I fantasize about the cake the way most girls fantasize about the dress.
In high school, during my first uninhibited flush of baking ambition I envisioned a gargantuan edifice off cake consisting, somewhat bewilderingly in retrospect, of crisply starched meringue layered with raspberries and a delicate sponge drenched in Frangelico, or Sherry, or possibly both. This was my excessive phase.
In college, I fell in love with the idea of a traditional English wedding cake. A hearty ordeal of brandy soaked fruit, it is blanketed in marzipan and frosted with a fine white royal icing. More than a festive centerpiece, this wedding cake is so durable that British couples traditionally saved the top layer for the christening of their first born child. This was my romantic phase.
Since then I have entertained various fantasies, fluctuating with the mood of the hour. From Italian tiramisu to a ‘cake’ formed entirely by layers of truffles filled with single-malt Whisky (you may notice a theme by now), these visions have ranged from modest to outlandish.
Now that I am engaged, I have become more circumspect. Visions of grandeur have surrendered to the greater appeal of a happy, stress-free wedding.
So I began the recipe search with a critical eye and daunting list of expectations:
- The cake must be delicious, without compromising flavor or texture for glamour.
- It must be easy to make. I know myself too well and attempting anything remotely complex will inevitably result in a meltdown, the bride buried under the rubble of a failed cake, drowning in tears and butter-cream.
- It must be gluten and dairy free. Tragically, several of my nearest and dearest friends cannot enjoy these foods.
Perused the web in growing desperation, I stumbled across a blog post by David Lebovitz, a food blogger living in Paris. The recipe is for simple yet versatile almond cake, adapted from one served a the famed Chez Panisse in Berkeley. I was intrigued. After some thought I gave it a go, substituting almond four for the white flour and Earth Balance shortening for the butter. I iced it with a dairy-free chocolate frosting and then served it forth.
The result was better than I’d dared hope. The crumb was moist and delicate, fragrant with sharp, sweet almond and blanketed by rich dark chocolate. Not yet perfect, it was nonetheless an encouraging step in the development of a lovely wedding cake. The recipe below is shamelessly stolen, almost verbatim, from the one by David Lebovitz. You can find the original along with helpful commentary and advice here.
Test 1: dense almond cake with coconut-chocolate frosting
for the cake: 1 1/3 cups sugar 8 ounces almond paste 3/4, plus 1/4 cup all-purpose flour or almond flour 1 cup unsalted butter or Earth Balance shortening, at room temperature, cubed 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon vanilla extract 1 teaspoon almond extract 6 large eggs, at room temperature
1. Preheat the oven to 325ºF. Grease a 9- or 10-inch cake or spring form pan with butter, dust it with flour and tap out any excess. Line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper. 2. In the bowl of a food processor, grind the sugar, almond paste, and 1/4 cup of flour until the almond paste is finely ground and the mixture resembles sand. 3. In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3/4 cup of flour, baking powder, and salt. 4. Once the almond paste is completely broken up, add the cubes of butter and the vanilla and almond extracts, then process until the batter is very smooth and fluffy. 5. Add the eggs one at a time, processing a bit before the next addition. (You may wish to open the machine and scrape the sides down to make sure the eggs are getting fully incorporated.) After you add all the eggs, the mixture may look curdled. Don’t worry; it’ll come back together after the next step. 6. Add half the flour mixture and pulse the machine a few times, then add the rest, pulsing the machine until the drying ingredients are just incorporated, but do not overmix. (You can also transfer the batter to a bowl and mix the dry ingredients in, which ensures the dry ingredients get incorporated evenly and you don’t overbeat it.) 7. Scrape the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for 65 minutes, or until the top is deep brown and feels set when you press in the center. 8. Remove the cake from the oven and run a sharp or serrated knife around the perimeter, loosing the cake from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool completely in the pan. Once cool, tap the cake out of the pan, remove the parchment paper, and set on a cake plate until ready to serve. (Tip: Warm the bottom of the cake pan directly on the stovetop for just a few seconds, which will help the cake release.)
for the frosting: 1 1/2 cups bittersweet chocolate chips 1/2 cup refined coconut oil 1 tbsp vanilla extract
Melt the chocolate and coconut oil together in a saucepan over a low heat. Whisk until lumps have dissolved, then remove from heat a whisk in the vanilla. Leave to cool in fridge for 20-30 mins. Whisk until thick and fluffy. Ice the cake immediately as the mixture hardens quickly.
In the next test I will experiment with different fillings and discover how the cake holds up when layered. Note: I did consult my fiance (The Texan) on his preferences but he didn’t seem the slightest bit interested, bless him.