Remember how I said that I was constantly looking for an opportunity to bake a proper round layered cake? Well, soon after my Tiramisu cake, this gorgeous creation was born. I baked it for my friend’s birthday. She asked me to (ok, to be completely honest, I asked her to bake a cake for her party), but the deal was made. The only criteria I was given – she wanted “a chocolate cake, but you know… a light one”. Ha!
Chocolate cakes tend to be rich and dense (nothing wrong with that), so creating a light chocolate cake immediately brought a velvety moussy filling to my mind. Which made me think about a no-chocolate pastry to go with it. Nevertheless, I really wanted this cake to be special. I needed to give it something extra, something decadent, something… different. Scrolling through Instagram, I saw an amazing photo from Bakingsense linking to the recipe for a Velvety soft white cake. And velvety soft it looked. I was immediately attracted to it!
Following the link, I came across an amazing post which I recommend for everyone serious about baking to read. Eileen baked numerous cakes to support her search for an ideal ratio of ingredients in a simple pound cake recipe, explaining the chemistry of each ingredient through a series of posts. Also, she introduced me to the “reverse creaming” technique of mixing the cake batter. Instead of mixing just butter and sugar at the very beginning, gradually adding the eggs and then the mixture of dry ingredients, her technique suggests incorporating the flour in the very beginning. Essentially, that makes the flour coat in grease (butter) before the gluten had a chance to develop (which happens when flour gets in touch with liquid from the eggs), so the final cake should be smoother and lighter.
Here are the links to Eileen’s posts. I honestly suggest reading them as they provide very straight-forward explanations to baking basics and the chemistry of baking. Plus, her recipes seem amazing. Thank you, Eileen, for the valuable lessons and inspiration!
Recipe for Velvety soft white cake: https://www.baking-sense.com/2017/09/14/white-cake/
The chemistry of ingredients in a cake batter explained: https://www.baking-sense.com/category/baking-school/cake-batter/
Reverse creaming technique explained: https://www.baking-sense.com/2017/02/28/cake-batter-mixing-technique/https://www.baking-sense.com/2017/02/28/cake-batter-mixing-technique/
Back to the recipe. So, I used Eileen’s recipe as a base. Only I decided to spice things up a bit by adding ground almonds to my cake batter. Which is why, although I used blanched almonds, my cake batter does not look perfectly white as hers does, so don’t be alarmed. However, I love this base batter! It is honestly so soft, moist, tender and full of mild vanilla and almond flavour. Really wonderful!
But there’s more. The filling for the cake had to be custard – based. I prefer those rather than buttercream fillings. Guess that is just what I am used to making and eating. I believe they have such a wonderful, deep rich flavour (what with all the eggyolks), that cannot be achieved by a regular chocolate frosting. So I made a chocolate custard and lightened it with a fair amount of whipping cream which made my thick deep fudgy frosting into a voluminous, lighter-than-air chocolate mousse. Mmmmm…
But wait, I didn’t stop there! On top of my first cake layer I spread some chocolate ganache and sprinkled with chopped almonds. You know me, for a crunch. Only then came a thick layer of chocolate mousse. Then the second cake layer. White ganache. Chopped almonds. Final layer of chocolate mousse. Rafaello and Ferrero Rocher pralines on top for the decoration. Need I say more?
So, considering the cake has six layers, yes, it was rich, a thin slice went a long way, but both the base and the filling were so wonderfully light, airy, velvety, not too sweet, just right. They worked so well together. So make this cake. It is really worth the time.
Few extra notes:
2. I used gelatin in my filling. I don’t usually use it, but the cake had to be transported and survive my sister’s driving, so I didn’t want to take a risk of it falling apart. If you are serving it at home, you can completely omit the gelatin, the custard and whipped cream will keep it firm enough.
3. I wish I had more (or better) photographs of the cake, but you know how it is – you bring a cake, you don’t bring a cake with a slice missing. =D Also, I don’t like to make people wait for me to put up a scenery and take hundreds of photographs. We were in a semi dark environment, we were hungry, the cake looked and smelled divine and everybody dug in as soon as they got their hands on the plate. They all munched happily and I didn’t think about stopping them from enjoying the cake even for a second. After all, that’s what it should be all about, people enjoying the food, don’t you agree? If you need more convincing, just go over the list of layers again. =)
preparation time: about 3 hours, does not include cooling and setting
baking time: 25-30 minutes, 170°C/340 F
baking pan size: Φ28 cm/11 in
Ingredients for the cake batter:*
8 egg whites
380 g granulated white vanilla sugar (or use regular sugar and add some vanilla extract)
370 g unsalted butter, softened
300 g sour cream
160 g ground blanched almonds
135 g all-purpose flour
80 g cornstarch**
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp bicarbonate soda
*This is the amount of batter for two sponge cakes. Since the whole amount of batter is pretty big, I suggest splitting it in half and making two sponges separately. That will ensure that both are baked evenly and thoroughly, rather than splitting one giant baked sponge in half. However, if you are baking a smaller cake or have two baking pans of same size and a bowl and mixer large enough to mix all at once, feel free to do so. I baked mine separately.
**Cornstarch is here because Eileen’s recipe calls for cake flour. We don’t have it where I live, so I often substitute part of all-purpose flour with cornstarch to get something more like cake flour. If you can get cake flour, use it instead of all-purpose flour and cornstarch.
Also, this recipe is based on Eileen’s recipe for Velvety soft white cake. Some amounts differ slightly and my version has almonds in the batter.
Ingredients for the dark chocolate ganache:
100 ml heavy whipping cream
100 g bitter-sweet chocolate, either chips or cut into chunks
40 g roasted chopped almonds
Ingredients for the white chocolate ganache:
100 ml heavy whipping cream
150 g white chocolate, either chips or cut into chunks
40 g roasted chopped almonds
Ingredients for the chocolate mousse filling:
6 egg yolks
600 ml milk
120 g sugar
60 g cornstarch
300 g bitter-sweet chocolate
100 g butter, soft, but not melted
400 ml heavy whipping cream
1 package (10 g) of gelatine (optional, see note 2 above)
1. Start by making the chocolate filling. Prepare two skillets or pots to cook the custard using a double broiler method. Fill the larger one with water and let it come to a simmer. Then adjust the heat so it gently simmers constantly.
2. Get the second skillet that can fit securely and steadily on top of the first one without touching the water. Pour in the milk and let it come almost to a simmer. In a separate (third) bowl whisk egg yolks with sugar until sugar disolves. Add cornstarch and mix it in well so there are no lumps.
3. Once the milk is hot enough, slowly, while whisking, pour in the mixture of yolks, sugar and cornstarch. Stir constantly until the custard thickens and reaches the consistency of… well, custard. Or vanilla pudding, if you will. Remove both skillets from the heat. Put chopped chocolate into hot custard and stir it in until the chocolate is melted and the custard gets smooth an velvety.
4. Cover the top of the custard with plastic wrap and let it cool. First on room temperature, than transfer to the fridge to cool completely. I made my custard and sponges the night before and finished the cake the next morning.
5. Make the cake batter. Preheat the oven to 170°C/350 F (I baked my cake on lower temperature than usual (170°C instead of recommended 180°C) because of the almonds. I didn’t want the top to get too dark too soon.). Blanche the almonds and grind them finely. In a large bowl sift together ground almonds, all-purpose flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, bicarbonate soda and half the amount of sugar.
6. Add half the amount of sour cream and start whisking using an electric mixer, slowly adding chunks of butter. Be patient and add the butter in stages so everything gets incorporated well. Add the rest of the sour cream and increase the mixing speed. Whisk for another few minutes. The mixture should look pale and frothy.
7. In a separate bowl whisk the egg whites until soft peaks form. Add the remaining half of the sugar and whisk them to stiff peaks. Fold them in the mixture of flour, sour cream and butter in stages and very gently, using a spatula, so you don’t deflate the batter.
8. Transfer the cake batter into prepared baking pans (lined with parchment paper) and bake in a preheated oven for about 25 to 30 minutes. As I said, my cake was fairly large (28 cm/11 in in diameter), so it took 30 minutes per cake (I baked two sponges separately). As always, the top should spring back if you press it lightly and the center should be set completely. Check them after about 20 – 25 minutes to see how fast they progress. Once baked, let the sponges cool completely.
9. Once both sponge cakes and the chocolate custard are completely cool, make the ganache. Warm up heavy cream until it comes just up to a simmer and pour over chopped semi-sweet chocolate. Cover the bowl and let it sit undisturbed for about 5 minutes. Then stir it using a whisk or a spatula until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture gets silky smooth. Set aside to set and reach spreadable consistency (for about half an hour). Repeat the process with white chocolate ganache.
10. In the meantime, chop the almonds. No need to blanche them, use whichever you have on hand. I do suggest roasting them, though, to enhance their aroma.
11. Finish the chocolate mousse filling. If using gelatine, prepare it accordingly to what you package says as each product can be different. Mine instructed to coat 10 g of ground gelatine with 5 tablespoons of water and melt it on low heat.
12. Using an electric mixer fitted with a paddle or whisk attachment, mix the cooled chocolate custard on low speed at first to loosen it up a bit. Slowly add chunks of softened butter and whisk until the butter is fully incorporated. Increase the speed a bit and whisk everything really smooth.
13. In a separate bowl, whip up 400 ml of heavy cream and slowly pour in the gelatine. Whisk well to incorporate the gelatine completely. Fold the whipped cream in the chocolate custard in 3 stages, using a spatula. Again, do it slowly so the whipped cream does not lose its volume. Patiently fold everything until the mixture looks homogeneous.
14. Finally, time to assemble the cake. I assembled mine in a spring form pan and lined the sides with firm plastic foil which I simply unwrapped later when I was ready to serve. It helped me hold the layers neat and in place during assembly and later during transport.
Place the first sponge cake at the bottom of the spring form pan or serving plate. Spread dark chocolate ganache (it should be the consistency of cream cheese or Nutella… thickened, but spreadable) and sprinkle with 40 g of chopped almonds.
15. Then spread half the chocolate mousse filling and smooth it out as best as you can. Place the second sponge cake over the mousse, spread white ganache on top, sprinkle with remaining chopped almonds and finally, evenly spread the second half of chocolate mousse filling. Level the top. If you want, reserve some chocolate filling to coat the sides of the cake (there is more than enough), but as I said, I assembled my cake in a spring form pan because I had to transport it, so that was the easiest way to get it safely to the destination.
16. Decorate any way you like – with more whipping cream, with dripping chocolate ganache, fresh strawberries (that would be AMAZING, how I wish they were in season…), chocolate shavings… I used store bought Ferrero and Rafaello pralines as they are my favourite chocolate and almond dessert, so I figured – why not have some of both? Allow the cake to set for several hours in the fridge and enjoy!