Are you looking for a dessert for New Years Eve? Or for any other time? This cake is fancy enough for a big celebration, but it's also appropriate pretty much any time. Rich chocolate cake layers with fluffy, caramelized, toasty, nutty praline, offset with a wee bit of salt.
This cake is how you should be ending 2017.
Lately I have been using ermine frosting more than Italian or Swiss meringue buttercream. It has a few different names, boiled milk frosting, flour buttercream...it's just about the weirdest frosting I have ever made, and I think it's also the best. It starts with a flour and milk mixture, cooked up until thick and puddingy. It is flabby and weird looking. It seems like it would make an effective wallpaper paste. It does not seem like it will become a delicious, fluffy, light-yet-rich frosting.
But then you cool the milk goop, and whip up some butter and sugar and incorporate the strange goo and it's just magical. The stodgy flour mess becomes so unbelievably fluffy and light, it's utterly transmogrified. You have to try this frosting, it will win you over. Promise.
adapted from Baked: New Frontiers in Baking
Note: this makes about twice the cake batter you will need. You can either make a huge cake, or freeze the extra for later.
3/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups hot water
2/3 cup sour cream
2 2/3cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup butter, room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Heat oven to 325°F. Prepare 3 6 inch cake pans, either butter or line with parchment. Combine sour cream, hot water and coco in a small bowl, mixing well.
Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. In a stand mixer, beat butter and shortening on medium speed until fluffy. Add sugars and beat for another 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl between eggs.
Alternating, add flour and coco mixtures in three additions each. Mix on low until well combined. Using about half the batter, divide evenly between prepared pans.
Bake until a skewer inserted in the center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. Set cakes aside to cool.
adapted from Joe Pastry
1 cup plus two tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup water
1 cup blanched almonds
1 cup hazelnuts
big pinch flaky salt
Toast nuts in a pan over medium-low heat, shaking them frequently. When they are toasty-coloured and fragrant, remove from heat and place nuts on a parchment lined baking sheet.
Melt sugar and water together in a small pan, swirling until it is a medium amber colour. Pour over the nuts. Let cool and smash up into rubble. Blitz in a food processor with the salt, if you have a mini food processor it will be a bit easier. It takes quite a while to get the praline to form a paste; keep on pushing the mix down into the bottom and blending until it stops looking sandy and forms a slightly oily paste. Be patient, it will work eventually.
praline ermine frosting:
adapted from Martha Stewart
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup whole milk
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1 cup sugar
3-4 tbs praline paste
Combine milk and flour in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir continually until the mixture thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Let cool completely.
In a stand mixer, whip butter and sugar for about 2 minutes, until pale and fluffy. Add in milk mixture and beat until the mixture is very light and fluffy. Add praline paste and beat until well incorprated.
Note: If the flour mixture or butter are slightly too cold the frosting may not want to come together and stay kind of grainy and wet looking. I solved this by passing a blowtorch with a low flame rapidly around the side of my metal (not glass!) mixing bowl, while whipping on high. If you don't have a blowtorch, I think a hairdryer on hot or a very hot towel wrapped around the base of the bowl would work too. You want to use the heat just until you see the mixture come together and become visibly fluffy. Don't keep the heat on after or you could melt the butter too much.
Trim cakes as required to flatten the tops.
Place one cake layer on a 6" cake board if you have it, or a flat plate or cake stand. Cover cake with a generous layer of frosting. Sandwich next cake layer on top and frost, repeat with the final layer. Chill the cake to set the frosting in the layers. Put a couple skewers through the cake if the layers are sliding around.
Frost the chilled cake quickly all over with an offset spatula, making sure to cover all exposed cake. Adding more frosting as you go, use an offset spatula, or bench scraper to tidy up and give the cake some nice clean angles. Sprinkle a few chopped toasted hazelnuts around the top of the cake.
Practice saying "Yes I made the praline myself." with just the right amount of humility and a slight glow of pride. Your guests are so impressed.