I was talking to my friend Monica from the Gutsy Cooks Club about favorite chefs and cookbooks. Since we were both members of the Heavenly Bakers, naturally our conversation came around to desserts and especially cakes. Monica mentioned to me that she had gotten the book Extraordinary Cakes by Karen Krasne and was anxious to try some of the cakes. She asked me if I knew about Karen and I think I surprised her when I said that Karen was a local pastry chef here in San Diego and that I went to her shop very often. She asked me if I wanted to join her in baking some of these incredible cakes. Well, I am a huge fan of Monica’s cooking style and her kitchen wizardry so naturally I jumped at the chance to join her. We each read through the book and comprised a list of cakes we wanted to try. When we compared notes we laughed to see that we had both chosen almost the identical list. This Lemon Praline cake appealed to us both right off the bat and we decided it would be the first cake we attempted.
On the first read through these recipes seem really complicated. They are assembled cakes from many components and Karen certainly doesn’t skim in this area. This cake has 6 separate components. Once you get over the shock of the task and reread the recipe you see that it is very manageable. Many of the components can be made the day ahead and held. The one difference that Karen does is that she assembles the cake in a cake ring or mold and then freezes the assembled cake overnight before the final decoration. This is something that neither Monica or myself had ever done and after comparing notes with Monica I think we both agreed that it was a technique with would both adopt in our cake baking. It certainly makes the final decoration and serving much easier.
I started by making the genoise, which is a pretty straight forward standard genoise. It went together in a snap and before I knew it the baked cake was cooling on my counter. The next day I tackled the French Meringue which is used as a crunchy center layer. It all came together in about 20 minutes and has to bake for at least an hour. While it was in the oven I made the lemon syrup, the lemon curd and the lemon buttercream and by the time the meringue was baked and cooled I was ready to assemble the cake.
The genoise is leveled and sliced into two layers. One layer goes into the cake ring, followed by the syrup, then a layer of buttercream and a layer of lemon curd. Next the meringue goes on followed by another layer of buttercream and another layer of lemon curd. Finally the second cake layer in placed on top and drenched with the remaining lemon syrup. The entire assembly is wrapped in plastic wrap and frozen over night. As I told Monica, to me the hardest part of the entire process was finding the room in my overcrowded freezer to keep the cake overnight. Karens instructions are clear and concise and her timing notes are spot on.
The following morning I made the final component which is hazelnut-almond praline. This was just caramelized sugar to which toasted nuts are added and then the mixture is spread onto a baking sheet to harden. Karen specifies to make this just before you need it. Once hardened the praline is broken into pieces and ground in the food processor into a fine powder.
The assembled cake is then frosted completely with the remaining lemon buttercream and then coated with the praline powder. The final decor is a bouquet of fresh flowers and rose petal covered ribbon. I didn’t really like the picture that is in the book and decided to take artistic license here. I should have followed the book. I ended up going crazy with the flowers and ended up covering the whole top of the cake. My other half told me it looked like a cheap centerpiece and I certainly have to agree that it was not the most attractive thing I have ever turned out in the kitchen. No matter, the decorations came off as soon as I got some photographs and the cake is so good that it hardly matters what it looks like. I think next time I will just frost it and pipe some borders and then use the praline in shards as decoration. Maybe I will just skip the decoration entirely and move straight to the eating part.
All in all it was a great first cake from a really great cake book. Can’t wait for the next installment of the Monica and Raymond Cake Club.