Monday, 19 June 2017

Nut and caramel cake

This was a cake-based penance. Somehow I was not informed of an impending colleague's birthday thus failed to provide a cake at a suitable moment. Although there wasn't a great burden of expectation (fortunately), I still felt I had failed so to make up for it I offered to make a bespoke cake. I created this based on the direction of:
I love nuts ... and I love anything fudgy/caramely/toffee ...

It's a triple threat: two layers of pistachio cake sandwiching a walnut cake, held together by a maple and pecan cheese icing and smothered in a caramel buttercream doused liberally with assorted nuts (pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and pistachios).

I spent ages searching Soho for pistachio paste as I really wanted a green cake. Unfortunately it was all in vein as I just can't find it, anywhere (not even in Italian delis!). If I ever do find it, I will definitely be repeating this cake.

Both the cake recipes are quite unconventional and when they came out of the oven I wasn't that confident with how the bakes had gone. I was really quite worried how this was going to turn out. I needn't have been. All the parts came together remarkably well and complemented each other. The different cake textures came together. The light fragrant flavour of the pistachios was a good counterpoint to the heavier walnut (the lemon providing a delightful, gentle, refreshing zing). The various icings complimented the nuts giving a really rounded flavour: neither too sweet nor too bitter. After a while in the fridge it actually cut remarkably well. On top of that it's actually one of my better looking cakes. And the recipient was very happy with it.

Ridiculously I only managed a quick slice before rushing downstairs to an event and when I came back it was all gone. I was quite disappointed. Both in missing out on cake and not being able to do a more thorough set of tasting notes. Oh well. 

On to the recipe. Be warned: it's not short.

Nut and caramel cake recipe

Pistachio cake (adapted from a Ruby Tandoh recipe):
200g pistachio
250ml sunflower or almond oil
250g caster sugar
1½ tsp vanilla extract
4 large eggs
100g plain flour
1½ tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
Walnut cake (from a Jeremy Lee recipe):
350g walnuts, shelled and peeled
4 large eggs, separated
225g caster sugar, plus 1 tbsp extra
The finely grated zest of 1 lemon
50g unsalted butter, melted and kept just warm
Pecan maple cream
50g pecans, toasted and chopped
250g mascapone cheese
~60g maple syrup
50g icing sugar
Double cream, if required
Caramel buttercream
100g caster sugar
50ml water
30g butter, cubed
60ml double cream (or replace half with 30ml milk)
150g butter, softened
100g icing sugar
To decorate:
~200g assorted nut, toasted and chopped (I used 50g each of pecans, walnuts, pistachios and hazelnuts)

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. 
2. For the pistachio cakes, grease two 8" round cake tins.
3. Using a food processor, blitz the pistachios until finely ground. Beat the oil with the caster sugar, vanilla extract and eggs to create a batter. In a separate bowl, combine the pistachio, flour, baking powder and salt, then lightly fold it into the batter.
4. Divide the batter between the two tins, level the tops and bake for 25 minutes, or until the cakes are just beginning to shrink from the sides of the tins and a knife inserted into their centres comes out clean. Leave to cool in the tins before removing.
5. For the walnut cake, line an 8" cake tin with parchment.
6. Grind the walnuts quite finely, retaining a little of their texture.
7. Put the egg yolks and sugar into a mixer, beating until pale and greatly increased in volume. Take your time here as the lighter and silkier the mixture, the better the resulting cake.
8. Beat the egg whites in another bowl until peaked and stiff. Add the extra 1 tbsp of caster sugar, continuing to beat until stiff once more.
9. Partially fold the nuts and zest into the egg yolk and sugar mixture. Add one‑third of the beaten whites, mix well, then stir in the remainder. Add the melted butter and mix gently. Swiftly decant the batter into the prepared cake tin.
10. Bake for 45 minutes, or until cooked through, ensuring this by inserting a sharp knife into the middle. If clean when removed, then the cake is done. Rest upon a rack until cool.
11. For the pecan maple cream, beat the mascapone until soft then beat in the maple syrup and icing sugar. This is a balancing act between sweetness and flavour - adjust the proportions of each until you are happy. Add a splash of cream to change the texture to your taste. Stir in the pecans. Firm in the fridge.
12. Level off all the cakes and sandwich together with half the maple pecan cream: pistachio, walnut, pistachio.
13. The butter cream is flavoured with a fresh caramel. To make the caramel put the water and sugar in a pan and heat over a medium heat until it reaches a light golden brown.
14. Add the butter, whisking until melted and combined. Take off the heat and whisk in the cream and milk. Decant into a bowl and leave to cool.
15. Beat the butter until soft and then beat in the icing sugar. Finally beat in the cooled caramel. Again change the amount of icing sugar to taste. Firm in the fridge.
16. To finish the cake. Apply a thin crumb layer of the butter cream all over the cake and refrigerate.
17. Liberally apply the rest of the butter cream to the cake and then press the nuts in to decorate.
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