Tuesday, July 29, 2008
July Daring Bakers: Girl Meets Buttercream
Oh yes, it's that time of month again - when all of the blogosphere's most talented and neurotic bakers share their finished Daring Bakers challenges! This month's challenge was the filbert gateau from Carol Walters' book Great Cakes, and was hosted by Chris from Mele Cotte. Since the recipe is ridiculously long (as will become evident shortly) you can check here to see it in its entirety. Also, be sure to check the Daring Bakers blogroll to get a glimpse of some more gorgeous gateaux (um, is that French?).
So on to the challenge. I was initially not so excited about this recipe, given its buttercream-y nature and the fact that I found it to be fairly similar to the opera cakes that were made not so long ago. I've ranted about buttercream before, but I decided to bite the bullet on this challenge and use it as an opportunity to try finally making the stuff. Even though it isn't my thing, I always enjoy a good challenge, and it turns out I really enjoyed the chance to try something new.
For the first time in my Daring Bakers career, I really followed this recipe to the letter. Except I used almonds instead of hazelnuts. But whatever. The recipe said to make your own freakin' praline from scratch, so I did it. It said to pulse the nuts with cornstarch, and then fold them tablespoon by tablespoon into the genoise batter, so I did it. And two days later, I had a pretty nice-looking cake! I was pretty scared of the buttercream, mostly because I had read several accounts of failed attempts, but it actually came together pretty easily for me. I made it in advance, and making it spreadable after a day in the fridge was a little, um, sketchy, but in the end it worked out just fine. I'll be honest - I still don't actually like buttercream, but I can't say I don't like the satisfaction of making it successfully.
As I hinted before, this cake was a multi-step process in the extremely time-consuming sense. I made it over two days, saving each component and putting it all together before serving. First came the buttercream, then the simple soaking syrup (flavored with bourbon, of course), then the raspberry glaze, the homemade almond praline, the praline paste, the genoise, the whipped cream, and finally the ganache. I told you - we weren't messing around this month.
But let's break it down a bit: I'll spare you process pictures of the buttercream (it got a little ugly at times), but here is the finished stuff, with bits of praline paste mixed in:
And here is the lovely homemade praline, which is essentially an almond brittle made by melting sugar and mixing in the nuts:
And then of course, there is the cake itself, which rises only with the help of meticulously whipped egg yolks and whites. I halved the recipe, and thus had to find a small cake pan to bake with. I ended up with this yellow "kid-sized" thing from Williams-Sonoma, which worked remarkably well. Buttered and floured:
I was a little worried about the cake, because I couldn't bring myself to buy cake flour - when you have 10 types of flour in your pint-sized kitchen, buying more, especially one that will get used at most once per year, isn't really an option. But the cake rose beautifully, just enough to be able to slice it into three (only two here, but there were three in total) layers.
Once all of the componenets were assembled, it took only, oh, five or six hours to put it all together. First I brushed the layers with some yummy, bourbon-y syrup:
Next, I layered them with the buttercream and whipped cream, and let it firm up in the fridge (and yes, my "cake stand" is an upside-down cast iron skillet, in case you were wondering):
Time for the ganache? Nope, gotta trim that baby:
And finally, after a layer of raspberry glaze, came the good stuff: a silky smooth bath of bourbon-laced, bittersweet chocolate. Guess who licked those globs of ganache from under the cake rack?
After letting all of that chill for a bit, I broke out the remaining buttercream and the leftover praline paste, and "decorated" the top of the cake. Apparently I'm not much of a decorator, because the top of the cake kind of looked like crap. But the slices were pretty nice...
So was it worth it? Will I make it again? Honestly, probably not. When a recipe starts calling for homemade praline, which then gets pulverized into a paste, I begin to lose interest. I'm really glad I made this cake, and I enjoyed doing so, but this recipe was pretty fussy, and although the cake was delicious, I can't confidently say it was any more delicious than, say, a really moist chocolate buttermilk cake. It looked a lot fancier though, so maybe that's worth something.
I can certainly see myself adapting the recipe for a special occasion birthday cake, but leaving out the tedious steps that made this a two-day project. And the buttercream? Still not my thing. Without the amazingly delicious ganache, this cake would have been way too sweet for me. I'm glad I can check it off my "to-make" list, but don't expect to see it creeping around the Red Ramekin kitchen any time in the near future.