Tuesday, March 5, 2013
I've always maintained that the best desserts I make are ones that are designed with a specific person in mind. There's something about crafting the perfect personal dessert, targeted and fine-tuned to one person's unique palate... it's a challenge in how well I know someone, how well I've figured out their tastes and likes and dislikes and favorites (that sometimes they don't even know they had), and when I get it right, it's better than any general, all-purpose dessert that I make, no matter how high the bar is to begin with. In a sense, this is my ultimate definition of the practice of baking with love.
(This is also why I realized a long time ago that I couldn't ever do cooking contests. Cooking for myself is just never as rewarding--and never tastes as good!--as cooking for someone else.)
This cake was for a friend of mine who has this unique talent in making sense of the world in the most lucid manner, no matter how convoluted the situation. Her advice has helped me through many major scrapes in the past few years, and after nearly eight years of knowing her, I *finally* got her to reveal her birthday this year, so I had quite a few birthdays and years to make up for! This surprise cake had to be nothing short of perfection.
One of my favorite things about how this passionfruit and espresso Tosca cake turned out is that the cake boasts this quiet and understated drama. It's a natural layer cake without all of the boisterous pomp and circumstance of a traditional, tall cake-and-frosting-and-cake-and-frosting layer cake: the nutty and slightly crunchy topping of the toasted almonds melts into the salty-sweet, espresso-tinged caramel, which soaks into the top of the underlying, fluffy but moist genoise cake base, which itself bursts with the tart, tropical boldness of passionfruit. It might seem like a lot going on at once, but the beauty of the cake is the simplicity with which all of these complex flavors find a balance together in the continuous layers of the dessert. Somehow, they just all make sense together here, which I thought was particularly befitting of my friend.
Her response to the cake:
"Best. birthday. cake. ever."
(Special shout-out to Emma of Poires au Chocolat for posting about Tosca cakes.)
Read on for recipe...
Passionfruit and Espresso Tosca Cake
makes one 9-inch round cake
or one 6-inch octagon and four 3-inch hexagons
58 g whole milk
75 g passionfruit purée
5 Tbspn (71 g) unsalted butter
150 g all-purpose flour
1 tspn baking powder
½ tspn baking soda
¼ tspn salt
3 large eggs
150 g sugar
1 tspn vanilla extract
150 g sliced almonds, toasted
9 Tbspn (125 g) unsalted butter
125 g light brown sugar
50 g whole milk
½ tspn salt
1 tspn espresso powder
1 vanilla bean, optional
flaked sea salt
1. for cake. Preheat oven to 325° F. Grease one 9 x 3-inch pastry ring (or equivalent) and place on a parchment or silicone-lined baking sheet. Set aside.
2. In a bowl, stir to combine the milk and passionfruit purée. Set aside.
3. In a small, light-colored saucepan, melt the butter. Continue cooking until the solids drop to the bottom and the butter turns golden brown. Remove from heat and let cool to room temperature.
4. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
5. Suspend a mixer bowl over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the eggs, sugar, and vanilla extract in the mixer bowl until warm to the touch. Remove from the simmering water and continue whisking on high, until the mixture falls from the whisk in thick ribbons.
6. In three additions, gently fold in the flour mixture, alternating with the passionfruit and milk mixture. Finally, fold in the melted browned butter, mixing just enough to incorporate the butter. Do not overmix.
7. Immediately transfer the batter to the prepared pastry ring. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden and set.
8. for topping. When 15 minutes have passed in the baking time, start the topping. In a saucepan, combine the sliced almonds, butter, brown sugar, milk, salt, and espresso powder. Split the vanilla bean lengthwise, scrape the seeds into the saucepan, and add the pods. Cook over medium heat until the butter and sugar melts, then keep cooking for a few minutes longer, stirring frequently, while the mixture bubbles and thickens slightly. Remove from heat and remove the vanilla pods.
9. Increase the oven to 400° F. Remove the cake from the oven and top with the prepared almonds, smoothing with the back of a spoon. Place the cake in the top third of the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes longer, until the glaze is dark brown and bubbling. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with a small amount of flaked sea salt, and let cool completely on a wire rack. To remove, slide a knife along the inner edge of the ring before lifting the ring off carefully.
Note: passionfruit purée can be found in specialty stores or online.
recipe in part inspired by Poires au Chocolat.