How to Make a Candied Hazelnut Cake Topper

Follow along as Pastry chef Zoe Francois shares her technique for making candied hazelnuts then use them to top her impressive Triple-Layer Hazelnut Spice Cake.

With this candied hazelnut cake topper decoration, any dessert will look worthy of a baking competition. It only takes four ingredients (including water!) and a little practice working with a homemade caramel sauce to create this dramatic dessert garnish.

Triple-Layer Hazelnut Spice Cake cut into on platter
Triple-Layer Hazelnut Spice Cake with candied hazelnut cake topper.

Gather Ingredients and Prep Your Space

The four ingredients you'll need to create this stunning dessert topper are:

  • Hazelnuts (8-16, or as many as you want to create)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp. light corn syrup

To make these candied hazelnuts with their dramatic length, you'll need to do a bit of setup:

  • Set a heavy cutting board or 15×11-inch baking pan along the edge of a counter. (Skewers will wedge under the cutting board while candied hazelnuts set.)
  • Place a sheet parchment paper on floor below your cutting board to catch caramel drips.
removing skins from hazelnuts on white dish towel with brown stripes
Using a kitchen towel rub skins off hazelnuts.

Step 1: Prep the Hazelnuts

For the richest flavor, start by toasting your hazelnuts. While they're still hot from the oven, rub hazelnuts in a clean, dry kitchen towel until the skins come loose to get rid of the papery skins. Then, while the nuts are still a bit warm, gently twist a wooden skewer into each hazelnut. This is where it could pay off to toast a few extra hazelnuts in case you get a little too aggressive with inserting the skewer.

Dipping skewered hazelnut into caramel sauce in saucepan on wooden board
Three Kings Cake

Step 2: Make the Caramel Sauce

Here's the trickiest part of the process: making the caramel sauce to just the right thickness. In a medium saucepan stir together sugar, the water, and corn syrup. Use a pastry brush dipped in water to brush down any sugar crystals on sides of saucepan as mixture comes to boil. Bring mixture to boiling over medium-high without stirring. Reduce heat to medium. Once mixture starts to caramelize (about 15 minutes), remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Caramel tip: Caramel thickens as it cools. It's ready when it coats and drips from the hazelnuts. If the caramel is just running right off, wait 1 minute then try again.

Hazelnuts on wooden skewers covered in caramel dripping onto the ground
Three Kings Cake

Step 3: Dip Hazelnuts

Dip a skewered hazelnut into the caramel and lift to see if caramel is ready. When the caramel coats the hazelnut and drips off in long strands, secure the end of the skewer under your cutting board, letting caramel drip onto the parchment paper below. Repeat with remaining hazelnuts. Let stand until caramel is set, about 15 minutes.

If caramel strands are longer than you want, break off the ends to your desired length.

Step 4: Top Your Dessert!

You made it to the jaw-dropping finale! Remove one skewer at a time from under your cutting board, and gently twist the skewer to release the candied nut. Arrange the toppers on your cake, frosted bars, or other desserts in need of impressive decoration.

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