Friday, September 30, 2005

Dried Cherry and Almond Paste Cake

An almond paste cake has been on my desserts-to-make list ever since I set my eyes on the picture of Trianon Montmorency in The Art of Cake, a gorgeous-looking almond genoise gateau filled with French buttercream and kirsch-soaked dried cherries, and then draped in pink tinted almond paste. Yesterday, when I finally got to make it, I did not really follow the recipe in the book. Instead, I borrowed the concept and used components from different sources to build my own dried cherry and almond paste cake. I made many mistakes on the way, too, not the least of which was to use yellow food coloring (instead of red) to tint the almond paste. Later I tried to remedy this; but the color I achieved was a reddish orange rather than a subtle pink, making this a perfect dessert choice for Halloween. When it comes to food coloring, a drop really goes a long way. Also, after I positioned the round of rolled almond paste on the crumb-coated cake, the sides split in some places, and I reluctantly had to pipe decorations to cover this up.

The cake was an almond butter cake made with unblanched almond meal. This culminated in darker color and rich flavor. It was delicious by itself but I think that a genoise lighter in color and taste would have looked and tasted better in this already complex dessert. Skimping on the 2-hour soaking of the dry cherries did not help, either. I briefly boiled them in water to plump them up, but they were still on the drier side when I tasted the cake yesterday.

In spite of all of the above, this dessert was delicious, if a tad too rich for me. If I make it another time and heed my own advice, I believe that I will have a much better result...

  • 9-inch Almond Cake (recipe below)
  • 1 recipe Classic Buttercream flavored with Kirsch or other cherry-flavored syrup
  • Sugar syrup with Kirsch or other cherry-flavored syrup to sprinkle on cake layers
  • 8-oz almond paste (tinted with food flavoring if desired)
  • 2 handfuls of dried, tart cherries
Steam the cherries for a couple of minutes until they just begin to soften. Then pour a few tablespoonfuls of Kirsch or other cherry syrup on them, cover and let steep for at least two hours. Drain the syrup and dry the cherries.

Cut the almond cake into 3 even layers. Place the first layer bottom-side-down on your serving plate and sprinkle with sugar syrup. Spread a thin layer of buttercream on it and scatter the cherries on top. Now spread just enough buttercream on top to fill in the gaps between the cherries. Top this with the second layer of cake and repeat, ending with the third layer of cake turned right side up. Brush the outside of the cake with syrup. Cover the cake with a thin layer of buttercream to lock in the crumbs and refrigerate until it is firm.

Meanwhile, work your almond paste with your hands to a smooth ball. Roll it into a disc large enough to cover your cake. You may find it easier to do so if you roll the paste between two sheets of plastic wrap; this makes it easier to transfer it to the cake, too. After the disc is in place, carefully and gently press it on the cake, and trim off the excess using scissors or a sharp kitchen knife. (The book suggested dusting almond paste with powdered sugar to prevent sticking during rolling, and impressing some texture on it as decoration.) Decorate with more almond paste, buttercream and/or candied cherries as desired.

Almond Cake (from Cake Bible)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 c sour cream (I used labne-sour cream combination)
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 2/3 c sifted cake flour
  • 1/3 c almond meal
  • 1 c sugar
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 12 tbs softened butter (I used a little more than a stick)
Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 9" springform pan, line its bottom with parchment, grease again and dust it with flour. Lightly whip the eggs, 1/4 of sour cream and the extracts. In another bowl, mix the dry ingredients and mix on low speed for 30 seconds to blend. Add the butter and the rest of the sour cream, blend first and then mix on medium to high speed for about 1 1/2 minutes. Scrape down sides and add the egg mixture in 3 installments, mixing for about 20 seconds after each addition. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 35-45 minutes or until the center tests done. Cool for 10 minutes, remove sides and cool completely on rack.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Orange and Chocolate Cheesecake

"Oh please, not another cheesecake!" do I hear you say? Not to worry, this will be the last cheesecake for a while, since it completes my beloved ricotta cheesecakes trio. All three recipes are from The Book of Cheesecakes by Steven Wheeler with some modifications, some minor and some not so minor. (For the other two ricotta cheesecakes, see Chocolate and Pecan Cheesecake and White Chocolate and Chestnut Cheesecake.) Believe me, it is not that I love cheesecakes; in fact, cheesecakes are normally even a little too heavy for me. I typically enjoy a bite or too, and look around to share my portion. But ricotta cheesecakes are almost in a different category, much lighter in taste, calories and texture. As a bonus, this one also features oranges which is one of my favorite chocolate pairings.

This time, I modified the recipe by giving it a chocolatey crust instead of the traditional cookie crumb one, and topped it with ganache and chocolate shavings. (As you can see, when it comes to chocolate, I like to exhaust my options.) Thanks to ricotta and the small amount of sugar in the recipe, the result was still on the lighter side in taste.

Last but not least, I want to say that this cheesecake is a snap to make. If you do not want to bother with the dough crust, you can use the traditional cookie crust, or maybe even bake it without one. It is equally delicious with a whipped cream topping, or without any. Alternatively, you can use kumquats or slices of oranges for decoration hinting at the taste sensation to follow. Definitely a great choice when you have to make dessert for a crowd, this recipe can be tripled without any problems.

  • 3/4 c flour
  • 2 tbs sugar
  • Dash of salt
  • 1/4 c cold butter, cut into pieces
  • 2 bs melted chocolate
  • 1 1/2 lb ricotta
  • 1/4 c packed brown sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • Finely grated peel and juice of orange
  • 1 tsp orange flower water, if desired (Iused less than 1 tsp of it)
  • 2/3 c whipping cream
  • 7 oz chocolate, cut into pieces
  • 3 oz chocolate, cut into pieces
  • 1/2 c whipping cream
  • Chocolate curls and powdered sugar (if desired)
Preheat oven to 350F. To prepare crust, combine the flour, sugar and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in the butter until crumbly. Add the melted chocolate and stir until a chocolatey dough forms (I ended up using my hands to form a uniformly chocolatey dough). Press in bottom of ungreased 8" or 9" springform pan. Set aside.

To prepare filling, beat ricotta cheese, brown sugar, eggs, orange peel and juice and orange flower water, if desired, in a large bowl until smooth. Bring whipping cream to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove from heat. Stir in chocolate until melted; beat into cheese mixture until smooth. Pour this into the prepared springform pan. Bake 45 minutes or until set. (Center should still be softish. ) Cool before you remove from the pan.

Prepare chocolate ganache by melting chocolate in hot whipping cream, just like you did for the cheesecake. Cool somewhat; and pour over the cooled cheesecake. At this point, you can leave it as is, or decorate with chocolate shavings and a quick dusting of powdered sugar.