While paging through Rose's Heavenly Cakes by Rose Levy Beranbaum I was struck by this Cradle Cake, not for its beauty (like the other cakes in the book) but for its plainness. In the photo accompanying the recipe, the cake appeared to be nothing more than an upside-down loaf cake with a very dark crust. From my experience baking from Beranbaum's latest cake book, her cakes are first and foremost visually arresting and this cake, well, wasn't.
It was only when I looked over the recipe that I realized this cake possessed more of an inner beauty. The name comes from the layer of crisp nutty dacquoise, a mixture of ground pecans, chocolate and whipped egg whites, that encases or cradles the moist inner white cake.
What this cake lacks in appearance, it makes up for in flavor and texture. The layer of dacquoise is wonderfully toasty and crunchy with hints of bitter chocolate and roasted nuts, and a macaron-like texture. The white cake in the center is perfectly moist with just the slightest tang from the buttermilk in the batter. The bitter chocolate crust offsets the mellow white cake and together the textures make for a sweet harmony.
Win Rose's Heavenly Cakes
As always with our Cook the Book feature, we have five (5) copies of Rose's Heavenly Cakes to give away this week.
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar, divided
- 1/2 cup pecan halves
- 1/2 ounce fine-quality unsweetened or 99% cacao chocolate, chopped
- 2 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
- 2 egg yolks from above
- 1/3 cup low-fat buttermilk, divided
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup (or 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons) cake flour (or bleached all-purpose
- flour), sifted into the cup and leveled off
- 1/2 cup superfine sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter (65° to 75°F)
- Special Equipment: One 9 by 4- or 5-inch loaf pan, preferably silicone, coated with baking spray with fl our. If using a metal pan, line the bottom with a rectangle of parchment.
Twenty minutes or more before baking, set an oven rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F.
Place 1 tablespoon of the sugar in one bowl and the remaining sugar in another bowl.
Spread the pecans evenly on a baking sheet and bake for about 7 minutes to enhance their flavor. Stir once or twice to ensure even toasting and avoid overbrowning. Cool completely.
Place the chocolate in the refrigerator for about 20 minutes. In a food processor, process, with long pulses, the pecans, chilled chocolate, and the 1 tablespoon of sugar until finely ground.
Have the ingredients for the cake batter ready so that the dacquoise does not have to sit for too long before baking. In a medium bowl, place the yolks and coat lightly with nonstick cooking spray to prevent a crust from forming. Set aside for the cake batter. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk beater, pour in the egg whites. Beat the egg whites on medium-low speed until soft peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Raise the speed to medium-high and gradually add the remaining sugar, beating until very glossy and stiff peaks form when the beater is raised slowly. Fold in the pecan mixture until evenly incorporated. Using a silicone spatula, scrape the egg white mixture into the prepared pan. Spread it evenly in the bottom and three-quarters of the way up the sides, creating a long rectangular hollow in the center to contain the batter. Set aside briefly while mixing the batter.
In the bowl with the reserved yolks, whisk in 1 tablespoon of the buttermilk and the vanilla just until lightly combined. Cover and set aside.
n the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the fl at beater, mix the fl our, sugar, baking powder, and salt on low speed for 30 seconds. Add the butter and the remaining buttermilk. Mix on low speed until the dry ingredients are moistened. Raise the speed to medium and beat for one and a half minutes. The mixture will lighten in color and texture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Starting on medium-low speed, gradually add the egg mixture in two parts, beating on medium speed for 30 seconds after each addition to incorporate the ingredients and strengthen the structure. Spoon the batter into the dacquoise-lined pan and smooth the surface evenly with a small metal spatula. The batter will come just to the top of the dacquoise.
Bake for 45 to 55 minutes, or until a wire cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean and the cake springs back when pressed lightly in the center. The dacquoise and cake batter will both rise, but toward the end of baking, the cake will dome a little above the dacquoise and split in the center.
Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack until the bottom is no longer warm to the touch. (In the metal pan, the cake can be unmolded after 20 minutes of cooling.) Run a small metal spatula between the sides of the pan and the sides of the cake, pressing firmly against the pan, and invert the cake onto a serving plate. Cool completely. Uncovered, the unfrosted cake will keep for 2 days at room temperature.