A party without cake is just a meeting. —Julia Child
There’s a special place in the lexicon of decadent birthday cakes for layer cakes made with exotic and rich accoutrements like a dense chocolate ganache and mascarpone frosting. So, when I had to make a birthday cake this weekend I aimed for nothing less than the wow factor and baked and decorated a cake that would elicit either a string of excited OMG’s or the low-humming purr of rapturous mmmm’s. Here, almond flavored cake layers sandwich a creamy and decadent ganache filling. All are covered by mascarpone frosting so light and airy it’s as if you’re nibbling a cloud sprinkled with a crunchy almond praline and topped with a chocolate bark. The mascarpone frosting alone is so soft and creamy that it lends itself to the kind of exuberant flourishes and swirls of frosting that convey the excitement of a birthday.
Recipe and my cook’s note below.
1 1/4 cups heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons (packed) dark brown sugar
10 ounces bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped
1½ cups cake flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (packed) dark brown sugar
3/4 cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3 7-ounce packages almond paste,* crumbled into 1-inch pieces
7 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 teaspoons almond extract
1 cup sugar
2 cups whole almonds, toasted
1½ 8-ounce containers mascarpone cheese**
1½ cups chilled heavy whipping cream
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
*Available in the baking section of most supermarkets and at specialty foods stores.
**Italian cream cheese; available at many supermarkets and Italian markets.
For ganache filling: Simmer cream and sugar in medium saucepan, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add chocolate; whisk until smooth. Chill until just spreadable, about 6 hours.
For almond cake: Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter three 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 1½-inch-high sides. Line bottoms with parchment paper; dust pans with flour. Whisk flour, baking powder, and salt in bowl. Using heavy-duty mixer, blend brown sugar and butter in large bowl. Beat in almond paste 1 piece at a time, then beat until smooth. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in extracts. Fold in dry ingredients. Divide batter among pans; smooth tops. Bake cakes until tester inserted into centers comes out clean, about 25 minutes. Cool cakes in pans on rack.
For almond praline: Line baking sheet with foil. Stir sugar and 1/4 cup water in heavy medium saucepan over medium-low heat until sugar dissolves. Increase heat; boil without stirring until deep amber, swirling pan and brushing down sides with wet pastry brush occasionally. Mix in nuts. Pour onto foil; cool. Peel foil off praline. Chop praline coarsely. DO AHEAD Praline can be made 1 day ahead; store airtight at room temperature.
For mascarpone frosting: Beat all ingredients in large bowl just to soft peaks (do not overbeat or mixture will curdle).
Run knife around pan sides to loosen cakes. Turn cakes out; peel off paper. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread half of ganache over; sprinkle with 1/4 cup praline. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining ganache over; sprinkle with 1/4 cup praline. Top with third cake layer. Spread frosting over top and sides of cake. DO AHEAD Cake can be made 1 day ahead; cover with cake dome and chill. Store remaining praline airtight at room temperature.
For chocolate bark: Line baking sheet with foil. Melt chocolate in small bowl set over saucepan of simmering water. Stir until smooth. Remove from over water. Drizzle all but 1 tablespoon chocolate over foil in thick (about 1-inch-wide) zigzag lines (chocolate will pool in spots). Sprinkle 3 tablespoons praline over chocolate; chill bark until firm, about 1 hour.
Press praline around bottom 2 inches of cake; sprinkle more atop. Peel foil off bark; break into pieces. Press edges into frosting atop cake. Remelt 1 tablespoon chocolate over simmering water, stirring often. Using spoon, drizzle chocolate over cake. DO AHEAD Chill up to 4 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Source: Bon Appétit, March 2007
Martine’s notes: This cake is not difficult to make but it does take time. I baked the cake and made the almond praline and the ganache one day in advance. The following day, I made the chocolate bark, mascarpone frosting and assembled the cake.
For the ganache and the chocolate bark I preferred to use semisweet chocolate instead of bittersweet chocolate. Although the intense almond flavor was not overwhelming, I do think it was a bit strong. I think two, instead of three, packages of almond paste would suffice. Also, as I wanted to make a small yet tall cake, I baked my layers in 6″ round pans instead of 9″ round pans.
Also, next time I will try to make a nicer, more intricate and elegant, pattern when making the chocolate bark. This time it’s a bit heavy looking on top. It would have been less heavy looking with more zigzags or a lace-like pattern.
Finally, this cake is a bit expensive (due to the pricey almond paste) to make and again, it does take a lot of time, but I think it’s so worth it! I’m sure to make this cake again and again! If you have any questions or if you try this recipe, please don’t hesitate to let me know! I’d love to hear from you!