I'm making plenty of desserts these days, but not branching out as often as I'd like. I joined the Daring Bakers in order that I might get at least ONE new challenge each month and write about it. For my first month's challenge, we were to make the Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Carole Walter's Great Cakes. This cake has several components - the Hazelnut Genoise ("the cake"), a sugar syrup (for soaking - genoise is a fairly dry cake and typically gets soaked to make it moist and provide flavor), Praline Buttercream, Apricot Glaze, and Ganache. I made the cake first, following the recipe exactly. My only change was to use two 9" pans (instead of one 10" pan). I filled them evenly and then torted each one, making my final cake 4 layers instead of 3. (This is my favorite size cake, plus it fits my cake boards and cake carrier.)
1 1/2 c. toasted, skinned hazelnuts (also called filberts!)
2/3 c. unsifted cake flour
2 T. cornstarch
7 large yolks
1 c. superfine sugar, divided (buzz regular sugar w/food processor for 10 sec)
1 t. vanilla (never use imitation!)
1/2 t. lemon zest
5 large egg whites
1/4 c. warm (100-110) clarified butter
Remember to start with the mise en place. Get all of your ingredients, tools and equipment (food processor, bowls, saucepan, measuring cups) together. If you have to prepare the nuts or the clarified butter*, do so now. Preheat the oven to 350. Buzz the nuts, flour and cornstarch in the food processor for 30 seconds, then pulse until ground. Don't overdo this step, or you'll release too many of the oils in the nuts and end up with a pasty mess!
Beat the yolks until thick and lightened (3-4 minutes on medium-high), then add 3/4 c. sugar, slowly and continue to beat until ribbony. Blend in vanilla and zest. Next, whip the whites to soft peak. Slowly add the remaining sugar and whip about 30 seconds longer. Add the yolks to the whites and whip together for about a minute. Remove from mixer and add in dry ingredients ("nut meal") by sifting over (about 2 tablespoons at a time) with a medium strainer, folding carefully. When about 2 T of nut meal remains, pour the warm butter into the batter in a steady stream. Quickly fold in the remaining nut meal, taking about 15 turns. All of this folding should take you about 50 turns or so with a wide spatula. Since this cake has no chemical leavener (this is one of the hallmarks of a genoise cake - did you notice??), the whipped yolks and whites need to retain air in order to allow the mixture to rise some.
Pour batter into greased and floured pan(s), tap once on the counter to remove any bubbles, then bake for about 30 minutes. The cake is done when it springs back to the touch and pulls from the sides of the pan. Remove, cool slightly in pan, then invert on well-sprayed cooling rack.
*To skin hazelnuts , bake in a single layer on a cookie sheet in 325 oven for about 10-12 minutes, then rub them between a dish towel while hot. Remaining nuts can be reheated again if you need to. To clarify butter, place the amount you need PLUS about 25% more in the microwave in 30 second intervals on medium power. Alternatively, you can do this slowly over the stove. Once the butter separates into distinct layers, skim foam from the top. Pour off clear liquid butter into a fine sieve, taking care not to let any milk solids from the bottom come through.
To answer that big question that many of you inevitably are dying to ask - I don't know how important it is in this recipe to clarify the butter. The main purpose in removing milk solids and water in butter is to allow it to be heated to a higher temperature without burning. Clarifying butter slowly over gentle heat also helps it to develop flavor. Feel free to try it without clarifying the butter. IMO, it probably does not matter much in this recipe.
1 c. water
1/4 c. sugar
2 T liquer, like Grand Marnier or Rum (optional)
Boil water and sugar, remove from heat and add liquer when cool. Rewarm to use.
For the buttercream, I made my own recipe, Italian Meringue Buttercream, instead of the recipe's Swiss Meringue Buttercream. With Italian Meringue, a sugar syrup is cooked to about 240-250 degrees (soft-firm ball stage) and then poured over whipping egg whites. With a Swiss Meringue, the whites are combined with the sugar and then whipped together over heat to about 120 degrees. I find the Italian method makes a more stable buttercream, so it's what I prefer to use.
4 egg whites (or about 4 ounces)
1 c. sugar (or about 6-8 ounces)
pinch of salt
2-3 sticks of room temp butter, cut into chunks (start with 2 sticks)
1/3 c. praline paste
Place sugar in a saucepan over high heat with enough water to make a thick slurry. (It doesn't matter how much water you add because it will evaporate away as it boils. The more you add, the longer this step will take.) Put your whites in the mixer bowl with a pinch of salt and begin whipping on medium speed. Boil the sugar water until it reaches about 240. You can also look for visual clues - the bubbles on top will get bigger and slow down a lot. Like this:
One of these days, I'll show you a really cool trick for testing sugar stage. :)
You need to keep an eye on your whites while the sugar is coming up to temp. If they start to develop firm peaks, slow or stop the mixer until your sugar syrup is ready. When the sugar syrup is ready, make sure the whites are whipping at medium-high and SLOWLY pour the hot syrup down the side of the bowl.
Whip until cool (less than 100), then add your butter, piece by piece. Add in the praline paste. (If you can't find this, I bet you can use Nutella, which is a chocolate praline paste. YUM!) Since praline paste isn't very "stiff," you may need to add a little more butter in order to get the consistency and texture of your final buttercream where you want it.
Now that I've said all of that, here is a great EASY recipe to make Italian meringue buttercream. Following the steps above, use x amount of egg whites, 2x ounces of sugar and 2-3x ounces of butter. Another helpful tip is that 1 cup of sugar weighs about 7 ounces. Don't get too worked up over it. Just remember - x + 2x + 2-3x. For example, if x=4 egg whites, then 2x (sugar) is 8 ounces, or just over 1 cup. Butter is between 8 ounces (2x) and 12 ounces (3x). Or don't, and just pull up this blog!
2/3 c. apricot preserves
1 T. water
Combine and heat to slow simmer. Remove from heat and strain out chunks. Thin if you want and rewarm slightly before using.
6 ounces chocolate, chopped or chips
6 ounces heavy cream
1 T light corn syrup (optional)
1 T liquer (optional)
1 T water (optional)
Combine cream and corn syrup, bring just to a boil, then pour over chocolate. Whisk smooth after about a minute. Add liquer (optional) and water, if necessary. Cool to about body temperature (when you dip your finger in, you feel neither hot nor cold).
To assemble the cake, torte the cooled layer(s) as you wish. As I said above, I made two 9" layers and cut them each in half. (Torting simply refers to cutting a cake into more than one layer.) Place the bottom layer on your cake board, moisten with a few tablespoons of syrup, letting it soak in for a few minutes, then spread with about 1/4 of the buttercream. Continue stacking the layers, moistening each one with syrup before spreading with buttercream. Moisten the top of the cake with syrup, let it soak in and then pop the whole thing in the fridge (at least 30 min) or the freezer (10 min) to chill. Remove chilled cake and use a serrated knife to trim the sides perfectly straight. You can also give the top edge a slight bevel to allow the glaze to drip over the edge. Brush the top and sides of the cake with the glaze, sealing all of the cut areas. Chill in fridge while preparing the ganache.
When I'm covering a cake with ganace glaze, I always put it on a cake board that is exactly the same size as my cake, so that glaze can drip off without getting the board all messy. Then, when you are done, you can just pop the whole thing on another, larger, fancy (if you want!!) cake board. That said, place the whole cake on a cake rack set on top of a bowl that is at least an inch or two wider in diameter than your cake. When the ganache glaze has cooled some, pour it over the cake, starting in the middle and pouring until glaze goes down the sides. If you want to completely cover the cake, make sure you quickly check all of the sides and the back to see that the glaze has gotten everywhere. It's important to do this quickly because the chocolate will cool as it touches the chilled cake. Once you are done glazing, let the cake sit on the rack for a few minutes, then carefully lift using a spatula under the board. Place on your larger board or serving plate.
All of the above being said, I only had about 4 ounces of cream, so I skimped on the ganache and ended up running out before the cake was covered. So, I chilled the whole mess and then reworked it using a warm spatula over the cake. If you'd rather not pour the glaze, alternatively, you can chill the ganache, whip it with a mixer and spread it over the top of the cake. Nothing compares, though, to the fanciness of a ganache glazed cake!
You can decorate the cake however you want, using whipped ganache or the leftover praline buttercream. You can use chopped, toasted hazelnuts or candied hazelnuts for dramatic effect. I chose to use the praline buttercream for a shell border around the bottom and a decorative design on top.
Oh, and, most importantly, ENJOY!!!! YUM!