Mastering the Art of French Cooking, II, p 497
I am not at all certain why Julia Child thought this cake easier than a regular sponge type of cake. It isn’t. Simply put, there are a lot of steps. It is, however, a delight to behold and to eat. The cake, essentially meringue layers stacked with almond praline butter cream and topped with chocolate butter cream. Essentially, there are three steps, making the meringue cakes, making the praline, and making the butter cream. And there are almonds, two six ounce bags of blanched almonds. Slivered works, you just want the kind without any peel.
Making simple syrup, which becomes caramel, is a chemical reaction which is always a frightening, yet exciting experience. The water and sugar starts cloudy, turns clear, bubbles rapidly and then sluggishly, which Julia calls ‘thick and heavy’ then turns to a beautiful shade of amber. In a flash, the sugar can burn and a pan hits the sink. In short, to make the praline for the cake, you must have your mise en place ready. Really ready. If not, the sugar will burn while you are scrambling to find the silicone brush to spread the oil for the almond praline. I know, I didn’t have this ready and, well, my house smelled like a famous Pecan Pie plant at noon after they burned the sugar.
What do you do when you burn the sugar? You start over. Just put that pan in the sink, fill with water, turn off the smoke detector and start over. Don’t let this frighten you, all you have to do is be ready and watch the color changes
As my jelly roll pans are not adequately sized to fit two cakes on the pan at once, I had to use all three pans and rotate them throughout the cooking time. If you have only three jelly roll pans, you will need to make the cakes, then wash all the pans and make the praline, or vice versa. Don’t make this cake the morning of the meet the future in-laws dinner party. Unless you want to greet them for dinner wearing the pajamas you didn’t have time to change. Give yourself a day or two to cook, wash, recover. The cake keeps in the refrigerator very well. Oh yeah, plan your refrigerator space as part of your mise en place, too.
Basic preparations are to make the praline, make the meringue cakes, make the butter cream then assemble the cake. The praline goes into the butter cream, so, you could make it second.
For the praline
pralin aux amandes:
Mise en place:
• Preheat Oven to 350˚
• One jelly roll pan, well oiled
• One jelly roll pan, or pizza pan, clean and ready for toasting almonds, no oiling needed
• Food processor or blender to chop praline
• Small to medium heavy saucepan with lid
• 6 oz bag of almonds (Julia uses 4 oz, but I had a 6 oz bag and toasted the entire bag)
• ½ cup sugar
• 3 T water
Spread almonds on pan on center rack in 350˚ oven.
Roast for 10 to 15 minutes until they are brown.
(Julia asks for walnut brown, I got mine to a slightly lighter pecan brown at 15 minutes)
Remove from oven and set aside.
Combine sugar and water in saucepan over moderately high heat.
Swirl pan by the handle, do not stir with a spoon, until water changes to clear.
Cover pan and raise heat to high, boil until bubbles are thick and heavy.
(Julia says several minutes, but my bubbles got thick and heavy in about a minute or two)
Uncover and continue boiling on high until sugar turns a caramel color.
To prevent burning, as the sugar is approaching that desired caramel color, pull the pan off the heat and swirl slightly to check color.
Remove from heat, stir in almonds and immediately turn out onto oiled pan.
Trust me, this stuff sets up quickly!
Allow to cool completely, about twenty minutes.
Break up praline into food processor, which was my preferred method, or ½ cup at a time in a blender, this needs to be pulverized enough for the butter cream to be spreadable.
The best part is that this may be made ahead of time and frozen!
fonds à succès
Mise en place:
Preheat Oven to 250˚
• Butter and flour 2 or 3 jelly roll pans,
Lay an 8 inch cake pan on the surface and trace around it with a rubber or silicone spatula, Julia used a heart shaped pan, you may use an 8 inch round cake pan.
• Double thickness of waxed paper, large enough to hold the pulverize almonds, about 12 to 15 inch piece.
I messed up my mise en place and only used a single thickness. The world didn’t end, I just had to handle it carefully. A flexible cutting mat could work, too.
• Fine mesh sieve, a small one will work.
• Silicone spatula.
• Offset spatula, silicone spatula or canvas pastry bag and wide metal tube opening, ⅜ in diameter.
• 6 oz almonds, ground fine
• 1 cup sugar ( I didn’t have extra fine, so I used regular sugar)
• 1 T plus 1½ tsps cornstarch, both level
Mix the sugar and almonds on the wax paper with your hands or a silicone spatula.
Sieve the cornstarch over the top and incorporate using a silicone spatula
• 6 eggs separated, you will use the whites for the cakes, put the yolks in a covered container in the fridge for the buttercream.
• ⅛ tsp salt
• ¼ tsp cream of tartar
• 3 T sugar
• 1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
• ⅛ tsp almond extract
Beat the egg whites, starting on low to moderately low speed until they are foamy.
Beat in the salt and cream of tartar.
Increase speed gradually to high.
When egg whites are at soft peak stage, gradually beat in the sugar.
Beat until stiff peaks form.
Beat in vanilla and almond extract.
Fold the almond mixture into the meringue, by sprinkling about ¼ cup at a time over the meringue then folding in, when almost incorporated, sprinkle over the next ¼ cup until all is incorporated. Work quickly so that the meringue does not deflate.
Using the pastry bag pipe meringue into the area drawn on the greased and floured pans or divide the batter into thirds and spread meringue evenly to the edges of the area drawn on the pans.
One of the draw backs of meringue is that it is sticky, very sticky. Therefore, I dislike trying to stuff it into a pastry bag and pipe. It oozes and I wind up with it in my hair, on my face, in my elbows. So I divided the meringue onto the three previously prepared circles on the jelly roll pans and spread and smoothed them with an offset spatula to the edges of the circle.
After the cakes are cool, place each layer on a cutting surface, then using the pattern, cut around it to even the edges so that they will stack nicely.
These cakes may be made ahead and left at room temperature overnight until ready for use;, cover with a clean linen towel.
The Butter Cream
Mise en place:
• 1 cup sugar
• A wire wisk or electric beater or hand held beater
• 6 egg yolks
• large heavy bottomed saucepan or saucier 2- 2 ½ quarts
• large stainless bowl
• ¼ c hot milk
• wooden spoon
• 12 to 14 oz or 3 to 3 ½ sticks of butter cut into tablespoons
• 1 tsp vanilla extract
• 3 T kirsch or dark rum
• ½ c almond praline This shouldn’t be all that was made, reserve some for sides of cake.
For the frosting
• 2 oz unsweetened baking chocolate
Make a crème anglaise by gradually beating the sugar into egg yolks until thick and pale lemon yellow.
I used a large stainless bowl for this then transferred to the saucepan. If you have a curved sided saucepan, or 2 quart saucier, start in that.
In a thin stream of droplets, slowly add the hot milk set mixture.
transfer to sauce pan if using stainless bowl
Set over moderate heat and cook stirring with wooden spoon until sauce thickens until film can be formed on spoon. Remove from heat immediately and beat for one minute to cool slightly.
If using stand mixture, scrape into bowl for mixer, otherwise continue with handheld mixer or wire whisk.
Beat in three sticks of butter one or two pieces at a time until mixture is smooth.
Don’t worry if it separates a few quick beats with a wisk will smooth it. Add remaining butter if it is grainy.
Set aside ¼ of the mixture; Add melted chocolate to this mixture.
Stir praline into the remaining mixture.
Place a trimmed meringue layer on a cake stand or use a cake rack
Spread ⅓ of the praline butter cream over the meringue on the cake rack/stand.
Place second meringue on top of first and spread with ½ the remaining praline buttercream.
Place final meringue atop this layer.
Spread remaining butter cream around the edges.
Spread Chocolate butter cream on top of the cake.
Sprinkle remaining praline on cake.