Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ann's December Cake - Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

Behold, the mother of all cakes! My official December cake was truly a showstopper, and was filled with not a little drama. It was totally worth it because it was INCREDIBLE. Here is the story.

I wanted to keep trying out recipes from Baking, by Listle's new BFF, Dorie Greenspan, and her chocolate caramel chestnut cake seemed big and dramatic, and the chestnuts sounded like they would be fun for a December cake. I knew that they sold them at Williams-Sonoma during the holidays, so I knew I had to get up to Indy to pay a trip to the store since I didn't have time to order them online and make the cake before everyone would leave for Christmas and I would be forced to eat the entire thing myself. Luckily, Ol' Blue Eyes and I had other reasons to go to Indy.

I really need to learn a lesson about trying to fit too much into a short amount of time because OBE and I had a Salvation Army bell ringing appointment, and then we still had to drive to Indy and get to Williams-Sonoma before driving to the concert. We were in a huge rush, and when I got to the store, they said they didn't carry the chestnuts during Christmas! Are you kidding me??? Chestnuts are only for Thanksgiving??? I was so mad. But I still bought a 9-inch-square commercial-quality cake pan. As I was walking back to the car to meet OBE, I remembered that there was a specialty cheese shop nearby in the mall. I walked in, turned to my right, and instantly happened upon a jar of chestnuts. Hooray for me!!!! They happened to be $20, but I was so excited and cackled something about a Christmas miracle as I bought them. So between the really good chocolate, the chestnut puree, and the jar of whole chestnuts I bought for it, this cake is officially the most expensive one I made.

Star Wars was great, too.

The cake wasn't difficult to make, but there were a lot of parts to it. First, I made the actual cake, which looked awesome in the perfectly squared pan (I've only had pans with rounded edges before this and I was surprised at what a difference it made aesthetically). It included sweetened chestnut puree which I thought was a fun ingredient. Then I made some caramel, which never works when I try to make it, but it did this time! I mixed it into some melted chocolate to create a caramel ganache. I can't even explain how good it was - the initial chocolate flavor gave way to burnt sugar. I chopped up half of the whole chestnuts and then finally made a bittersweet chocolate ganache. Finally all my pieces were ready for assembly.

I split the cakes into three layers, then stacked layers of caramel ganache and chopped chestnuts between the cake. After the top layer, I frosted the entire thing with the remaining ganache.

And the end, I poured the bittersweet chocolate ganache over the top put it in the fridge to set up. A few hours before serving, I took it out again, to get it to room temperature, and dusted the remaining whole chestnuts in sugar to make them pretty for decoration. (You're supposed to paint them with edible gold dust, but I couldn't find it.) The final project was the most beautiful cake I've made, if it's not arrogant to say so.

The picture isn't great, but the cake was! There were so many layers of flavor - not too sweet, nutty, caramelized sugary, the best kind of chocolatey cake. Plus, it looked like a real bakery cake. Make this cake! Or come over and I'll make it again!

Chocolate Caramel Chestnut Cake

adapted from Baking: From My Home to Yours by Dorie Greenspan

Caramel ganache:
9 ounces premium-quality milk chocolate (I used Guittard)
3 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
6 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
1 cinnamon stick
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons heavy cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 sticks unsalted butter, room temperature

2 cups cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (packed) light brown sugar, divided
4 large eggs, separated
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup sweetened chestnut spread with vanilla (I got this at a ethnic foods market - it was a German manufacturer)
1/4 cup whole milk

24 jarred peeled whole chestnuts (about 7 ounces); 12 coarsely chopped, 12 left whole
1 cup sugar

8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water

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.

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. Spread with 1 cup ganache. Sprinkle with half of chopped chestnuts. Top with second cake layer, cut side up. Repeat with 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.

Pour glaze atop cake, spreading evenly over sides. Chill until glaze sets.

Brush 12 whole chestnuts with sugar. 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.


Julie said...

I have a number of thoughts relating to this post:

1) I love the mental picture of you "cackling something about a Christmas miracle." It made me cackle.

2) That Star Wars concert sounds so cool!

3) Remember that caramel you made and we dipped apples in it and it was so good? It was so good.

4) I miss eating/trying all your delicious, exotic food creations. My own attempts seem so feeble and...American?

5) On a related note, the day is soon approaching that I will make TOM YUM.

6) I don't really like mixing soft things with hard things (Snickers being the notable exception), BUT I would still very much like to try this cake.

7) If I come over will you really make it for me?

Elizabeth said...

Holy crazy! That looks so good!!! I wish you had gotten a picture of the cut cake, so that I could see the layers, but it looks and sounds amazing.

I can totally relate to starting a cooking "project" and then finding that it gets more and more and more expensive as you go. At least you have the square cake pan to show for it! AND some happy friends. AND a great blog post.

Elizabeth said...

Oh, and GO DORIE!!!