The cake part of this recipe is simply...a piece of cake. (Sorry I couldn't resist...too many years of living with my Dad and now my husband.) You simply follow the directions on your box mix of choice. So that part was great.
Also easy to make was the icing. Simply whip the ingredients with your mixer until well mixed.
The crunch however left me baffled. According to Giada's directions you should first toast the hazelnuts. That part wasn't hard. Just put them on a baking sheet and bake at 350 for 8-12 minutes. Watch to make sure they aren't burning and if they seem to be take them out! After toasting the nuts you are supposed to make a candy of sorts. I am NOT a candy maker so when her directions said
"Combine the sugar and water in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Stir the sugar mixture until dissolved. Bring to a boil and let cook until the sugar is light brown, about 8 minutes. Let the bubbles subside then pour the caramelized sugar over the nuts."
....well that's what I did. 3 times. The first time I thought the sugar was light brown so I poured it over the mixture. I waited 20 minutes or so and there was NO hardened happening. So I washed it off the hazelnuts because I didn't have anymore! At this point I should have re-toasted but I didn't....so my nuts were a tiny bit soggy. Oops. The second time I burnt the caramel. It changes from done to burnt SO quickly and unless you are experienced you probably won't know the difference. The problem with this is the mixture is HOT HOT HOT. Like seriously hot. So you can't test it out or you will burn both your tongue and your finger. Trust me.
So at this point I've now poured a burnt caramel mix over the nuts and it hardens immediately. Sigh. I think I've been working on the cake for about 90 minutes at this point but I was determined to have a gorgeous birthday cake for Peter! So I soaked that burnt mixture and retrieved the hazelnuts. Again, I should have re-toasted but there was just not time for that. At this point I googled how to caramelize sugar and got some fabulous tips. Thankfully with my tips the third time I was able to make a successful candy mixture. However this time I was so worried about pouring burnt caramel over the nuts that I waited too long to pour it out and so 1/3 of it was stuck in the pan. I decided I would just make it work with less candy.
So at this point I have my cake and my icing. I crumbled the caramel into the icing and iced the cake. It was really pretty!
Honestly it tasted very good. I'm not a baker so I was happy that the actual cake was moist and tasted cook. The icing was fabulous...I'll definitely be using the mascarpone/powdered sugar combination in the future. However! The caramel "melted" into the icing leaving weird brown looking patches after the first few hours. So this is a cake you'd want to make and serve on the same day. It also didn't keep well. You have to refrigerate since the icing is made of heavy cream and cheese but once it was in the fridge the icing basically melted down the cake. It just wasn't pretty anymore.
All in all I would make the cake again but only if I were taking it somewhere immediately and had enough people to serve so that I didn't have leftovers. The flavour combination was great so it might be nice to try as a sheet cake and I think the icing might work better that way as well.
If I haven't scared you away here are the ingredients needed for the cake, icing and crunch.
1 box cake mix
1 cup hazelnuts toasted
2/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup water
2 8 oz containers mascarpone cheese
1 cup heavy cream
3/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract