September 18, 2010

My Birthday Cake!

I've been making my own birthday cakes for years.  I'm sure it's partially due to some weird control issue I have but, it's mostly because I truly enjoy it.  If you know me, or if you've been reading for awhile, you probably know that I'm extremely indecisive.  From decisions about what color tank top I want to buy to decisions about what I want to do with my life, not much comes easily to me so of course, the decision about what kind of cake to make for my birthday was no exception.

I've had this Almond Praline Cake recipe bookmarked for YEARS knowing I'd love it because I love anything almond and anything praline.  The decision should have been easy.  However, a few days before my birthday I was thinking about chocolate cake and I couldn't get it out of my head.  Not wanting to make a boring old chocolate cake for my birthday, I decided to combine the two.  One layer of chocolate cake sandwiched between two layers of almond cake. 

While my inside-out oreo-esque cake was certainly pretty to look at and certainly tasty, my better judgment tells me that the chocolate layer didn't really add anything spectacular taste-wise.  AKA unless you want to create more work for yourself (as I obviously did) you'd be better off saving yourself the trouble and forgoing the chocolate layer*.

That being said, this cake was fabulous.  It turned out just the way I had hoped.  And I really can't say enough good things about the frosting-- it's definitely a recipe I'll using again and again.  Normally, I'm not a big frosting junkie.  In fact, making frosting usually kind of grosses me out; 3 sticks of butter? 4 cups of powdered sugar?  That's just not appealing.  Aside from that, I don't usually find the taste and texture of most frosting to be worth it as in- if you're going to be eating 1/4 stick of butter and 1/2 cup of sugar in one piece it better be damn good. Yes, I've come across good ones that have a ton of butter and sugar but for the most part, frosting is not something I get excited about. 

This frosting, however, was different.  First off, it's very simple.  With only 4 ingredients and a minimal amount of sugar, you wouldn't expect it to taste like much and, yes, it is subtle but it's also amazing.  It tastes like Häagen-Dazs vanilla ice cream and its more toned down flavor allows taste of the cake (or cakes, in my case) to shine through.  It's a perfect complement that is in no way overwhelming.  Also, for all your sugar fiends out there, you will not miss the sugar because this frosting does not taste lacking in any way. 

*The original 3 layer recipe can be found by clicking on the Bon Appétit link underneath the recipe title.  If you decide to use this, it should be noted that I made a few worthwhile changes such as decreasing the amount of almond paste, using 2% milk in the ganache, and decreasing the amount of praline and chocolate bark-- I would say you should stick with these changes though you'll want to do less of a reduction when making 3 layers as opposed to 2, as I've shown here.  I'm sorry if this is confusing... if you want to do this and have any questions please don't hesitate to email me or leave a comment!

Almond Praline Cake with Mascrapone Frosting
This entire recipe is cut down from the original because I chose to make 2 layers instead of 3.  Therefore, I did 2/3 of the ganache recipe, 2/3 of the cake recipe, 1/2 the praline, 2/3 of the frosting, and 1/2 the chocolate bark.
Adapted from Bon Appétit

Ganache filling
Standard.  If I were to make this again I might just make extra frosting and use that in the center.
3/4 cup 2% milk
6 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

Almond cake
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature (1/2 cup, 1 stick)
1.5 7-ounce packages almond paste,* crumbled into 1-inch pieces
5 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract  
2/3 teaspoon PLUS 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

Almond praline
Delicious.  My only complaint is that the nuts soften and the sugar melts when the cake is stored in the fridge.  I would keep extra on hand to sprinkle on top if you plan on eating the cake over multiple days.
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup whole almonds, toasted

For the mascarpone frosting
Amazing.  This is 2/3 the original recipe.  You might want to make more as I had juuuust enough after a lot of 'sampling'
1 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese
1 cups chilled heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2/3 tablespoon vanilla extract

For the chocolate bark
If you want to leave anything out, I would say leave this out-- but still do the chocolate drizzle on top for aesthetic reasons!
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped

For the ganache filling
Simmer milk and sugar in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add chocolate; whisk until smooth. Chill until just spreadable, about 6 hours.

For the almond cake
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1 1/2-inch-high sides. Line bottoms with parchment paper; dust pans with flour. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl. Using heavy-duty mixer, blend brown sugar and butter in large bowl. Beat in almond paste 1 piece at a time, then beat until smooth. (NOTE: I did this in the Cuisinart because I don't have a standing mixer and breaking up the almond paste by hand was not going to happen.  Breaking the paste into pieces and putting it in the microwave for 10 or so seconds is also helpful)  Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extracts. Fold in dry ingredients. Divide batter among pans; smooth tops. Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack.

For the almond praline
Line baking sheet with foil. Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until deep amber, swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush occasionally. Mix in nuts. Pour onto foil; cool. Peel foil off praline. Chop praline coarsely. DO AHEAD Praline can be made 1 day ahead; store airtight at room temperature.

For the mascrapone frosting 
Beat all ingredients in large bowl just to soft peaks (do not overbeat or mixture will curdle). 

For the chocolate bark
Line baking sheet with foil. Melt chocolate in small bowl set over saucepan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from over water. Drizzle all but 1 tablespoon chocolate over foil in thick (about 1-inch-wide) zigzag lines (chocolate will pool in spots). Sprinkle 3 tablespoons praline over chocolate; chill bark until firm, about 1 hour. 

Devils Food Cake
From David Lebovitz

4.5 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
3/4 cup cake flour (not self-rising)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/4 cup strong coffee
1/4 cup 2% milk

Adjust the oven rack to the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Butter a 9″ x 2″ cake pan and line the bottom with circles of parchment paper.

For the cake
Sift together the cocoa powder, cake flour, salt, baking soda, and baking powder in a bowl.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat together the butter and sugar about 5 minutes until smooth and creamy. Add the egg until fully incorporated. (If using a standing electric mixer, stop the mixer as necessary to scrape down the sides to be sure everything is getting mixed in.)

Mix together the coffee and milk. Stir half of the dry ingredients into the butter mixture, the add the coffee and milk. Finally stir in the other half of the dry ingredients.

Pour the batter into prepared cake pan and bake for 25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool completely before frosting.

Run knife around pan sides to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out; peel off paper. Place 1 layer Almond Cake on platter. Spread half of ganache over; sprinkle with 3 tablespoons praline. Top with Chocolate Cake layer. Spread remaining ganache over; sprinkle with 3 tablespoons praline. Top with second Almond Cake layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. 

Press praline around bottom 2 inches of cake; sprinkle more atop. Peel foil off bark; break into pieces. Press edges into frosting atop cake. Remelt 1 tablespoon chocolate over simmering water, stirring often. Using spoon, drizzle chocolate over cake.  

DO AHEAD: I made the praline and the two Almond Cake layers the day before.  The day of I made the ganache, chocolate bark, chocolate cake (could be made the day before but I was missing an ingredient) and the frosting.  While the original recipe says you can assemble the cake and put it in the fridge ahead of time, I would not suggest this because the praline softens and looses its crunch.