A week and a half ago, I finally buckled down and ordered a delight of a book that had been stuck in a sad existence in a Word document titled “baking wishlist” that dates back to 2009, though I’m constantly revising it. When it arrived last Wednesday, I eagerly ripped open the cardboard box and of course immediately questioned my considerable lack of judgement for failing to have gotten it earlier. Even if I would have never baked a thing out of Sky High, it provides ample eye candy of gorgeous towering layer cakes.
My first order of business was to correct what can only be described as an embarrassing episode for any respectable baker: when my mom’s birthday rolled around in March, I was inundated with schoolwork and regrettably had to skip baking a cake, instead entering into a verbal IOU negotiation for a promised make-up cake. So when the book arrived, after wiping off my drool, I gave it to my mom with the request to pick something, anything. Now was the perfect time for a make-up birthday cake. After all, we did have another birthday, a one-year birthday/anniversary, to celebrate. (She, by the way, was not impressed by the “coincidence.”)
My mom picked out three different enticing possibilities: a spiced chocolate hazelnut cake, a peach melba cake, and this one. We vetoed the first, as the headnotes declared it a wintry cake. After all, it was titled “chocolate-hazelnut nutcracker cake.” The peach melba looked interesting but didn’t my mom want something chocolate? So with our agreement, this mouthful (chocolate cake with almond cream filling, bittersweet frosting, and apricot preserves) was to be The Cake.
And some cake it was. This is a cake for people who have a flat-out love for chocolate, with a few twists. The cake itself has an interesting mix of flavors (coffee, honey, vanilla, and almond) though they all work together and rally around the real star, chocolate. The filling, almond cream, is a riff on pastry cream, the bittersweet frosting is essentially a boozed-up whipped ganache (yes, it’s as good as it sounds), and the apricot preserves on top tie it together in a pretty, glossy package. Now, if only my piping skills would improve…
Chocolate Cake with Almond Cream Filling, Bittersweet Frosting, and Apricot Preserves
adapted from Sky High
Makes a triple-layer 8-inch cake
I’ve added weights, some much-needed salt, and directions for some alternate methods: lining pans with parchment paper, double-boiler, and ice-bath, all very riveting topics to everyone, I’m sure. I also switched out the rum for Amaretto, both out of necessity (we were out of rum) and cohesion (picking up on the almond in the cake and filling).
As I noted above, the chocolate cake here is different than most; it uses honey, which as Huntsman and Wynne explains, lends a “rich mellow flavor” and “is highly hygroscopic, which means it retains moisture and, hence, allows the cake to remain fresh longer.” Mmmm, chemistry. It also plays quite nicely with the almond and apricot.
About the filling: my mom and I both found that we wanted a little more of the delicious almond cream filling to balance out the all the chocolate. If you want (and what I’d do), you can 1.5 the recipe. (Or even double- hello, welcome leftovers!)
Divide and conquer! Consider making the almond cream filling the day before, so you have one less component to prepare when you bake and assemble the cake.
6 ounces unsweetened chocolate, roughly chopped
1 1/4 cups (8 5/8 ounces / 245 grams) sugar, divided
1/2 cup strongly brewed coffee
1 3/4 (7 1/8 ounces / 202 grams) cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (3/4 ounce / 20 grams) unsweetened cocoa powder (natural or Dutch-processed)
1 teaspoon (4 grams) baking soda
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces / 1/2 cup / 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup honey
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
2/3 cup buttermilk
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Butter the bottoms and sides of three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottoms with parchment paper (like so) and butter the parchment. Dust the parchment and sides with flour, and tap out any excess.
2. Combine the chocolate with 1/2 cup (3 3/8 ounces / 97 grams) sugar and coffee in a medium heatproof bowl. Microwave on medium power for a 1-2 minutes, stirring every thirty seconds, until melted. Stir to combine evenly. (Or, you can do this double-boiler method: set bowl over a saucepan of gently simmering water and stir until the chocolate is melted.)
3. In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
4. Using a stand mixer or an handheld electric mixer and a large bowl, cream together the butter and remaining 3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces / 148 grams) sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the honey, then the eggs, one at a time, until well-blended. Don’t be concerned if the mixture looks curdled or separated- it will all smooth out once you add the dry ingredients. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, and mix in the vanilla and almond extracts. On low speed, gradually add the dry ingredients in 3 additions, alternating with the buttermilk in 2 additions (so that you begin and end with the dry ingredients), beating just until mixed. Finally, gently add the melted chocolate mixture. Pour a third of the batter into each pan, and tap on the counter to get rid of any air bubbles.
5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer or toothpick comes out clean, the cake is pulling away from the sides and springs back when touched lightly. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 10 minutes, then invert onto wire racks, peel off the parchment, and cool completely, at least 1 hour.
Almond Cream Filling
makes about 1 1/2 cups (see headnotes; you may want more)
1 egg yolk
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces / 100 grams) sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces / 50 grams) all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups whole milk
2 teaspoons almond extract
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1. In a small bowl, whisk together the eggs and egg yolk until well-blended.
2. In a medium, heavy saucepan, whisk together the sugar, flour, and salt. Slowly whisk in about 1/2 cup milk until smooth and paste-like. Whisk in the egg mixture and remaining milk. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat slightly and cook for 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until the filling is thick (like pastry cream or pudding).
3. Remmove from heat and stir in the almond and vanilla extracts. Let cool slightly, then cover with plastic wrap, pressing it directly against surface of the filling to prevent a skin from forming. Refrigerate until fully chilled. For impatient people like me, use an ice bath: fill a large bowl halfway with ice and a little water, and set the bowl of pudding in the ice bath so that it reaches halfway up the sides of the pudding bowl. Stir occasionally until fully chilled.
makes about 2 cups
8 ounces bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
3/4 cup heavy cream
3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Amaretto or dark rum
1. Place the chopped chocolate in a food processor.
2. In a small, heavy saucepan, scald the cream- bring it just under its boiling point. Little bubbles should form around the edges, but don’t let it boil. Finely chop the chocolate in the food processor and with the machine running, slowly add the steaming hot cream through the feed tube. Process until the mixture is smooth, and transfer to a heatproof bowl.
3. Whisk in the butter until melted and incorporated. (If the frosting is too cool, set it over a saucepan of steaming water just so the butter can soften to melt.) Let the frosting cool slightly, then whisk in the Amaretto. Cover and refrigerate until the frosting just begins to thicken, about 15 to 20 minutes- don’t let it get too thick. Whisk the frosting until smooth, creamy, and fluffy. If it gets too thick, you can set it over a pan of warm water for a second until it softens slightly, then whisk again to the proper consistency.
Chocolate Cake, cooled
Almond Cream Filling, chilled
1/2 cup (5 ounces / 140 grams) apricot preserves
1. To assemble the cake, level off the rounded tops of the cakes to create flat surfaces. Place one layer on a cake stand or serving plate, bottom side up. Cover with half the chilled Almond Cream Filling, spreading it evenly, leaving a 1/4-inch border around the edge. Top with the second layer, and cover the the remaining Almond Cream, again leaving a 1/4-inch border. Top with the third layer, and spread the apricot preserves evenly over the top of the cake to the very edge.
2. Cover the sides of the cake with most of the Bittersweet Frosting. Using a small star tip, pipe a rim around the edge of the cake with the remaining frosting.
3. Serve the cake at room temperature. Store any leftovers in the fridge for a few days, but let the cake come to room temperature before serving.