Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Hooray! This is my 100th post AND I’ve conquered 2 food phobias AND we have a cake to celebrate with! What a fitting tribute!
This Daring Baker’s Challenge (my 3rd) was a little disheartening to me, since we just made a nut based, buttercream frosted opera cake, neither me nor my boyfriend like cake all that much, and I have never been able to produce a professional looking cake. But I did like the idea of a praline flavored cake.
I decided to go with a Southern theme, since the word praline means a soft pecan candy in my mind. To complement that theme, I combined the praline flavor with Georgia peach. This is a cake I imagine might be served at a bridal shower in Savannah, alongside sweet tea and finger sandwiches, and delicately picked at by women with flowing hair in floral dresses.
Since I altered the recipe dramatically (and also, I found the original instructions hard to follow), I decided to rewrite the directions. I hope I didn’t break the rules, since I used my own buttercream recipe, a traditional pecan praline and left out the sugar syrup. I just know 4 sticks of butter would be way too much for me and everyone seemed to be having trouble with the frosting. I also used a soufflé dish to bake the cake, which resulted in a taller profile, which is easier to cut smaller slices from, as this cake is decidedly rich!
I spent much more time and attention on decorating this cake than I ever have before, trying to get over my fear of cake decorating. It still makes me nervous, but I’ve followed the tips of some great bakers and I’m pretty happy with the results. I conquered two fears here, cake decorating (I have a very shaky hand- although admittedly I still didn't do that much piping) and dry method caramel (I can’t believe I didn’t burn it!). As if it needed more steps than it already had, I felt the need to make sugar decorations for the cake as well, which also resulted in a caramel sauce.
After the opera cake, which was OK, but cloyingly sweet and really nothing special (I blame the white chocolate), I was prepared to be disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised when this cake not only looked beautiful, but tasted divine! The flavors here work perfectly, especially since I cut the sugar level in the frosting. So here’s to the next hundred posts, may they be even more delicious and rewarding!
Southern Belle Cake
1. First, make the cake (a pecan genoise):
1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted
2/3 cup cake flour
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided (1/4 and 3/4 cups)
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 tsp pecan extract
? tsp. grated tangerine zest
5 lg. egg whites
1/4 cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees), poured into a liquid measure cup with a spout
Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 6” inch (diameter) soufflé dish. Alternatively, spray with Baker’s Joy – a nonstick spray that already has flour in it!
Using a food processor, process nuts until coarsely ground. Add cake flour and cornstarch, pulse for about 30 seconds. Then, pulse the mixture about 10 times to get a fine, powdery mixture. While you want to make sure there aren’t any large pieces, don’t over-process. Set aside.
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 3/4 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 form a ribbon when drizzled from a spoon. Blend in the extracts and zest. Remove and set aside.
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 1/4 cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat until the wgg whites form stiff peaks (they don’t fall over at the top).
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.
Put the nut meal in a mesh strainer and sprinkle it in about 2 tablespoons at a time with one hand while folding the batter carefully. When all but about 2 Tbsp. of nut meal remain, quickly and steadily pour the warm butter over the batter while folding. Then, fold the batter to incorporate the remaining nut meal, 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. Tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 40-45 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. You can also use a toothpick to check – it should come out clean. Remove from oven and allow to stand for 7 minutes in pan on a wire rack. Invert onto the rack, removing the pan. Let cool about 20 minutes.
Slice into 3 even layers – I’ve found the easiest way to do this is to get 2 pieces of wood from the hardware store that are the right thickness for your layers (I like 1/2 to 3/4 inch layers). Lay them down on either side of your cake on a level surface. Use a long serrated bread knife, keeping the side of the blade on both ends resting on the pieces of wood, and slide it along the wood, sawing slightly if needed, until you cut all the way through. Repeat for the other two layers. You will probably end up throwing away a narrow piece of cake from the top. At this point, make the peach glaze.
*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.
2. For the peach glaze:
2/3 cup peach preserves (I like Polaner’s All Fruit)
1 Tbsp water
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring both ingredients to a simmer. Remove from heat. Brush onto 2 cake slices while they’re still slightly warm. Now let cake and glaze cool completely before frosting.
3. To make the Pecan Pralines:
3/4 cup light brown sugar
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup heavy cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 tablespoons water
1/2 tsp pecan extract
1 cup pecan halves
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the light brown sugar, granulated sugar, heavy cream, butter, and water. Place over a medium-high heat and stir constantly until the sugar mixture reaches the softball stage, 238 to 240 degrees F. Add the extract and pecans to the candy, and pull the pan off of the stove. Continue to stir the candy vigorously with a wooden spoon until the candy cools, and the pecans remain suspended in the candy, about 2 minutes. I like to also crush some of the pecan halves a little bit during this step. Spoon the pralines out onto a silpat or parchment lined sheet pan and cool completely before breaking into chunks.
4. For Peach Praline Buttercream Frosting:
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup peach preserves
2 Tbsp frangelico liquor
1 Tbsp water
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature (7 oz)
1 tsp pecan extract
1/2 cup pecan pralines, blended into a paste in the food processor
Combine first 3 ingredients in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook without stirring until mixture reaches 225 degrees (F).
Meanwhile, whisk egg and yolk in the bowl of a stand mixer on high speed until foamy.
When syrup reaches 225, remove from heat, decrease mixer speed to low, and slowly pour syrup down the side of the mixing bowl as it beats the egg mixture. After it’s all incorporated, raise the speed to medium-high and whisk until cool to the touch, glossy and smooth (about 5 minutes).
Meanwhile, mash the butter with a fork in a small bowl.
Incorporate the butter into the frosting on medium speed in tablespoon chunks. When all butter is incorporated, turn up to high and beat until thick and shiny. Add extract and praline paste and beat another minute.
Refrigerate 15-20 minutes before frosting.
5. Assembling the layers:
Cut a cardboard base to the size of your cake at it’s narrowest part or use the removable bottom of a tart pan as a base. Rest the middle of the base on an upside down bowl or ramekin that sits very flat and stable and lets the base rest without tipping.
Place the smallest layer (spread with glaze) on the base. Spread its top with frosting, in an even layer. Press small pieces of crumbled praline into the frosting. Use a spatula to level off the frosting layer. Chill for 20 minutes.
Repeat with second layer.
Top with final (unglazed) layer. Using a serrated knife, place the blade flat against the side of the cake, pressed against the side of the layer with the smallest diameter. Using an up and down sawing motion, keep the blade pressed up against that layer as you turn the base, trimming the sides so that no layer of the cake is wider than the other. Level off the top if needed, The easiest way to do this is to find a couple objects with flat surfaces as tall as your cake and use the knife the same way you did to cut the layers.
Give the cake a crumb coat of frosting by applying a very thin layer to side and top, scraping away excess to leave just a very thin coating. Chill at least 30 minutes.
5. Tackle the ganache:
4 oz. good quality semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
4 oz. (1/2 cup) heavy cream
2 tsp. light corn syrup
2 tsp. Frangelico liquor
1/2 tsp. pecan extract
Combine first 3 ingredients in the top of a double boiler with about 2 cups of water in the bottom. Bring the water to a boil, then turn off the heat. Stir mixture well until all the chocolate has melted. Add Frangelico and pecan extract. Stir until smooth. Let cool 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Arrange the cake on its base over a wire rack, with a baking sheet below to catch the drips.
Pour ganache over the center of the cake, being sure that it flows evenly towards the edges. Let it flow over the edges. Work quickly to smooth it evenly over the sides with a flat spatula. Don’t smooth the top – it should level out on its own. Before it sets, rap the cake base down onto the rack to avoid air bubbles. Let the cake sit at least 30 minutes for the glaze to set.
In the meantime…
6. Make the Sugar Doodads
In a heavy bottomed small saucepan over medium high heat, melt 1/2 cup sugar, stirring occasionally and slowly with a wooden spoon, until it becomes a golden brown liquid. Immediately add an additional 1/2 cup sugar, and stir slowly. Keep cooking, stirring slowly, until all of the sugar is melted and the liquid is dark golden brown. Before it starts to smoke, remove pan from heat and cool the outside by submerging (just the outside!) in cold water. When it thickens slightly, use a wooden spoon to drizzle sugar onto a silpat or parchment paper, making small circles and zig zags on top of each other by moving your wrist as you drizzle. Let cool before handling.
***Note: these need to be made on a dry day or with the AC on high. They will soften too fast if it is humid. Any extras will keep for about a day, wrapped in parchment and stored in a plastic bag. For leftover sugar, reheat over medium heat until liquid, mix in heavy cream in a 2:1 ratio of sugar to cream. (Be careful – it will boil up). Cool and you have a tasty caramel sauce.***
7. Decorate the cake…
This part’s kind of up to you. I went a fairly simple route, pressed large sugar doodads around the sides, piped dots with a star tip in the center of where the slices will be and stuck a small doodad into each one.
Chill cake at least one hour before slicing. Slice with a serrated knife dipped in hot water.
Phew…I know these are a lot of directions. But it did take me all day. And while it’s certainly no cake for beginners, it’s a surefire way to impress the toughest critics if you’re up to a challenge. After all, that’s why we’re Daring Bakers!