Saturday, August 2, 2008

Daring Bakers challenge - Filbert gateau with praline buttercream

Elaborate cakes were back on the agenda this month for the Daring Bakers. Host Mele Cotte chose the filbert gateau with praline buttercream from Great Cakes by Carol Walter. Filbert appears to be an American name for hazelnuts. I think hazelnuts and chocolate make a great combination so was looking forward to this cake. It was a detailed cake, not difficult, but one that involved numerous preparation steps for each part before it could all be assembled. The good thing was that each part could be prepared in advance and then the cake assembled on the day you wanted to serve it, so that saved a lot of pressure and angst.

The individual parts of this cake were the filbert gateau, sugar syrup, praline buttercream (which involved making praline and buttercream separately), whipped cream, apricot glaze and ganache glaze. As I mentioned, when broken down into parts, this cake was not difficult to make but it involved time, large quantities of eggs and sugar and many dishes!

The filbert gateau involved processing toasted and skinned hazelnuts with flour and cornflour to make a fine, powdery mixture. Seven egg yolks were whisked with sugar until ribbony and they were then added to beaten egg whites before the hazelnut mixture was folded in. The result was a lovely, dense nutty cake. This was split into three and each individual piece moistened with sugar syrup before being joined together with the praline buttercream.

I ran into some problems with the praline buttercream. I have a lot of recipes for praline but have never actually made it, so I was glad to have the opportunity to try. It was quite easy - melting sugar, stirring in hazelnuts to coat with caramel and tipping onto a baking tray to let cool. I think I left the sugar a fraction too long, as it was quite dark and had a slightly burnt taste but this is a process that will be refined with practice.

So the praline was not the problem but the buttercream was. I used the measurements given, which were US measurements and may not have strictly translated to Australian measurements. To make, egg whites were whisked until foamy and thick and then whisked over boiling water until the whites were warm and the sugar dissolved. Nearly 400g of butter was separately beaten until smooth and creamy and the meringue was then blended in separately to make a thick and creamy buttercream. So far, so good. Then I added the 1-2 tablespoons of liqueur and the mixture split. Despite following the emergency instructions on how to make the buttercream come back together, it didn't work and became a gluggy, buttery mess. Although it looked awful, I couldn't justify throwing such a large amount of butter out, so I added icing sugar and a little cocoa and this saved the icing, making it stick together and taste like icing rather than butter. I've tried a similar buttercream recipe in a previous DB challenge and haven't been happy with the results, so I think I'll stick with my trusty Australian Women's Weekly vienna buttercream in future. I also ran the recipe past a chef friend to see if he could give me some advice on where I went wrong but he thought the method sounded odd and said that he would normally make a butter icing or a meringue icing but not combine the both. Perhaps this shows the difference in Australian and American recipes, methods and palates. Any advice from American cooks will be gratefully received!

Once the buttercream was saved, I sandwiched the gateau portions together with the buttercream, with some whipped cream on top and then made the chocolate ganache, which is my favourite part. Cream and a tablespoon of corn syrup are heated and poured over grated dark chocolate to make a luscious thick glaze to dribble over the cake.

I took the finished cake along to share as dessert with my table at a fundraising trivia night. Everyone thought it looked like tiramisu but it didn't taste at all like tiramisu. It was a very nice cake and was quickly devoured but we all thought it was too sweet for our tastebuds. Only small pieces are needed and I thought that sandwiching the cake together with buttercream and whipped cream was too much - one or the other would have been enough. With the amount of effort that went into making this cake, and the fact that it really was far too sweet, I don't think that I will make it again. But I enjoyed the process and could see adaptations for this cake to adjust it to my palate - moistening the gateau slices with coffee syrup and sandwiching with a small amount of whipped cream before icing with ganache is an alternative I'd like to try.

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