The magic word, of course, was chestnuts. No one, not even, I dare to say, an Appalachian farmer living through the winter on them before the blight, could love chestnuts more than I do. I love everything about them, from their hokey homey-ness, their association with fires and hot cider, and their sweet, firm, and slightly dry roasted selves. I love them from street vendors and hot out of the oven. I adore them with brussels sprouts and dream of them in stuffing. Chestnuts are it.
Cake? What cake?
Oh, this one.
As many TWD participants mentioned, this was an extravagant and expensive cake. Over a pound of butter, a pint of cream, and nearly a pound and a half of various chocolates, not to mention the chestnut paste and chopped chestnuts. This was a CAKE. Just thinking about it makes me feel awed and giggly.
It was also a two-day affair. (Some, like the Engineer Baker, made it a one-day affair by skipping out on all the trimmings. As you can see, she was pleased enough by the cake plain and simple. This may be me next time--I'll be making truffles out of my ganache if nobody minds.)
The cake was a butter cake, creamed and sugared, with the addition of a cup of sweetened chestnut paste, and lightened with beaten egg whites. I made mine in a 2"x8" pan and found it filled it nicely, although because the pan was smaller and taller than recommended, it took nearly 45 minutes longer to cook. The cake, wrapped well, went into the refrigerator with the ganache.
Granada, my theater company's new play, where dusty and exhausted producers and crew were able to add some richly-deserved chocolatey smears to their talented faces.
Chocolate-Caramel Cake with Gold-Dusted Chestnuts
by Dorie Greenspan
9 ounces high-quality milk chocolate (such as Lindt or Perugina)
3 ounces bittersweet (not unsweetened) or semisweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy whipping cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (21/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 1/4 cups (packed) golden brown sugar, divided
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened chestnut spread with vanilla (or several cooked chestnuts spun in the processor with some vanilla and sugar)
1/4 cup whole milk
1/4 cup brandy
2 tablespoons golden brown sugar
24 jarred peeled whole chestnuts; 12 coarsely chopped, 12 left whole (about 7.25 ounces)
1 cup heavy whipping cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
8 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
Edible gold dust (optional)
Combine milk chocolate and bittersweet chocolate in medium bowl. Stir sugar, 2 tablespoons water, and cinnamon stick in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat and boil without stirring until syrup turns deep amber, occasionally brushing down sides of pan with wet pastry brush and swirling pan, about 6 minutes (time will vary depending on size of pan). Add cream and salt (mixture will bubble vigorously). Bring caramel to boil, whisking until smooth and caramel bits dissolve, about 1 minute. Discard cinnamon stick. Pour hot caramel over chocolate; stir until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth. Let stand until completely cool, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour.
Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in chocolate mixture in 4 additions. Cover and refrigerate ganache overnight.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter and flour 9x9x2-inch metal baking pan. Line bottom of pan with parchment paper. Sift flour, baking powder, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter in large bowl until fluffy. Beat in 1 cup brown sugar, then egg yolks and vanilla extract. Beat in chestnut spread, then milk. Sift dry ingredients over and gently mix together. Using clean dry beaters, beat egg whites in another large bowl until soft peaks form. Add remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold egg whites into batter in 3 additions.
Transfer batter to pan. Bake cake until golden and tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 48 minutes. Cut around cake to loosen. Cool cake completely in pan on rack.
Stir brandy and brown sugar in small bowl until sugar dissolves.
Turn cake out onto work surface. Peel off parchment. Using long serrated knife, cut cake horizontally into 3 equal layers. Place 1 cake layer, cut side up, on 8x8-inch cardboard square. Brush cake layer with half of brandy syrup. Spread with 1 cup ganache (ganache may needs some time out of the refrigerator first to become spreadable--KS). Sprinkle with half of chopped chestnuts. Top with second cake layer, cut side up. Repeat with remaining brandy syrup, 1 cup ganache, and remaining chopped chestnuts. Top with remaining cake layer, cut side up. Spread remaining ganache over top and sides of cake. Place cake rack on sheet of foil; place assembled cake on rack. Chill while preparing glaze.
Bring cream, sugar, and 1/4 cup water to boil in heavy medium saucepan, stirring until sugar dissolves. Add chocolate and whisk until melted and glaze is smooth. Let cool until thick but still pourable, about 4 hours (it only took mine about 10 minutes-KS).
Pour glaze atop cake, spreading evenly over sides. Chill until glaze sets.
Brush 12 whole chestnuts with gold dust. Arrange chestnuts across top of cake. (Can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with cake dome and refrigerate. Let cake stand at least 4 hours and up to 8 hours at room temperature.) Serve cake at room temperature.