|Michelle's Mousse Cake on left, White Chocolate-Amaretto Cheesecake on right|
I love making birthday cakes. Well, I love all forms of cooking (and eating !), but there is just something special about desserts, and birthday cake in particular. Anticipation is high, the "ooh...ahh..." factor is ramped up, there's a lot more moaning and sighing...for me, it's just the ultimate reward...culinary orgasm, indeed :).
My brother and sister both have November birthdays, and ever since I can remember we've always had one birthday party for both of them. They actually don't seem to mind, but ever since I took over the duties of birthday cake I've always felt that it was important to make them each their own...gotta feel a little special, after all. Birthday "Cake" is in this case a loose interpretation...for a few years running, my sister got a Birthday Godiva Tiramisu...nothing wrong with that !
One of our family deals is that you get to pick whatever you want for your birthday dinner, and of course you get to pick your cake as well. My brother, for the past few years, has selected my White Chocolate-Amaretto Cheesecake. This cake is based on one from the Silver Palate Good Times Cookbook (one of my very favorite cookbooks...the original cheesecake, which is hazelnut based, can be found here ), and it was actually invented for my brother-in-law, who loves white chocolate and Amaretto. Basically, I swapped out the hazelnuts, hazelnut praline, and Frangelico/vanilla for slivered almonds, almond praline (or a mix of almond toffee bits and glazed almonds), and Amaretto. I am not a fan of white chocolate (seriously, why does it even get to be called chocolate ? Heresy !), but the qualities I dislike - the sweetness, the mouthfeel - actually work perfectly in cheesecake. Strange, but true. The first time I made this cheesecake and tasted the filling in the mixer, I knew I had a winner...it's just a perfect combination, somehow even greater than the sum of its parts.
Half the order thus secure, I went about trying to collect the rest of it. I'm not sure if my sister was being indecisive or just trying to be easy, but all I could get was "surprise me...something chocolate", with random mutterings about mousse. While I'm all over making whatever the recipient wants, I do like whatever I make to be one sort of unit that I can stick candles in, so I didn't want to make dishes of mousse. But it seemed to me I should be able to find some sort of layered cake-mousse thing that would fit the bill...so off to search the interwebs I went.
After a lot of searching, the recipe I liked the best was Cooks Illustrated Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake (recipe here, but you have to sign up...various bloggers have also mentioned it, which is where I mostly read about it). Flourless chocolate cake for the bottom layer...chocolate mousse for the top two layers. Unfortunately, the recipe as written uses a white chocolate mousse for the top layer - which looked delicious, but I didn't want both cakes to involve white chocolate. The recipe I liked next best was Martha Stewart's Triple Chocolate Mousse Cakes ...the top layer on those was a milk chocolate mousse, but the cakes were individual, I didn't like the cake part as much, and (typical Martha) the mousses looked WAY more complicated than they needed to be. I love complicated (someday I'll post the rack of lamb that takes three days to cook and is worth every second), but I saw no need to coat myself in boiling sugar syrup, which I'm sure would have been a result of the Martha method. The CI mousses were much simpler and looked amazing...so, I decided to darken up the first mousse layer (for more contrast), and make a milk chocolate mousse for the top layer instead of white by simply subbing out chocolates. In a word : WIN. This cake was unbelievable...rich and chocolately, but light and delicious. The three layers complimented each other beautifully. The only change I'll make next time is to put a round of parchment paper at the bottom of the pan, as the slices were a bit difficult to get off cleanly.
And so, another successful Scorpio party...happy birthday to the best little siblings anywhere :)
As noted, if you can't find (or don't want to make) Almond Praline, a mix of almond toffee chips (aka Heath bits) and glazed almonds (such as Almond Accents Honey Roasted) works just fine...both are easy to find. Use about 2/3 cup of the Heath bits and 1/3 cup of the almonds. Also, if your springform is smaller that 10 inches you will have extra filling, as this thing puffs while it bakes. Have an extra pie plate graham cracker crust ready, pour whatever's left inside, and bake it until done. Someone will appreciate it I'm sure !
1 cup Almond Praline
1 package (9 oz) chocolate wafers (Nabisco Famous are the most common brand)
1/4 cup slivered almonds
2 T sugar
1 t cinnamon
14 T (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 pounds cream cheese, room temperature
1 egg yolk
1 pound good quality white chocolate, melted (microwave is fine)
1/4 cup Amaretto
pinch of nutmeg
Process praline (or substitutes) in food processor until ground; set aside . Process wafers, slivered almonds, sugar and cinnamon until finely crushed. Butter 10 inch springform pan with 1 T of the butter. Melt 5 tablespoons of the butter and stir into the cookie crumb mixture. Set 3 T of this mixture aside to top the cake while it bakes. Press the remainder into the bottom and about 3/4 way up the sides of the pan. Refrigerate while you make the filling
Preheat oven to 300 degrees
Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl until light and fluffy (stand mixer is easiest for this part if you have one). Beat in the eggs, one at a time, and then the egg yolk. Beat in the remaining 8 T of butter, then the white chocolate (cooled, but still melted). Mix in the Amaretto, the praline, and the nutmeg. Carefully pour the filling into the crust, about level with the crumbs.
Bake for 1 1/2 hours, sprinkling the reserved crumbs over the top after an hour. Let cool completely, then refrigerate until cold. (For the look above, decorate with more glazed or slivered almonds before refrigerating).
1½ cups heavy cream
dark chocolate curls or shavings (I ran a vegetable peeler along the long edge of a Ghiardelli Bittersweet bar)
To make the bottom layer, butter the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan. (line the bottom of the pan with a parchment round for easy removal later.) Center a rack in the oven and preheat to 325˚ F. Combine the butter, chocolate, and espresso powder in a double boiler, whisking occasionally until smooth. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the vanilla and egg yolks, and set aside.
Beat the egg whites and salt on medium speed until foamy, about 30 seconds (again, stand mixer is perfect if you have one). Crumble half of the brown sugar into the mixing bowl with your fingers to remove any lumps. Beat until incorporated, about 15 seconds. Add the remaining brown sugar and continue to beat on high speed until stiff peaks form, about 1 minute more. Using a whisk, mix one-third of the beaten egg whites to the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining egg whites gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain. Pour the batter into the prepared springform pan and smooth the top with a spatula.
Bake until the cake has risen, is firm around the edges and the center has just set but is still soft (should spring back after pressing gently with a finger), about 14-18 minutes. Transfer the cake to a wire rack to cool completely, at least 1 hour. Do not remove the cake from the pan. (If not making the second layer right away, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to proceed.)
To make the second layer, whisk together the cocoa powder and hot water in a small bowl; set aside. Melt the chocolate (microwave works fine), stirring occasionally until smooth. Once melted, remove from the heat and let cool slightly, 2-5 minutes.
Using clean beaters, whip the cream, sugar and salt on medium speed until the mixture begins to thicken, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 30-60 seconds. Whisk in the cocoa powder mixture until smooth. Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain. Pour the mousse into the springform pan over the cooled cake and tap gently on the counter 3 times to remove air bubbles. Gently smooth the top with a spatula. Wipe the inside edge of the pan to remove any drips. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes while preparing the top layer.
To make the top layer, sprinkle the gelatin over the water in a small bowl and let stand at least 5 minutes to soften. Place the chocolate chips in a medium bowl. Heat ½ cup of the cream until almost boiling in a small saucepan. Remove the pan from the heat, add the gelatin mixture and stir until dissolved. Pour the hot cream mixture over the chocolate chips and let stand about 1 minute. Whisk until the mixture is smooth. Cool to room temperature, about 5-8 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Using clean beaters, whip the remaining 1 cup of cream at medium speed until it begins to thicken. Increase the speed to high and whip until soft peaks form when the whisk is lifted, 30-60 seconds. Using a whisk, mix one-third of the whipped cream to the white chocolate mixture to lighten it. Fold in the remaining whipped cream gently with a rubber spatula until no streaks remain. Spoon the milk chocolate mousse into the pan over the middle layer. Smooth the top with an offset spatula. Sprinkle with chocolate shavings, and return the cake to the refrigerator and chill until set, at least 2½ hours. Serve with sweetened whipped cream.