Friday, February 6, 2009

Queen Mother Cake a la Kristina

It's Sexy Girls Eat Dessert Friday, and this is one of my favorites!

Kristina does it again with her adaptation of Maida Heatter's classic Queen Mother Cake. I feel sure that were you to look up "decadence" in the dictionary, you'd find this recipe. It's an ultrarich chocolate torte, and with Maida's thorough instructions and Kristina's notes (in italics), you can't make a mistake. I suggest reading it through once or twice before plunging in, just to be sure you have everything you need. Try adding your own "optionals" at the end. Most of all, savor the richness. Mmmmmmmm!

Queen Mother Cake

6 ounces (scant 1 1/2 cups) blanched or unblanched almonds (too much trouble, just buy almond meal)
6 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
6 ounces (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter
6 eggs, separated
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice

First toast the almonds in a single layer in a shallow pan in a 350 degree oven for 12 to 15 minutes, shaking the pan a few times, until the almonds are lightly colored and have a delicious smell of toasted almonds when you open the oven door. Set aside to cool.

You know I love all the directions that Maida gives; She makes it mostly foolproof, but this is too much work for me. I just buy almond meal and use about 1 ½ cups. It’s worked so far with no complaints.

Adjust a rack one-third up in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter the bottom and sides of a 9 x 3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a round of baking pan liner paper cut to fit. Butter the paper. Dust the pan all over with fine dry, bread crumbs, invert over paper, and tap lightly to shake out excess. Set the prepared pan aside.

I don’t have bread crumbs and flouring the pan worked fine. Don’t skip the baking liner because you’ll die trying to get the cake out the pan without it. With the liner it just slides out.

Place the chocolate in the top of a small double boiler over warm water on moderate heat. Cover until partially melted, then uncover and stir until just melted and smooth. Remove the top of the double boiler and set it aside until tepid or room temperature.

Microwaves work wonderfully for melting chocolate. Just do it on a low power setting and make sure you pay attention and stir occasionally.

Place the almonds and 1/4 cup of the sugar (reserve remaining 1/2 cup sugar) in a food processor fitted with a metal chopping blade. Process very well until the nuts are fine and powdery. Stop the machine once or twice, scrape down the sides, and continue to process. Process for at least a full minute. I have recently realized that the finer the nuts are, the better the cake will be. Set aside the ground nuts.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter until soft. Add 1/4 cup of the sugar (reserve the remaining 1/4 cup sugar) and beat to mix. Add the egg yolks one at a time, beating and scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary until smooth. On low speed add the chocolate and beat until mixed. Then add the processed almonds and beat, scraping the bowl, until incorporated.

Now the whites should be beaten in the large bowl of the mixer. If you don't have an additional large bowl for the mixer, transfer the chocolate mixture to any other large bowl. Wash the bowl and the beaters.

In the large bowl of the mixer, with clean beaters, beat the egg whites with the salt and lemon juice, starting on low speed and increasing it gradually. When the whites barely hold a soft shape, reduce the speed a bit and gradually add the remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Then, on high speed, continue to beat until the whites hold a straight point when the beaters are slowly raised. Do not overbeat.

Getting the eggs separated without any stray yolk in the whites is critical. I was lazy one time and tried to beat whites with a dab of yellow and the whites stayed soupy and wouldn’t hold a peak. The cake still tasted like chocolate but it was much denser.

Stir a large spoonful of the whites into the chocolate mixture to soften it a bit. Then, in three additions, fold in the remaining whites. Do not fold thoroughly until the last addition and do not handle any more than necessary.

Turn the mixture into the prepared pan. Rotate the pan a bit briskly from left to right in order to level the batter.

Bake for 20 minutes at 375 degrees and then reduce the temperature to 350 degrees and continue to bake for an additional 50 minutes (total baking time is 1 hour and 10 minutes). Do not overbake; the cake should remain soft and moist in the center. (The top might crack a bit -- it's okay.)

It must be my oven runs hot, but I’ve never baked it for even an hour. The cake always looks done when I check it early. I’ve never seen the top looking soft and moist so maybe my cakes have always been over cooked.

The following direction was in the original recipe, and although I do not understand why, I always do it. Wet and slightly wring out a folded towel and place it on a smooth surface. Remove the cake pan from the oven and place it on the wet towel. Let stand until tepid, 50 to 60 minutes.

Sounds crazy, but I am convinced that using the wet towel does something important. If anything, it makes a lovely sizzling sound when you put the hot cake pan on it.

Release and remove the sides of the pan (do not cut around the sides with a knife--it will make the rim of the cake messy). Now let the cake stand until it is completely cool, or longer if you wish.

The cake will sink a little in the middle; the sides will be a little higher. Use a long, thin, sharp knife and cut the top level. Brush away loose crumbs.

Place a rack or a small board over the cake and carefully invert. Remove the bottom of the pan and the paper lining. The cake is now upside down; this is the way it will be iced. Place four strips of baking pan-liner paper (each about 3 x 12 inches) around the edges of a cake plate. With a large, wide spatula carefully transfer the cake to the plate; check to be sure that the cake is touching the papers all round (in order to keep the icing off the plate when you ice the cake).

If you have a cake-decorating turntable or a lazy Susan, place the cake plate on it.

1/2 cup whipping cream
2 teaspoons powdered (not granular) instant espresso or coffee (recommended: Medaglia D'Oro instant espresso)

Ha, whatever. Espresso vs. Bailey's Caramel. Bailey's wins hands down. I use about 1/4 to 1/3 cup

8 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into small pieces
Scald the cream in a 5- to 6-cup saucepan over moderate heat until it begins to form small bubbles around the edges or a thin skin on top. Add the dry espresso or coffee and whisk to dissolve. Add the chocolate and stir occasionally over heat for 1 minute. Then remove the pan from the heat and whisk or stir until the chocolate is all melted and the mixture is smooth.

Don’t eat it all before you frost the cake!

Let the icing stand at room temperature, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes or a little longer until the icing barely begins to thicken.
Then, stir it to mix, and pour it slowly over the top of the cake, pouring it onto the middle. Use a long, narrow metal spatula to smooth the top and spread the icing so that a little of it runs down the sides (not too much--the icing on the sides should be a much thinner layer than on the top). With a small, narrow metal spatula, smooth the sides.
Remove the strips of paper by pulling each one out toward a narrow end.

Do NOT carry the iced cake on a flat plate and tip it towards yourself and it slides into your shirt right at chest level unless of course you have a special someone handy. This caused a bit of marital tension at the last party to which I took the cake.

Chocolate curls or chocolate shavings
Whipped cream
Fresh raspberries

Decorate the cake or individual portions with optional chocolate curls or chocolate shavings (try chocolate shavings formed with a vegetable parer and made with milk chocolate). Place a mound of optional whipped cream (lightly sweetened with confectioner’s sugar and lightly flavored with vanilla extract) on one side of each portion on individual dessert plates, and a few optional raspberries on the other side of each portion.


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