I have been waiting for this cake for a bit now. Somehow every time I would open Rose’s Heavenly Cakes book, it seem to fall on this page. And every time I would hope that Marie would put it in rotation.
This week the waiting was over. This week this was the cake on the spotlight.
At first glance, the cake does not look like much and I actually thought it was a plain pound cake with a crusty shell. Which to be honest, I’m a total sucker for. I have written before how heavy, pound cakes, are actually my favorite types of cakes. Maybe because they remind me of they types of cakes my “nonna” and I would bake when I was young, or the fact that that buttery flavor just screams comfort food at it’s best.
So this simple cake was screaming my name.
Boy, was I wrong. This cake actually is a variation of the original recipe that won the Pillsbury bake-off in 1950. Upon closer reading of the whole thing, I realized that the crusty outer of the cake is made up of a dacquoise made with pecan and chocolate which hugs the simple butter cake – thus the “cradle” in the name.
HELLO CAKE! You just jumped to captivating status in my world.
For those that have join the baking party, the dacquoise is simply a hard Swiss meringue made with almonds added for texture and flavor. You can usually find the dacquoise used under various names: Broyage, Progrès, Japonais and Succès. The difference is primarily in the proportion of sugar to nuts. Even though most of these cakes bear some relative resemblance to one another, there is no assurance that any dessert called dacquoise will taste like any other because of the relative flexibility of the term.
To make a dacquoise, the first step is to make the meringue, which is primarily egg whites and sugar. The meringue layers are prepared by piping meringue disks onto buttered parchment using a pastry bag. These disks are then baked in the oven until they are dry to the touch. After the oven has cooled with the disks inside, these are set aside. Although disks are the most popular shape for this cake, there are also other popular shapes such as rectangles.
And this is where the cradle cake comes in. The dacquoise in this recipe is flavored with ground pecans, instead of the usual almonds and 70% chocolate is used as well to give it some speckles and flavors. I, of course, went a different route. Since I don’t care for pecans, I used the original almonds for flavor and crunch. I had almond flour, and I thought of using this instead of toasting them and grounding them in the food processor along with the chocolate. But, you know me; I like to stick to the recipe first.
So, I toasted my almonds, and weighted and chopped my chocolate and place in the refrigerator to cool, before I mixed everything in my small food processor along with some sugar and gave them a whirl to ground them up.
And the doubt started to set in. The ground up mixture look to me to be too coarse, but at this point I was a bit afraid of over processing them and having the whole thing turn into a paste. So I left it alone and hoped for the best.
The next thing I did was prep my batter ingredients, since Rose recommends to have this all set to go, so once the dacquoise is done, it sits out the least amount of time as possible before adding the batter to it.
Once that was all done, I set out to make my meringue. Beat my eggs whites to peeks added the sugar and then folded in the ground almonds and chocolate. Then quickly covered the tube pan. While my meringue seem to be pretty stiff, for some reason it would not stay on the side of the pans, and I felt that it was too much mixture for the pan as well… but, again, at this point I continue ahead.
The actual cake is a pretty simple butter cake. Again following the instructions to the letter I found myself doubting my end results. The batter was quite thick, to the point that spreading it uniformly in the pan was quite a task and some of the meringue had spread a bit to the top of the cake batter, but referring back to the book, it told me that during the baking process the cake batter will rise above the dacquoise and break… So once more went the book route and not my instincts.
I should have listen to my instincts.
At the 40-minute mark in the oven, I took a peek, just to see if the cake was ready and what did I see?
The whole middle of the cake was one hot mess. The whole thing had collapse on itself and I had a thousand little heart attacks in front of my oven. I took it out and for the longest time just stared at the ugly mess in front of me, while a gazillion questions went thru my head?
“What the hell happen?”
“Did I forget to put something in?”
“No, no I knew it, I knew something was wrong!”
I mean… look at it:
Butt ugly! (it hurts me just looking at it)
I sent an SOS email to Hanaa, Marie and my main chica Jenn. Numerous emails were exchanged; Lola was brought into the fold, since she had a similar experience with her cake. Numerous searches were done with Google. I posted another SOS on Rose’s Forum. If I had Rose’s number I would have surely dial her in. HOW COULD THIS HAVE HAPPENED?!? I had not had a cake collapse on me in like ages!
The worse part of all this, when I tasted the butt ugly cake, it was delicious. So good in fact, that the cake did not last past the night. Tom and I keep going back to it to cut apiece again and again (I think we both put on 2 pounds last night). The crunchy outer layer was so good next to the heavy buttery cake. The cake was gone by the time we went to bed.
But, I knew there was no way, no how this was going to defeat me. A CHALLENGE! The DO OVER project was put into effect the very next day.
And here are the things I changed:
For the batter
- I reverse the order of steps and did my batter before my dacquoise. (as suggested by Hanaa)
- In the batter I replaced my buttermilk, with plain milk and instead of using 1/3 cup, I used ½ cup. (I found the original recipe here and it showed that it used milk instead of buttermilk)
- I creamed the butter and sugar together first, added my egg yolks and finished with the dry ingredients in two parts with the milk. The batter was thick and smooth – totally different from my first batch.
For the dacquoise:
- I really totally and completely whipped my eggs whites until stiff peeks, BEFORE I added the sugar.
- I did not use my food processor to ground the chocolate; instead I used my microplane zester and grated it into the almond flour.
The difference was immediate. When I went to cover my pan, the meringue was thick and stayed in its place along the wall of the pan.
45 minutes later, the results were perfect. I let it sit for 20 minutes before I unmolded it, I use my offset spatula to go around and loosen the dacquoise from the side of the pan and in one flip, it was out, without a single crack.
A happy, happy, joy, joy dance may have happen, but I’m not copping to it…’k.
I topped it off with some left over chocolate I had from the Bostini and did not hesitate before we cut ourselves a piece. It was just as good as the butt ugly cake the night before.
Lesson learned – go with my instincts no matter what.
And if I have not scared you off with this cake, and want to give it a go, you are in luck; you can find the recipe from the book here. And my adapted recipe from the original Pillsbury winner is below:
- 2 cup flour
- 3 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ½ cup butter (1 stick) at room temperature
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 egg yolks (left over from above)
- ¾ cup milk
- 4 egg whites
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 cup almond flour
- 1 square unsweetened chocolate, grated
Turn oven on to 325 degrees. Prep all your ingredients ahead of time and have them ready.
Grease a 9 or 10-inch tube pan and line bottom with parchment paper.
Start with the cake batter. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt and sift in a bowl, set aside. In another bowl, beat the butter and gradually add sugar until fluffy. Add the egg yolks and beat thoroughly. Add the vanilla and beat until blended. Add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the milk in two parts blending well after each addition. Set aside and start with the dacquoise.
Beat egg whites until they form soft stiff peaks. Add the sugar, a little at a time, until glossy and very stiff peaks forms as you lift the mixer. Fold in the almond/chocolate mix. Spread meringue evenly over bottom and up 3/4 of sides of baking pan.
Pour cake batter mixture into the meringue lined tube pan and with the spatula smooth it out.
Bake for 60 to 70 minutes. Take out of the oven and place on a rack and let cool 20 minutes before turning cake out.