Wednesday, July 30, 2008

A Sea-worthy Darng Bakers Challenge in the Land of St. Honore'

“You’ve got to make something spectacular for dessert!’, the Captain said to the cook as the winds abated at sea in that corner of the Land of St Honore’. “The gale the last two days has kept the crew up day and night…we need to raise their morale. A little extra sugar might give them just enough of a boost to get us into port safely, too.”

Eric the Cook was thrilled. With the violent movements the storm had caused, he had barely been able to cook at all. Now the winds were calming. He could bake something grand. Ever since the time when he was a lad and worked in a bakery, he loved to make fancy cakes. Since he hadn't been battening and bailing, he had the energy to make the long and complicated recipe he had in mind. Good thing the sun was just coming up and he had time.

So he went to work softening butter, measuring flour, grinding nuts,

separating eggs and making a nut praline, although he almost burnt the sugar. Soon he was making the cake in the genoise method and setting it to cool. Once cooled he cut it into three layers.

The nut praline he ground into a powder and then he made a syrup with water, sugar, and chocolate liquor. This was going to be a gorgeous, rich, memorable cake.

Using every bit of counter space available, and even a few tricks like putting a cutting board over a pulled out drawer to make more space to set things on, he whipped up the buttercream, added the praline paste and put the layers together…cake, syrup, praline buttercream, whipped cream,

cake, syrup…whoops forgot the syrup!, praline buttercream, whipped cream, cake. Whoops again… a sudden swell slid the cutting board with the syrup bowl onto the floor. Mop time!

Before he set the whole edifice in the cooler to chill he laid a thin coat of the praline buttercream all over the sides and over a few places on top that had crumbs. Because he had no jam or jelly he decided not to do a jam coat. Because the ship was still not as steady as he would like, he also avoided cutting any part of the cake…he would just as likely cut his hand!

After he had prepared a hearty stew and a nice salad for the crew's dinner, he took the cake out of the cooler, whipped up a wicked ganache of semi-sweet chocolate and whipping cream and waited…and waited…and waited for it to cool enough. Finally it was the right consistency and he poured it over the top of the cake. As it dripped down the sides he decided to not frost the sides with ganache, just with the drips of ganache…it looked so delicious that way. Into the cooler again to firm up the ganache.

The final fun was to pipe buttercream decorations on top, add a few peanuts and some chopped peanuts as garnish and serve it up to the happy crew. It was gone in a flash as you might well imagine!

Why peanuts? Well, that’s what Eric the Cook found in the pantry. It made for a truly magnificent cake. The praline was peanut brittle or course. The cake was lighter and moister than some genoise (so the lack of syrup on one layer was OK and the ganache gave plenty of chocolate flavor). The butter cream and ganache were classic and lucky were the crew who got to lick the bowl. The peanut and chocolate combination was simply delicious…peanut butter cup flavors in a delectable cake. That tiny bit of crunch in the buttercream from the praline paste was the perfect counterpoint to the soft and creamy ganache and soft cake.

This month I baked the cake with my friend Hil. She is a fabulous baker and cook and we spent a lovely day baking together, laughing, wondering if we were doing things right and, sometimes even parting ways with the recipe…as with the jam. Couldn’t figure a jam that wouldn’t overpower the peanut-chocolate thing. I even goofed by forgetting the syrup for the second layer. Still and all, Sweetie said that this was the best Daring Baker creation he’s ever tasted…we did good Hil!.

It was tough giving half of it to the sweet librarians in town, but I’m glad we did. My pants still fit and they give me big smiles when I come into the library. Thank you Hil for all your hard work grinding peanuts and your light hand with the buttercream and whipped cream and sifting just the right amount of ground peanuts and for all the fun. We must do it again!

This month's Daring Baker challenge was chosen by Chris at Mele Cotte. THANK YOU Chris! This was such a great cake. To see what the many, many, many Daring Bakers have done this month go to the Blogroll here for links. You are sure to see some masterpieces and some truly funny posts.

Here is my variation on the Hazelnut Chocolate Gateau:

Peanut Gateau with Praline Buttercream
From Great Cakes by Carol Walter - with some variations

1 peanut Gateau
1 recipe sugar syrup, flavored with chocolate liquor
1 recipe Peanut Praline Buttercream
½ cup heavy cream, whipped to soft peaks
1 recipe Apricot Glaze
1 recipe Ganache Glaze, prepared just before using
3 tablespoons peanuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Peanut Gateau
Because of the amount of nuts in the recipe, this preparation is different from a classic genoise.
1 ½ cups peanuts, toasted/skinned
2/3 cup cake flour, unsifted
2 Tbsp. cornstarch
7 large egg yolks
1 cup sugar, divided ¼ & ¾ cups
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 tsp. grated lemon rind (I omitted this)
5 lg. egg whites
¼ cup warm, clarified butter (100 – 110 degrees)

Position rack in the lower 3rd of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 10” X 2” inch round cake pan.

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.

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 ribbony. Blend in the vanilla and grated lemon rind. 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 ¼ cup of sugar, over 15-20 seconds or so. Continue to beat for another ½ minute.
Add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

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 Tbsp. 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.

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
Makes 1 cup, good for one 10-inch cake – split into 3 layers

1 cup water
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbsp. chocolate flavored liqueur

In a small, yet 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.

Praline Buttercream
1 recipe Swiss Buttercream
1/3 cup peanut praline paste
Blend ½ cup buttercream into the paste, then add to the remaining buttercream. Whip briefly on med-low speed to combine. Blend in rum.

Swiss Buttercream
4 lg. egg whites
¾ cup sugar
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, slightly firm
1 ½ -2 Tbsp. chocolate liqueur of your choice
1 tsp. vanilla

Place the egg whites in a lg/ bowl of a elevtric mixer 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.
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.

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 toooooo soft.*

On med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 Tbsp. at a time, over 1 minute. Add the liqueur and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy. Divide in half. Add praline paste to half. Use the rest to pipe decorations.

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 Tbsp. 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 Tbsp. 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-oz. plastic containers and thaw in the refrigerator overnight or at room temperature for several hours.

Praline Paste
1 ½ cups peanut brittle

Break the peanut brittle 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 and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.

Apricot Glaze (I omitted this step)
Good for one 10-inch cake

2/3 cup thick apricot preserves
1 Tbsp. water

In a small, yet 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.

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.

Ganache Glaze
Makes about 1 cup, enough to cover the top and sides of a 9 or 10 inch layer or tube cake

**Ganache can take on many forms. While warm – great fudge sauce. While cool or lukewarm – semisweet glaze. Slightly chilled – can be whipped into a filling/frosting. Cold & solid – the base of candied chocolate truffles.

8 oz. (good) semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, Scharfenberger is what I used
1 cup heavy cream
1 tbsp. light corn syrup
¾ tsp. vanilla
½ - 1 tsp. hot water, if needed

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 bowl and set aside.

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 . If the surface seems oily, add ½ - 1 tsp 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!

Assembling Cake

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 Tbsp. of warm sugar syrup. Measure out 1 cup of praline buttercream and set aside.

Spread the bottom layer with a ¼-inch thickness of the remaining buttercream. Cover with ½ of the whipped cream, leaving ¼-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.

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.

Lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. Holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich 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. ( I omitted this step, but did a crumb coat with the praline buttercream instead)

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.

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.

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.


  1. Brilliant! Peanuts and chocolate... now why wasn't that the first thing that came to my mind? My kitchen has just now recovered from my first go at this challenge, now I HAVE to make one with peanuts... sigh. Very well done.

  2. Anonymous11:27 AM

    Holy moly.... I think I just went into sugar overload reading this. Wonderful photos! Nice job, Elle :)

  3. I love your decoration! And that picture of the dripping ganache has me drooling.

  4. Anonymous12:17 PM

    your cake turned out great, good job. cute story

  5. Peanuts sound good to me! I love that you did the ribbon like the cake in the picture, very pretty.

  6. Peanuts sound good to me! I love that you did the ribbon like the cake in the picture, very pretty.

  7. Anonymous12:38 PM

    Really beautiful!

  8. Wow, using peanuts is positively brilliant. And your cake looks gorgeous. Bien fait!

  9. I almost went with peanuts, glad I was not alone in thinking that way. Not sure if the recess connection would have occurred to me, but glad I didn't make it that way the, since I detest peanut butter (but like peanuts, go figure.)

  10. Yum. Peanut brittle sounds great even when not in a cake!

  11. Lovely Story as usual Elle! What about that cake huh? I wish I was a sailor on your ship - I'd have eaten half your cake!! Thanks for your friendhship and all the support this past year - can you believe its already a year for me on the DBs? Hugs!

  12. You did the captain proud - what a lovely cake. I really needed to lie down after this challenge. Absolutely delicious and I don't even want to think about how many eggs and nuts are in this recipe.

  13. Anonymous11:24 PM

    It must have been like the ultimate peanut butter cup!!!

    I always look forward to your St. Honore stories and of course as fellow "class of so far back my brain can't remember...Delta?". Does that mean I have DB Oldtimers?!

    I always enjoy baking with you, my dear.


  14. hehehe I love reading those adventures! :)

    I think your cake turned out beautifully, sweetie! I love how much height you got on the layers (must have been a very good helper you had with you, eh?) :D

    I especially love how you decorated it.. it's beautiful!

  15. Excellent -- and I agree with everyone who's said "why didn't I think of that?" about using peanuts! I bet it was amazing!

  16. Great story as usual! Yours is the first that I've seen done with peanuts - and I think that sounds wonderful!!

  17. Wow! Hats off to you, Elle. This sounds like it was a lot of work. I'm sure it was worth it though. It's looks fabulous!

  18. Beautiful job, as always! It actually looks like something I might eat, seeing your step-by-step!

  19. I love that you used peanuts. The whole time I was making the cake I was thinking about my mother's peanut brittle and how it would have been so yummy in the buttercream. Love your decorations!

  20. Beautifully done! Your cake looks wonderful.

  21. Oh, how fun to have a baking buddy. Your cake and pictures are all wonderful! I like the one with the dripping ganache... like food as art.

  22. Ooo, that looks so nice! I love your piping job!

  23. Once again wonderful! I think that chef Eric has nicely manicured hands! ;-) I thought about doing peanut but already had pecans on hands, so I used those. I bed peanut is quite resees like.

  24. Love the nautical theme! ;-)

    Great cake.