This month's Daring Bakers challenge was a Filbert Gateau with Praline Buttercream from Great Cakes, by Carol Walter. Our host was Chris at Mele Cotte, you can visit her site for the recipe, if you're interested.
So my first reaction was a deep sigh. Layered buttercream cakes aren't my thing. I much prefer a good loaf of bread, or the Danish Braid we made last month. But each host has the right to choose whatever recipe they desire, and as a Daring Baker, it is up to us to take the challenge and do the best we can. There were also a few interesting twists to this recipe. The recipe included a hazelnut cake moistened with simple syrup, layered with praline buttercream and whipped cream, topped with apricot glaze, and glazed with a chocolate ganache. Whew! And there were components to some of these things. For example, we made praline paste which was incorporated into the buttercream.
The first thing I did was make the cake. I did not attempt to veganize the original recipe, but instead opted to follow the "spirit" of the challenge. I used this recipe for vegan genoise instead. It came out swell, but not nearly tall enough to cut into the three layers the recipe called for. So my cake was only two layers. I opted not to redo the cake as I didn't have high expectations for the results this time around.
Next I worked on the components for the cake. I had leftover macadamia nuts which I used to make my praline. What fun. It took forever, way more than the 20 minutes the recipe specified, but yum. I will be making the praline again (not necessarily the paste), you can be sure of that. I had to keep Lane out of the kitchen. He loved it, and I was afraid I wouldn't have enough for the cake! For any of our "inner circle" reading this out there, you can be sure to see a bit of the praline on your Christmas cookie trays!
I don't normally include the recipes for the challenges here, but this component is something you should try at home!!! And make sure to read below about incorporating the paste into your buttercream!
1 cup (4 ½ oz.) Hazelnuts, toasted/skinless (any nut would work here, depending on the flavor you're going for)
2/3 cup Sugar
Line a jelly roll pan with parchment and lightly butter. (I used my Silpat.)
Put the sugar in a heavy 10-inch skillet. Heat on low flame for about 10-20 min until the sugar melts around the edges. Do not stir the sugar. Swirl the pan if necessary to prevent the melted sugar from burning. Brush the sides of the pan with water to remove sugar crystals. If the sugar in the center does not melt, stir briefly. When the sugar is completely melted and caramel in color, remove from heat. Stir in the nuts with a wooden spoon and separate the clusters. Return to low heat and stir to coat the nuts on all sides. Cook until the mixture starts to bubble. **Remember – extremely hot mixture.** Then onto the parchment lined sheet and spread as evenly as possible. As it cools, it will harden into brittle.
Break the candied nuts into pieces and place them in the food processor. Pulse into a medium-fine crunch or process until the brittle turns into a powder. To make paste, process for several minutes. Store in an airtight container and store in a cook dry place. Do not refrigerate.
I'll spare you the details of the rest of the assembly. Things went as they should have. My real "issue" was the buttercream. I'd discussed the buttercream dilemna in forum land. So far, I haven't found a vegan buttercream recipe I like the taste of. My original intention was to use Vegan Noodle's suggestion of adding soy milk powder to the mix. Unfortunately, I set out on my quest to buy the soy milk powder ("better than milk") the day before I was assembling the cake, and my Whole Foods does not carry the product. The inventory manager knew what I was talking about and offered to order it for me, but I needed it "now." Alas. Nor did my local health food store stock it. Strike one!
Natalie recommended using a vegetable shortening/coconut oil/cocoa butter mix, but it's a little warm now to be using coconut oil. I know this because the coconut oil is liquid in the cupboard, and I didn't want my buttercream running down the side of the cake! Strike two!
Shellyfish recommended using the buttercream recipe in Vegan with a Vengeance (a much better book than Veganomicon, IMO). Hey, a home run, sort of. It was good enough to eat, although not in large quantities. I wound up using a non-vegan non-dairy creamer, since that recipe also called for soy milk powder. Unfortunately, non-dairy creamer is somewhat of an oxymoron as the non-dairy creamer contains SODIUM CASEINATE (a MILK DERIVATIVE), and a whole host of other badness. But it was the only thing I could find, and I knew the Earth Balance / Powdered Sugar combinations were not palatable. So, it was a pseudo-vegan buttercream, strike three?
Whatever buttercream recipes you wind up using in your cake baking ventures, I recommend adding the praline paste (1/3 Cup added into your finished buttercream, then stir together) It's amazingly delicious.
So my finished cake was not worthy of a blog post. It looked pretty, but wasn't worth the time or the effort, and most of it wound up in the trash. But I walked away with the promise of a palatable vegan buttercream, yay! And the praline alone was worth the rest of the challenge.
~ Cheers, Jane!