Although I bake a lot (and not just small almond meringue things), I was finding I wasn’t trying enough new things from my piles of cookbooks. So I joined the Daring Bakers. I’m sure many of you will have seen mention of them before, and a frequent commenter here (Y of lemonpi in Sydney) has often posted about her participation in the Daring Baker Challenges (and she has this time too!). Each month there’s a new challenge which remains secret until the end of the month. Then, around the world, crazy bakers post pictures, text, recipes.
Embracing the first challenge I could participate in, I set about making it on the first weekend after the Daring Bakers were told what to make. Oh hell. A full gateau. I’ve made all sorts of fiddly things, but never a layered bloody gateau! And so it was time to learn.
A ‘Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream’ was the order of the month. In this case filbert refers to hazelnuts (a common synonym for some USAmericans, I believe), although technically a filbert isn’t quite the same thing as the everyday hazelnut. And praline is nuts and hard caramel ground to a powder or paste.
The cake was not a simple affair, consisting of:
- three layers of firm hazelnut genoise (a type of sponge)
- each layer moistened with sugar syrup flavoured with rum
- between each sponge layer was a layer of buttercream flavoured with praline and Cointreau and a layer of whipped cream
- the external surfaces of the cake were coated with an apricot glaze
- a chocolate ganache was then poured over the cake and smoothed to encase the entire cake
- and finally, praline buttercream decoration with hazelnuts
And it took about nine hours to get it together. Thankfully, a lot of that was learning curve!
In each challenge there is a little latitude permitted for some elements. I halved the recipe, as I gain enough weight from my normal baking, and there are only so many people I can give cake to!
I’ve become a little sceptical about many of my American baking books in recent years, with many items coming out much too sweet for a non-American palate, so I decided to err on the side of caution in this case, omitting the buttercream from between the layers and instead just using it for the decoration. I mixed praline paste into the whipped cream, using this as the sole filling between the sponge layers. Funnily, the chocolate ganache was meant to be far from sweet, using chocolate with 70% cocoa solids. This looked like a disaster in richness to me, so I used a sweeter chocolate (about 60%). In fact, I think going sweeter would have worked even better.
The gateau came out pretty well for a first attempt at this sort of thing. My ganache wasn’t particularly neat, my piped buttercream looks horrendous, and choosing only to use flavoured whipped cream between the sponge layers meant the cake needed to rest about 48 hours before the best blending of flavours was achieved (because barely sweetened cream can be pretty flat). It was a great learning experience. I wouldn’t make this particular cake again, but wouldn’t hesitate to try other gateaux.