/4 C of the frosting on the cake, and using an offset spatula, spread over top of the cake. Carefully place the second layer on top. Frost the entire cake with a thin layer of frosting, then refrigerate for 20-30 minutes to set the frosting. Frost the cake with the remaining frosting, then top with the toasted hazelnuts, lightly pressing them into the frosting.


*If you don't have baking chocolate, combine 3 Tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder with 1 Tbsp. light olive oil or vegetable oil for each ounce needed.

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