Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Tuesdays with Dorie: Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

I must have really been missing elaborate cakes. Although if you asked me, I'd almost surely tell you that I love crispy, buttery, nutty desserts, cream and fruit over chocolate, and pies over cakes, somehow when it was my turn to pick the week's Tuesdays with Dorie recipe, I went all out. I picked the Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake, a three-layer extravaganza filled with chopped nuts and buttery ganache, and then covered in more chocolate glaze. No joke.

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.)

It began with ganache--a stovetop caramel, lightened with cream, flavored with milk and dark chocolates, and thickened with butter. That went into the refrigerator, and on to the cake.
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.

Two days later, assembly. Cake was sliced into three layers, and trimmed and leveled to perfection. Each layer was brushed with a syrup of Campari and sugar. Following the syrup, a full cup of ganache was luxuriantly spread over each layer, followed by chopped almonds--(it was supposed to be chopped chestnuts, but the chestnuts at the corner bodega were clearly from last year, dry, hard, and sadly, moldy.  I was able to salvage a few for decoration, but the almonds had to do last minute duty. Next time.)

The remaining ganache iced the cake, and then...wait for it...I poured a dark chocolate glaze over that. In the final slices, it was beautiful to see the two layers of color in the chocolate icing. This was serious cake. I had intended to freeze it and present it to my family for Thanksgiving, as I won't be there with them, but there was a more immediate need, and off the cake went to load-in for 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.

Here is the recipe, adapted from its appearance in Bon Appetit in 2005.

Chocolate-Caramel Cake with Gold-Dusted Chestnuts
by Dorie Greenspan

Caramel ganache
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

Brandy syrup
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)

For ganache:

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.

For cake:

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.

For syrup:

Stir brandy and brown sugar in small bowl until sugar dissolves.

To assemble: 
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.

For 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.


natalia said...

Wow Katya what a choice you made !! I really loved every part of it ! Thank you !!

Susan said...

Thanks for a great choice Katya! I loved putting this one together and the final product was delicious!

Cakelaw said...

I enjoyed making this cake Katya - thanks for choosing it.

Anonymous said...

This was the very first TWD I've skipped, and now that I see the finished product, I sure do regret it. One day I'll get to this one....

Anne said...

Wow that is one beautiful cake. It's great to see the process that went into it. Awesome job!

Amber Marie said...

Lovely choice - I'm still hoping to find chestnuts sometime in Nov! I just couldn't substitute another nut b.c chestnuts are just so good!

TeaLady said...

Great pick. Hope to make it one day.

Yours looks perfect.

Mary said...

Thank you Katya...I love love loved this cake. I brought it to a dinner party where everyone had SECOND pieces of it and it was so insanely good. I never ever would have tried this one unless it was a TWD so thank you thank you thank you :).

Dorie said...

Katya, What a cake! And how wonderful that you had a crowd ready and waiting for it. I know that this cake is expensive, over-the-top and time-consuming -- elaborate, as you said -- but every once in a while it's fun to go all out. I'm so glad you chose this recipe and even happier that you liked it.

margot said...

Your cake looks so pretty. It was a lot of work, but it's one you look at and are like, "wow, I made that!" And that's what I like best about baking groups, trying things I'd never do on my own.

Hindy said...

Thanks for choosing this recipe. I'm so glad I made it. As you said, it's a serious cake!

steph- whisk/spoon said...

such a delicious cake-- i really enjoyed making it. glad to hear you had a crowd to share it with!

Nancy/n.o.e said...

Katya, I made the cake this week - over the course of three days! - and served it to my book group this evening. I made some variations and it definitely had the "wow" factor on first appearance, and most of my testers liked it a lot.

Making it was a crazy ride, and I'm kinda glad it's behind me, but I'm also kinda proud that I could pull it off! I'll be posting on Tuesday, and will be linking back to your post. Just wanted to say "thanks" for your pick, from one who was glad to see it chosen.

Pamela said...

I'm sorry to say that I never got to make the cake. When I first saw it, I was excited about it and it's still on my list to try ASAP. It looks simply lovely.

Sweet as Coco said...

So sorry I was unable to bake with you this week! The cake just looks fabulous! I will def have to dog ear this one for when I have a bit more time ;)

MsRuckus said...

I made the cake and it was delicious even if it was labor intensive and financially expensive. Loved the whole experience. Great choice!

Bungalow Barbara said...

Thank you for chosing this cake -- it was a lot of work, but the result was great.

I got to try chestnuts for the first time -- I bought canned chestnuts, made my own chestnut paste, and then roasted fresh chestnuts in the microwave. Oddly enough, although I decided I'm not all that crazy about chestnuts, I thought the cake was excellent!

Rhiani said...

I decided I wanted this cake for Thanksgiving so I just completed it this week - Thank you for a great choice, we really enjoyed this as part of our holiday dinner.