"I made this brittle using all the spare keys and thumbtacks I found in the house."
This cake is pleasant to have in class, works well with others, but fails to reach full potential.
For the base, I used a brown sugar cake, and then for the frosting and praline, bastardized versions originally conceived by Giada. Dulce de Leche fills in the cracks, and was the only thing I was less than pleased with -- it retained a tinny, pinched, metallic taste and next time I would double the frosting and fill the cake with that. Otherwise, the cake is very nice. It makes a visual statement, and with cakes like that you can only hope that the taste is up to par. Make sure to use good quality and pure extracts, otherwise the cake will taste of nothing at all. And I used Dark Brown sugar to pump up the caramel notes, but I'm interested in trying the same cake with white sugar. It came together wonderfully, rose nicely and couldn't have been easier.
You know how everyone has their "Gross Moment" food? The food that you could eat by the spoonful, sans anything but your hands, alone in the dark or in front of people, you don't care. For me, the frosting I used for this is my "Gross Moment" food. I love folding whipped cream into cream cheese, as it results in a dreamy way to make yourself look feral. "I was locked in the laundry room! When the police found me, I had been adopted by a family of possums."
While I was assembling the cake, my sisters kept swabbing cherries and strawberries through the bowl. It was almost better that way, the tangy creaminess allowed to stand out, followed by a shot of slightly tart fruit.
The praline jabs at the tender parts of your mouth, the roof and sides, like little caramel needles and more than one person scraped it off and ate it after the cake. And here I need to say that if you attempt this, please have a large bowl of ice water nearby, your sheet pan/almonds even closer, wear long sleeves and if you need to, protective eyewear. The first time I made the praline, I let the caramel cook two seconds too long, and it was coffee-colored and tasted too bitter for my liking. I was two feet from the prepped almonds. The second time, I managed to burn the tip of both thumbs when I tried to scoot a free almond into the mass of cooling sugar, and a glob attached, burned and strung tiny threads of sugar and pain. If this happens to you, submerge the appendage in the ice water.
Or just use a fork.
Brown Sugar Cake with Dulce de Leche, Almond-Cream Frosting and Almond Praline
Adapted from Nosheteria/"The Improvisational Cook" and Giada De Laurentiis
1 stick salted butter, melted and cooled
1 cup packed Dark Brown sugar
½ cup buttermilk (or ¼ cup milk, ¼ cup cream and two teaspoons of apple cider vinegar)
2 teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 ½ cups AP flour
2 large eggs
½ teaspoon almond extract
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup cold water
¾ cup almonds, toasted and roughly chopped
1 cup heavy cream
3 oz cream cheese
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 Tablespoons granulated sugar
1/3 cup (heaping) of powdered sugar
1 14 oz can prepared Dulce de Leche
Make the praline:
Line a sheet pan with parchment paper. Put on a shirt with long sleeves, and fill a large bowl with cold water.
In a small saucepan (with high sides) over medium heat, melt the sugar and water together until the mixture is clear and all sugar granules have dissolved. Bring to a rapid simmer and continue cooking for at least eight minutes (it took me longer, it may take you less time to reach that state), swirling the pan gently, until the sugar turns golden or light-amber, if you prefer – once the mixture has turned from yellow to gold, remove from the heat immediately – carry-over cooking can turn caramel from golden to completely burnt. Pour the caramel over the chopped almonds, and use a fork (NOT YOUR FINGERS) to rearrange the almonds if needed. Leave to cool completely.
Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter and flour one 9-inch round cake pan.
Whisk together the sugar, eggs, salt. vanilla and almond extracts until smooth. Add the flour and baking soda, and stir just until combined. Pour in the butter, and whisk until batter has absorbed it all. Then add the buttermilk and whisk again, until the batter has absorbed all of the liquid. Pour into the prepped pan, and bake for 25-30 minutes, until golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in-pan for ten minutes, then turn out onto a rack and cool completely.
Make the frosting:
Chill the whisk/beaters/etc. and bowl you’ll be using for at least 15 minutes.
Pour the cream and granulated sugar into the bowl, and whisk or whip until medium-stiff peaks form. Add the vanilla and almond extracts, and whip until combined. Transfer to a different bowl, and set aside.
Cream the powdered sugar and cream cheese together until smooth. Add 1/3 of the whipped cream, and beat together – this will lighten the cream cheese and make it easier to combine with the whipped cream. Switch to a spatula, and add the rest of the whipped cream. Fold the two mixtures together completely.
Split the completely cooled cake with a serrated knife, and pipe a border of frosting around the perimeter. Spread the Dulce de Leche within the boundaries, in an even layer, and place the second layer on top. Smooth the rest of the frosting over the top and sides.
Using a mezzuluna, your hands, or a long, large chef’s knife, crack the praline into small pieces. Press against the side of the cake, and scatter any extra over the top.