Since I sent in my request to join the Daring Bakers back in February, I've eagerly awaited the start of each new month. It's so much fun to see what interesting new challenge will be presented. This month was no different. In fact, I had the day off from work on July 1st, so I was able to check out the new recipe and see some of the early responses to it. This month's selection came from Chris of Mele Cotte--Filbert Gâteau with Praline Buttercream. It's a long recipe, but mostly because you have to make a bunch of different components before assembling the finished cake. A bit intimidating at first, but I survived the Opera Cake, so I didn't think this would be too bad. =)
One thing I did notice was that this recipe was for a pretty large cake, so I knew I'd need to find some people to help eat it. My first thought was that I could take it to an annual 4th of July party that we attend. So I headed right out to the store (yes, on 7/1) to buy hazelnuts and apricot preserves, the two ingredients that weren't already in my pantry. But as I thought about it more, I realized that this might not work well--the party was outdoors in the Texas heat, probably not the best place for a cake like this. And I was going to have a hard time finding the time to get everything done.
So the hazelnuts and preserves languished in my pantry for another three weeks. Last week I had another day off during the week, so I decide to tackle the praline paste while my kids were at daycare and not underfoot. Super hot caramel and small children just seems like a really bad idea... First I had to skin the hazelnuts. Easier said than done. First I tried roasting them and rubbing the skins off. That didn't really work very well. Bits of the skins came off, but not enough. So then I tried boiling them in water with baking soda, as someone suggested on the DB boards. That worked quite well for loosening the skins, but it still took longer than I would have liked to separate the nuts from the skins. Not something I want to make a habit of. Once I was done, I put the nuts back into the oven to dry them out some.
Next was the caramel. I've never actually made a dry caramel before, so I was a bit nervous about this step. It turned out not to be too bad, though I'm still more comfortable with the wet method. I got the nuts more or less coated with the caramel, and turned them out onto a pan lined with non-stick foil (love that stuff) to cool. Once the brittle was cool enough to handle, I broke it up some and put it in my food processor. Then I processed the heck out of it. Eventually, it turned into a paste, but it took some patience. My finished paste wasn't completely smooth, but it was close. The texture of it actually reminded me a lot of the inside of Reese's peanut butter cups.
Since I was on a roll, that same evening I made the Swiss buttercream. I've made buttercream before, but the method for this one was a bit different. Instead of adding butter to the meringue, you add the meringue to the softened butter. But it worked fine for me. I used rum for my flavoring. And once the praline paste was added... Wow! I don't usually go for caramel-y sweet things, but boy was that stuff good! And it kept well in the fridge until the weekend when I could finish the cake. Once I was ready to use it, I let it sit at room temperature to warm up, then put it back in my stand mixer and beat it with the paddle attachment until it came back together.
I made the full recipe of the buttercream so I would be sure to have enough for decorating, but I decided to make a small cake with only half the genoise recipe. Since the original cake was to be baked in a 10-inch pan, I did the math and determined that my 7-inch springform would be the right size for half. The genoise was pretty straightforward to make, though it took longer to bake than I expected (about 33 minutes). I let it cool overnight, and on Sunday I finally got down to assembling the cake. First I divided the cake into three layers with my serrated bread knife. I brushed each layer with rum syrup (I made half the recipe of that, too) and layered it with the buttercream. I brushed the top and sides of the assembled cake with apricot glaze. While the cake chilled, I prepared the ganache glaze. I used one of my favorite chocolates, Scharffen Berger 62%, as well as some more rum. Pouring the glaze over the cake went pretty smoothly (pun intended). Once the glaze set, I had fun piping stars around the bottom and on the top of my cake. I added some hazelnuts for decoration as well.
The verdict? I'm not sure if I'd ever had hazelnuts before I made this cake. I'm still not sure how much I like them by themselves. But the praline buttercream is absolutely fantastic. I had to put the leftovers of that in the freezer so I wouldn't just stand here in my kitchen and eat it with a spoon. The ganache glaze was fun to do, and looked really neat when I was done. I'm not the biggest fan of nutty cakes, but I did like the whole thing put together. And I tried some neat new things, which is part of the fun of the Daring Bakers.
Wow, it's taken me longer than I expected to type all that out. Not as long as the full recipe, though. =) For that, head over to Chris's blog, and don't forget to check out the creations of all the other Daring Bakers!