April 30, 2014

Chocolate Cake with Walnut Brittle

In my previous post, I mentioned my grandma’s epic Chocolate Cake with Walnut Brittle that trumped the wide array of sweet treats on my birthday.  I also promised you the recipe for this intricately sensational chocolate concoction and told you that you will not want to miss it.  I was not kidding!  

I know, you may ask yourselves “why would you need another fancy chocolate cake recipe when you already have this great one?”  The truth is that regardless how dazzling and indulgent that cake is, sometimes only your grandma’s-mastered-and-made-with-lots-of-love-and-patience cake will do; and we realize that the traditional is special and extraordinarily good.  And besides, you can never have too many chocolate cake recipes in your repertoire.

This Chocolate Cake with Walnut Brittle is the classic, staple chocolate dessert, the ace up her sleeve that grandma Vicki pulls out on celebratory occasions.  From birthdays to dinner parties, and from Christmas to Easter, this torte is front and center.  On top of that, this is a recipe that my grandma made, fiddled with, and perfected over time, which makes it that much more exceptional.  And to watch her making it twice for me while at home was a real treat!   

This chocolate cake is so rich, sweetly moist and drenched in rum, slathered with a smooth and velvety egg-enriched chocolate frosting, and dressed up with the crunchy, toasty and caramelly walnut brittle on top, which transforms the special into spectacular.  Although, my grandma’s cake is ideal for significant occasions, you don’t have to wait for that specific moment to give your taste buds some noteworthy chocolate therapy; the weekend would be a good excuse.

Now, I’ll admit that this cake requires a few steps and almost a dozen eggs to reach a sinful awesomeness and seductive deliciousness hard to achieve otherwise.  But don’t panic; the steps are super-easy and the result will not disappoint.  I would recommend, if you have the time, to make the rum syrup and the walnut brittle, and to bake the cake layers the day before.  It will simplify the entire process.  And sometimes, it’s worth to slow down and smell the roses; or, in this case, the chocolate!         

Chocolate Cake with Walnut Brittle
By Simply Romanesco inspired by my Grandma Vicki

Makes: 12+ servings

Ingredients for the cake:

Butter for the pans
110 grams (3/4 cup) all-purpose flour, plus more for the pans
1 heaping teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
35 grams (4 slightly heaping Tablespoons) cocoa powder
8 large eggs, at room temperature
240 grams (1cup) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Ingredients for the Rum Syrup:

1 cup sugar
1 cup water
¼ cup rum

Ingredients for the Walnut Brittle:

50 grams (1/2 cup) toasted walnuts
60 grams (1/4 cup) sugar

Ingredients for the Frosting:

3 large eggs, at room temperature
250 grams (1 cup and 1 ½ Tablespoon) sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 ½ Tablespoon cocoa powder
100 grams (3.5 oz.) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
125 ml (1/2 cup) heavy cream
230 grams (2 sticks) butter, at room temperature

Instructions for the cake:

Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Butter two 8 or 9-inch x 2-inch round cake pans.  Line with parchment paper, then butter and flour the pans.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt, and cocoa.  Mix until combined.  Set aside.

Separate the egg yolks and egg whites into two large bowls.  Using an electric hand mixer, beat the egg yolks with the sugar and vanilla.  In batches, add the flour mixture to the wet ingredients.  Set aside.

In the other large bowl, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold medium-firm peaks.  In batches, gently fold the egg whites into the batter.  Pour the batter into the prepared pans and bake for 25-30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean.  Cool in the pans for 15 minutes, then turn them out onto a cooling rack and cool completely.  Once the cakes have cooled completely, pierce the top all over with a fork.            

Instructions for the Rum Syrup:

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water and whisk until the sugar dissolves.  Off heat, add the rum, whisk well and set aside to cool completely.  Using a spoon, drizzle the syrup all over the top of the cakes.  You will use about 1 ¼ cup (250-300 ml) of the syrup.  Just discard the remaining of the syrup.  Allow the cakes to sit and absorb the syrup.  

Instructions for the Walnut Brittle:

Butter a small plate and set aside. In a small saucepan over medium heat, heat the sugar until it dissolves and turns into caramel.  Off heat, add the walnuts and mix well until all the walnut pieces get coated with caramel.  Pour the walnut and caramel mixture onto the buttered plate.  When the brittle has cooled completely, crush the brittle into small pieces.  The best way to do this is with a mortar and pestle.  Set aside.  

Instructions for the Chocolate Frosting:

Place the chocolate in a small bowl.  Heat up the heavy cream in a small saucepan over medium-low heat.  Cook until small bubbles appear on the outside edge of the cream.  Pour the hot cream over the chocolate.  Using a spoon, gently stir until all the chocolate is melted and the mixture (the ganache) is smooth.  Set aside.

In a medium heat-proof bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar and vanilla for 2-3 minutes.  Put the bowl on top of a pan of simmering water, making sure that the base of the bowl doesn’t come in contact with the water.  Gently beat the eggs and sugar mixture with a whisk until it thickens and looks like a thick cream, about 25-30 minutes.  Add the cocoa and the chocolate and cream mixture (the ganache) and mix well.  Set aside to cool completely, stirring occasionally.  

In a large bowl, using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter on medium speed until light yellow and fluffy, about 3 minutes.  Slowly and in batches, add the chocolate and egg mixture and beat on medium-low speed, scrapping down the bowl as necessary, until smooth and creamy.  Don’t whip!

Place 1 layer of the cake, flat side up, on a flat plate or cake pedestal.  With a knife or offset spatula, evenly spread the top with one-third of the frosting.  Place the second layer on top, rounded side up, and spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake. 

Sprinkle the walnut brittle over the top and sides of the cake.  

Poftă Bună! (Bon Appétit!)