Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Almond Cake with Almond Amaretto Filling...and (more) R

My second go-around with the statistical program R was, well, a challenge.  I had hoped it would get easier, but the truth is, it is like writing in a totally different language.  I know what I want the program to do, but making it do that involves hours of super frustrating trial and error.  Nonetheless, ten hours later, the homework assignment was completed, and it even worked!  It worked in a such a way that the professor didn't know just how I got it to work and that I had to spend a good hour proving that it worked, but it worked all the same!

As with my last encounter with an R homework assignment, it was also time for a final cake for my cake decorating class.  So at least there was cake as a reward.  I am taking the Wilton Cake Decorating classes at Michaels, and this was level 3.  It wasn't the most beautifully decorated cake, mainly because I ran out of time to make more gumpaste flowers and because the flowers are small, but not bad for a first try...

The best (and really most important) part of the cake is how it tastes.  For this cake, I decided to attempt to recreate one of the flavors of our wedding cake--almond cake with almond amaretto filling.  It turned out amazing!  I will definitely be making this recipe again.  

The cake recipe that I used is based on one in Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook.  The recipe called for adding whipped egg whites to the batter, which was somewhat intimidating, and to be honest, I don't have a lot of patience for folding in ingredients.  But I decided to give it a try, and I'm glad that I did.  The cake was moist and flavorful.  

For the filling, I chose to add amaretto and some almond flavoring to my standard Swiss meringue buttercream.  I only added these flavors to the portion of the icing used between the cake layers and then left the rest the normal vanilla flavor so that the almond taste was not overwhelming.  I thought that worked nicely, and I only had to make one batch of icing and divide it.  The filling complimented the cake flavor nicely.  Most importantly, my husband liked it, so I wasn't left with a whole cake to eat on my own!

A note, this cake was covered in fondant for the class, but there was a healthy layer of buttercream underneath.  I kind of bothers me to spend so much money on fondant only to have to peel it off the cake later.  Maybe I'll try to make my own fondant recipe soon...maybe it will taste better than the store-bought stuff!

Almond Cake with Almond Amaretto Filling

Almond Cake
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Baking Handbook

3 cups cake flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp almond flavoring
2 Tbs vegetable oil
1 cup milk
8 large egg whites

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Prepare three 9" cake pans by greasing dusting with flour.  

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix the butter and 2 cups of the sugar until creamy and fluffy.  Add the vanilla and vegetable oil and mix to combine.

Add the flour mixture in three parts, alternating with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour.  

In a clean bowl of the electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on a low speed until they become slightly frothy.  Add in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar and beat on high speed until stiff peaks form.  This takes about 4 minutes.  Be careful not to overbeat the egg whites.  This website provides a nice summary of the different types of mixing peaks for eggs and cream.  

Fold in 1/3 of the egg whites to the cake batter until well combined.  Finally, fold in the rest of the egg mixture.  

Divide the batter evenly between the three prepared cake pans.  Bake for 25-30 minutes until a cake tester comes out clean.  Remove pans from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool completely.

For the Swiss Meringue Buttercream

5 large egg whites
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 cups unsalted butter, softened and cut into pieces
1 Tbs vanilla
2 Tbs Amaretto
1/4 tsp almond flavoring

Combine egg whites and sugar in a heat safe bowl.  Place bowl over a pot of simmering water (make sure the water does not touch the bowl).  Using a candy thermometer, bring the mixture to 160 degrees F while whisking constantly.  

Once the mixture reaches temperature, immediately transfer it to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and mix at high speed until the mixture cools, doubles in volume and forms stiff peaks (the time this takes has varied for me, anywhere from 6-12 minutes--be sure to keep an eye on the mixture).  Add the butter in one piece at a time making sure that the butter incorporates into the mixture before adding the next piece.  Pause several times to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

**Note--some people have found that during this process the icing becomes clumpy.  I have found that the icing looks runny until the very end.  Do not worry if these things happen.  Continue adding the butter and mixing, and the icing will become thick and smooth in the end.**

Add the vanilla and mix to combine.  Set 2/3 of the icing aside at this point.  To the remaining 1/3 add the Amaretto and almond flavoring.  You may want to start with less than indicated and add to taste.  Mix to combine.  

Assemble the Cake

As you assemble the cake, use the almond amaretto icing between the cake layers and the vanilla icing to cover the cake.  If desired, use a serated knife to make the cake layers level.  

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