Michael’s birthday was last weekend, and when I saw The Daring Bakers challenge for this month, I immediately announced what his birthday cake would be. “Whatever you want to do, Sweet Pea,” was his response. Thank goodness he’s so flexible about food!
And thank goodness for chocolate ganache because it not only tastes good, but it can hide a multitude of errors, though not all. I would have many things to be thankful for by the time I finished the cake!
I split the preparation over two days, making the cake, the praline paste, and the soaking syrup the first day; followed by the Swiss buttercream, whipping cream, apricot glaze, chocolate ganache, and the assembly. All in all, including time correcting mistakes, I estimate I spent 15 hours on this cake. It is a long recipe because there are seven distinct parts to make before putting it all together. It was delicious and quite rich, and I let out a huge sigh when it was done. Thank goodness the genoise (cake) and ganache turned out near perfect, because other parts were much more of a challenge due to mishaps along the way.
- Tried to simmer some water in the skillet to help clean the sugar off after making the praline, but burned the skillet instead.
- Burned out the motor in the food processor (15 years of good service) while making the praline paste, and Michael had to run out and buy one in the middle of cake day.
- Overcooked the egg whites for the buttercream and made scrambled eggs (with sugar).
- Got distracted by boys running amok in the kitchen and accidentally put all of the praline paste into the buttercream instead of just 1/3 cup. Talk about a sugar rush!
- Overmixed the whipped cream and made butter. Really. Had to start over. (Note: The butter is in a bowl in my frig, ready for my morning toast.)
- Bob the Builder (oldest son) picked up the top layer of the cake with his thumb and forefinger, and it fell apart completely. Patched it up and hoped the apricot glaze would act like mortar. (see photo below)
Things were not looking good at this point, and I figured Michael would want to make his own birthday cakes from now on. The top layer had canyon-sized crevices and whipped cream (the second batch) was coming up through the cracks like lava. I tried to use the apricot glaze to fill in the cracks as best I could, but I ended up with a couple pieces of fruit sticking up through the ganache. I wanted to pipe the ribbons as shown in the cookbook, but I did not have the right tip and ended up doing stars instead.
I think the story of this cake qualifies for my Top Ten Culinary Flops (So Far) post! In spite of the lumpy appearance, Michael really enjoyed it and thanked me for spending so much time just to make him a “fantastic birthday cake.” Now that’s a great husband!
The recipe comes from Great Cakes by Carole Walter, and I would say this is indeed a delicious cake. I stuck to the recipe (except when adding five times the amount of praline paste), and used Grand Marnier and Jamaican dark rum for extra flavor. Thanks to Chris of Mele Cotte for hosting this month and choosing the challenge. To see all of the gateaus, visit The Daring Bakers Blogroll.
I’m happy to report that this is my first anniversary as a Daring Baker! It’s been a fun and very educational year, and I have all the great DBs to thank for that!
Previous Daring Bakers Challenges
Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream
stand mixer with paddle and wire whisk attachments (2 bowls are helpful)
10″ x 2″ cake pan, greased and floured
small, heavy sauce pan
medium sauce pan
medium glass bowl
All the Parts
1 filbert (hazelnut) genoise/cake (can be made ahead)
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with dark rum (can be made ahead)
1 recipe praline paste (can be made ahead)
1 recipe Swiss buttercream (can be made ahead)
1/2 cup (heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks)
1 recipe apricot glaze (can be made ahead)
1 recipe ganache glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons filberts (hazelnuts), toasted and coarsely chopped
Filbert Genoise – Ingredients
1-1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 tablespoons cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided 1/4 & 3/4 cups
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon grated lemon rind
5 large egg whites
1/4 cup warm, clarified butter (100-110° F)
1. Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350° F, Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.
2. Using a food processor, process nuts, cake flour, and cornstarch for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. You’ll know the nuts are ready when they begin to gather together around the sides of the bowl. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.
3. Put the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, and beat until thick and light in color, about 3-4 minutes on med-high speed. Slowly, add ¾ cup of sugar. It is best to do so by adding a tablespoon at a time, taking about 3 minutes for this step. When finished, the mixture should be like a ribbon. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. Remove and set aside.
4. Place egg whites in a large, clean bowl of the electric mixer with the whisk attachment and beat on medium speed, until soft peaks. Increase to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
5. Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.
6. Pour the warm butter in a liquid measure cup (or a spouted container). * It must be a deep bottom bowl and work must be fast.* Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer (or use your hand – working quickly) and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time – folding it carefully for about 40 folds. Be sure to exclude any large chunks/pieces of nuts. Again, work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. When all but about 2 tablespoons of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter. Then, with the remaining nut meal, fold the batter to incorporate, about 13 or so folds.
With a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. **If collected butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! It will impede the cake rising while baking.
7. Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. You’ll know the cake is done when it is springy to the touch and it separates itself from the side of the pan. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a cake rack sprayed with nonstick coating, removing the pan. Cool the cake completely.
If not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. If freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.
Sugar Syrup – Ingredients
1 cup water
1/4 cup sugar
2 tablespoons dark rum or orange flavored liqueur
In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove from heat, add the liqueur. Cool slightly before using on the cake. Can be made in advance and stored covered in the refrigerator. Warm slightly before using.
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers.
1 cup (4-1/2 ounces) hazelnuts, toasted/skinless
2/3 cup sugar
1 tablespoon corn syrup (optional)
1. Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter.
2. Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. Remember, this is an extremely hot mixture.
3. Then pour onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle. Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container in a cool dry place. Do not refrigerate.
This method is known as the dry method of melting sugar, though it is sometimes problematic for beginners. You can add corn syrup to the mixture, which will prevent sucrose molecules from collecting and making the brittle grainy.
Swiss Buttercream – Ingredients
4 large egg whites
3/4 cup sugar
1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1-1/2 -2 tablespoons Grand Marnier or liqueur of your choice
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. Place the egg whites in the mixer bowl and beat with the whisk attachment until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). Set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. Then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoon of sugar at a time over a minutes time. Continue beating 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. The mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows.
2. Remove from pan and with either the paddle or whisk attachment, beat the egg whites and sugar on med-high until its a thick, cool meringue – about 5-7 minutes. *Do not overbeat*. Set aside.
3. Place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using the paddle attachment, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. *Do not overbeat or the butter will become too soft.*
4. On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 tablespoons at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.
5. Refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.
Wait! My buttercream won’t come together! Reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. Be careful and do not overbeat. The mixture will look broken with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.
Wait! My buttercream is too soft! Chill the buttercream in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes and rewhip. If that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl– making sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount, so make sure is cool and smooth. On low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 tablespoon at a time.
Refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or can be frozen for up to 6 months. If freezing, store in 2 16-ounce plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.
Praline Buttercream – Ingredients
1 recipe Swiss buttercream
1/3 cup praline paste
1-1/2 – 2 tablespoons Jamaican rum (optional)
Blend 1/2 cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.
Apricot Glaze – Ingredients
2/3 cup thick apricot preserves (We used a triple mix of apricot, peach, and passionfruit.)
1 tablespoon water
1. In a small, heavy saucepan, bring the water and preserves to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. If the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed.
2. Remove from heat and, using a strainer, press the mixture through the mesh and discard any remnants. With a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. If the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.
Good for one 10-inch cake.
Ganache Glaze – Ingredients
6 ounces good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, Cointreau, or dark Jamaican rum (optional)
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 – 1 teaspoon hot water, if needed
1. Blend vanilla and liqueur/rum together and set aside.
2. Break the chocolate into 1-inch pieces and place in the basket of a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Transfer into a medium sized glass bowl and set aside.
3. Heat the cream and corn syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reached a gentle boil. Once to the gently boil, immediately and carefully pour over the chocolate. Leave it alone for one minute, then slowly stir and mix the chocolate and cream together until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. Carefully blend in vanilla mixture.
4. If the surface seems oily, add 1/2 – 1 teaspoon hot water. The glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. If it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake.
1. Cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. Divide the cake into 3 layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. Using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 3-4 tablespoons of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.
2. Spread the bottom layer with a 1/4-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with 1/2 of the whipped cream, leaving 1/4-inch border around the edge of the cake. Place the middle layer over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spreading with buttercream. Cover with the remaining whipped cream.
3. Moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. Gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. Refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.
4. Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-inch blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight. Cut a slight bevel at the top to help the glaze drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with warm apricot glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. Chill while you prepare the ganache.
5. Place a rack over a large shallow pan to catch the ganache drippings. Remove the gateau from the refrigerator and put it the rack. With a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about 10 inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s center. Move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. The ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. When the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (Work fast before setting starts.) Patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. Let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.
6. To garnish the cake, fit a 12 – 14-inch pastry bag with a #114 large leaf tip. Fill the bag with the reserved praline cream. Stating ½ inch from the outer edge of the cake, position the pastry tube at a 90 degree angle with the top almost touching the top of the cake. Apply pressure to the pastry bag, moving it slightly toward the center of the cake. As the buttercream flows on the cake, reverse the movement backward toward the edge of the cake and finish by pulling the bag again to the center. Stop applying pressure and press the bag downward, then quickly pull the tip up to break the flow of frosting. Repeat, making 12 leaves evenly spaced around the surface of the cake.
7. Make a second row of leaves on the top of the first row, moving the pastry bag about ¾ inch closer to the center. The leaves should overlap. Make a 3rd row, moving closer and closer to the center. Add a 4th row if you have the room. But, leave a 2-inch space in the center for a chopped filbert garnish. Refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. Remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving.
Leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. (And we actually think it tastes better if it sits for at least 24 hours, probably because it has time to really soak up all that Grand Marnier and rum.)
Source: adapted from Great Cakes, by Carole Walter