Sunday 10 June 2018

The Wedding Cake

   I'd mentioned on the run-up how nervous I was about the wedding cake. I made everything involved in the wedding, cake included, and I wanted something beyond the usual and all-too-easy chocolate sponge. I wanted something Seeg would love. He is a praline fiend - he has made me into one, too - so I figured chocolate, hazelnuts and praline was the best route to take. But how?
   I googled a few things and I kept finding similar recipes for hazelnut praline cakes, with the dominant factor being ground hazelnuts in place of flour. Completely. This was scary. I'd never used anything but flour, and I was wary of it being dense, not rising, or rising and then collapsing, being too dry, etc. But I really wanted to make it.

   A test-run was necessary. So I took a couple of recipes, merged them together (that's right - I'd never made it before and I was daring to make adjustments!), and cut the recipe down to 1 egg rather than 6. I made two tiny 3 inch cakes. They rose well, they looked good, they were surprisingly moist and, above all else, they tasted great. But that final point is all the test-run really proved. Cutting the recipe down so drastically and using smaller tins and a shorter cooking time all meant that something could still go wrong on the main cake.
   So I had a back-up plan: Love Brownies. They were always delicious, and they're decadent enough. I figured a couple of boxes would be a good fall-back if I purchased the quickest possible delivery. But I wouldn't know, of course, until I made the cake itself 2 days before the wedding. Yikes.

   So, I was nervous when I got up that Tuesday morning, but I set to work all the same. And I couldn't believe my luck. The cakes - both 8 inches - came out perfectly. No collapsing, no refusal to leave the tin, no crumbling, etc. They each came out in one piece. But they could still wind up dry on the day, or not taste the same. I had no way of knowing until after the wedding.
   And baking the cake was only half the battle. Next came decorating - something I'm generally better at than baking, but still something that could go wrong, especially since I had tried to make a tree stump cake in the past and it was not great to look at...
   But I set to that on Wednesday with the same anxiety and resignation.

   First I made a praline paste. This is also something I'd never done before, but something I'd always wanted to try, and while it wasn't vital to the finished piece, it did add a new layer of decadence.
   I combined 100g unrefined sugar with 1/6 cup of water in a saucepan, let it caramelise then combined it with 100g whole roasted hazelnuts, lay it out on a tray and let it cool. I then whacked it all in a blender and mixed it for about 15 minutes, scraping the sides every minute, and hoped for the best. After going crumbly, then dry and gritty, it finally became a paste. It just took a long time.
   I called Seeg down and had him take a taste. Now, he is hard to please - I'd said this before - so he had a small amount, was quite for a moment, then 'mm'd thoughtfully. He admitted afterwards that it was fake. But the second 'mm' was genuine, and the third was in surprise. He said it tasted like nothing at first, then a trickle of sweet came, and then a burst of nutty flavour. He loved it.

   I put a nice, thick layer in between the cakes (and had plenty left over for many various dessert toppings over the following weeks) and set to making a cream.
   I heated 300ml heavy cream then poured it over 200g almond milk chocolate (Green & Black's, thank you), stirred it together and spooned it on top of the paste.

   I sandwiched the two cakes together most happily.
   Then came the real decoration.
   I let the cream thicken and cool, grew impatient and whipped it, which was a mistake because it lightened the colour. But there was no going back, so I made do.
   Seeg and I are not all that keen on frosting, so I usually don't bother with it any more. It's been a few years since I decorated a cake with it, and that was usually store-bought anyway. Here, I made it from scratch. I was a bit dubious about it - I didn't want to put too much on because I didn't want to overpower the flavour of the cake, but at the same time I was concerned it would be dry, so I didn't want to stint, either. In the end, I didn't put very much on, but it was enough.

   I used the flat edge of a knife to make the bark-like pattern around the sides, and the underside of a spoon to ring the top. That doesn't look great at all, but it was going to be partially covered, so I didn't worry about it.
   Then I took about 10g of pistachios, ground them up with an added dash of matcha since they weren't as vibrant as I'd hoped, and pressed them over parts of the cake.
   Then I took out the Oreos. I was at this at 7am on Wednesday morning, in fact, before I'd done everything else, splitting Oreos apart, scraping off the cream and modelling them into toadstools. It works well, but the cream gets sticky when it gets warm, so after making about 2 toadstools, I had to wash and dry my hands before making any more. For anyone interested, I used two Oreos for the big toadstools, but the tiny ones you see at the front in the image below all came from just one Oreo. I ended up using an entire packet of Oreos to make the 12 toadstools, though the back 6 were larger than the rest.

   As for the biscuits, I put about 6 pieces (from 3 biscuits) in a ziploc bag and crumbled them with a rolling pin. I then pressed the Oreo 'dirt' into the cake, with much difficulty, and then arranged the toadstools as a finishing touch. I did have some snapdragon flowers I wanted to use, but they actually made the cake too busy, so I didn't bother.

   Then came the wedding day, and the moment of truth.

   It was dense. It was not dry. It was chocolatey. It was nutty. The praline paste was evident, but not overpowering. The ganache coating was perfect. The Oreo toadstools were amazing.
   Everyone loved it. Seeg's parents - or, rather, the 'in-laws' - made a point of saying to him just a few days ago that the cake looked unique, and tasted really, really good. And they brought it up out of the blue.
   I am so freaking proud.


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