Monday, May 24, 2010

Prune and Walnut Layer Cake

Welcome to my third (and final!) kitchen in Pontlevoy! This one is not as well equipped as the last one, and I sure do miss the microwave, food processor, and dishwasher! But this kitchen is fairly roomy and has a large table for prep work. It will do.

So blurry. Note the flea-market collection of furnishings.

One of my favorite parts of this kitchen is the refrigerator! I can actually fit some stuff in there, including a cake! Of course, it's now completely full. Note that we've just moved in and already it's full and cluttered. As our friend Dirk said as we settled in for dinner the day we moved, "You would never know you hadn't been here for weeks." Thanks--I think.

OK, ignore the clutter. Note the fireplace in the kitchen. No, I haven't had the guts to try it out. The stove is electric and the oven is pretty small. Also, it has very imprecise temperature markings, which should make things a bit of a challenge. But hey, it works. And so I made my first blog dessert here last week.

Let me just say a word about prunes. I love the prunes of France. So sweet and juicy. Julia goes through bags of them. So I was pretty stoked to make a prune cake, actually. But this one calls for stewed prunes, and I wasn't quite sure how to stew prunes. I ended up just soaking these in boiling water until they were soft. I think the result was very good.
Note also that while the recipe calls for buttermilk and sour cream, I used mostly plain yogurt and a bit of crème fraîche. That seemed to work fine.

Here are the frosting ingredients. Cream cheese plus butter plus cream plus eggs. And chocolate. Over the top, anyone? But it's really delicious. I couldn't get my cream to whip properly, so the frosting was perhaps not as mousse-y as it should have been. But let me repeat--it was delicious. It could be a dessert unto itself.

Um, a few deviations from the recipe worth noting. First of all, the recipe is for a three-layer cake. I have one cake pan; thus it became a one-layer cake once I'd halved the recipe. No problem. Second, if I had read the recipe correctly, I would have seen that I was supposed to have separated my egg (my one-and-a-half egg) and whip the egg white. Oops! Maybe my cake would have been a bit lighter had I done that. I think the texture was just fine, though.
Finally, as you see in the picture, I really need to learn that silicone pans do in fact need to be greased and floured. However, with enough frosting, no-one has to see the mess, and this way I could taste-test the cake.

Here's what was left over from the party I had--grilled burgers, potato salad, and cake. People seemed to like, not love the cake. One guest swore he could taste rum in it. I didn't mention the prunes, and no-one seemed to notice them. That could be good, since they're a controversial fruit for some.
I really liked this cake. With the heavy chocolate and all the walnuts, it reminded me of the rocky road eggs we used to get at Easter. And the prunes and spices added a nice touch. I think the cake recipe would make really good muffins as well.

Here's the recipe. If you have three cake pans and a lot of guests, make the full thing. Maida suggests decorating it with milk chocolate curls and powdered sugar. If you don't have quite so many pans or guests, cut the recipe in half.

Prune and Walnut Layer Cake

12 oz. pitted prunes, soaked until soft in boiling water
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
1 t. cinnamon
1 t. nutmeg
1 t. cloves (for the spices, I used a blend of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves)
2 T. cocoa powder
1 t. vanilla
1-3/4 c. (12 oz.) sugar
3 eggs, separated
1/2 c. buttermilk
1/2 c. sour cream
3 cups minus 2 tablespoons (11.5 oz.) sifted flour
8 oz. (2 cups) walnuts, cut, broken, or bought in medium-sized pieces

Heat the oven to 350. Get out three 9-inch cake pans, butter them, line them with parchment circles, then butter and flour them. (While you’re getting everything ready, now’s a good time to get the cream cheese and butter for the frosting out of the fridge)
Drain and chop the prunes with a knife or with scissors (I did mine with scissors).
Cream the butter with the baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and cocoa until soft and fluffy. Add the vanilla and then gradually add 1-1/2 cups sugar and beat for about 3 minutes. Add the egg yolks and give it another couple of minutes. On low speed add the flour in three additions, alternating with the buttermilk and then the sour cream. Finally, stir in the prunes and walnuts.
If you remembered to separate your eggs, beat them until frothy and then gradually add the sugar before beating them just to stiff peaks. Fold them into the batter. Divide the batter into the three cake pans and bake 35-40 minutes (my single cake pan that had a half recipe in it only took 25 minutes or so. But who knows what my oven temperature really was?). Let cool for about 5 minutes and then turn out onto racks. Take the paper off, then carefully flip each layer over. Cool completely.
Now it’s time to make the killer frosting:

14-16 oz. semisweet chocolate (I used 7.5 oz. for my half recipe)
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature
8 oz. (2 sticks) butter, also room temperature
1 t. vanilla
1/2 c. + 2 T (4.4 oz.) sugar
2 eggs, separated
1 cup cream
Pinch salt
You’ll need one large mixing bowl and two small ones, as well as some willingness to wash dishes. Melt the chocolate either in the microwave, in 30-second bursts, or on the stove over low heat. A double boiler is not necessary if you use low enough heat and have a decent pot. Set aside to cool a bit.
Cream the butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla and 1/2 cup sugar and beat some more. Now add the melted chocolate and beat until the sugar has dissolved. Then add the egg yolks and beat at high speed until the mixture is very smooth and somewhat lighter.
Now, rinse off your beaters or get out your hand mixer and whip the cream in one of the smaller bowls. Maida says to beat it until it’s almost but not quite butter.
In your last small bowl, you’re going to beat the egg whites. Make sure your beaters are really clean now. Add a pinch of salt to them and beat until frothy. Now add the remaining 2 T. sugar and beat the egg whites until they hold a shape. Now start folding in the fluffy stuff: first the whipped cream in two additions, followed by the egg whites. Try not to eat this stuff with a spoon.
Fill and frost the cake with this mousse however you see fit and refrigerate it. Serve it cold in small slices. And give some love to the prune.

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