Ezmeralda is the nom-de-plume of the best neighbor Roommate and I ever had. She was SO EXCITED when Roommate adopted her dog, Lily, last year, possibly more excited than we were. We were in the process of installing a baby-gate in the front hall to limit Lily’s access to my door-less bedroom, and Lily was behaving SO WELL, and then there was a knock on the door. Roommate stepped over the baby-gate and opened the door, and there was Ezmeralda with her miniature pinscher, Pablo. Lily took one look at Pablo, backed up, and sailed effortlessly over the baby-gate to be with him. They are true loves, and they still LOSE THEIR MINDS when they reunite.
Ezmeralda has taken me in when I’ve been sick. She’s opened her house to us for parties and brunches and SVU marathons and True Blood viewings. She’s watched Ruby and Gus when I’ve been out-of-town, even though she’s hugely allergic to them. She gave me my air conditioner. She went stripper-boot shopping with me in the West Village with great enthusiasm. She remembers everyone’s birthdays, loves dogs and children and her friends without reservation, and never fails to make me crack up if I’m having a bad day. Even though I’m a week late, we’re going to watch True Blood and have birthday cake tonight. Happy (belated) Birthday, Ezmeralda, and thanks for being a friend!
Ezmeralda’s Almond-Raspberry Birthday Cake
adapted, barely, from SmittenKitchen
4 1/2 c. cake flour
4 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. nutmeg
2/3 c. prepared almond paste (1 tube, 7 oz.)
2 2/3 c. sugar
2 1/2 sticks (10 oz., 1 1/4 c.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tbsp. almond extract
10 egg whites
1 1/2 c. whole milk
For final product:
1/2 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. water, divided
1 c. seedless raspberry preserves
For chocolate buttercream:
11 oz. bittersweet or semi-sweet chocolate, chopped
1 1/2 c. heavy cream
3/4 c. (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease three 8 or 9-inch round cake pans. Line bottom of pans with circles of parchment paper and grease the paper.
Sift together the flour, salt, baking powder, and nutmeg, and set aside.
The next step is to combine the sugar and almond paste. Deb suggests doing this in your electric mixer. I expected the instructions to say food processor, but I assumed Deb knew what she was doing. Y’ALL. Food processor all the way. It’ll be one more thing to clean, but as I will be sweeping sugar and tiny blobs of almond paste off the floor/chairs/table/windowsill for the next few hours, I’d say it’s worth it. Anyway, pulse sugar and almond paste together in food processor until the paste is broken into fine little bits. Transfer sugar and almond paste to the bowl of an electric mixer, add the butter and almond extract, and beat well.
Add the egg whites to the mixture a few at a time, beating until each addition is just combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl and make sure everything is evenly combined.
Gently fold in the dry ingredients and milk, alternating 3 additions of dry ingredients and 2 additions of milk. Be careful not to overmix. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake cakes for 25-30 minutes until center is set and a tester comes out clean. Allow cakes to cool in their pans for about 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks and allow to cool completely, at least one hour.
For simple syrup, stir 1/2 c. sugar and 1/4 c. water in a very small saucepan over low heat. Heat until sugar is completely dissolved and syrup begins to simmer. Remove from heat and add to the reserved 1/4 c. cold water. Stir and refrigerate until needed.
While cakes are cooling, begin the frosting: melt chocolate and heavy cream in a double boiler (psh, you know I skipped this step and just did it in a medium saucepan. If you go the lazy person route, be super-vigilant about stirring and using low heat, so your chocolate doesn’t burn). Remove from heat and let the ganache stand at room temperature, whisking every few minutes, until the chocolate thickens “to the consistency of mayonnaise”.
Once ganache has cooled and thickened, whip butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the ganache and whip for about three minutes, until frosting is lighter in color and somewhat stiff. Mine remained a little bit gloopy, because I believe I’ve mentioned that my kitchen was ten billion degrees at this point. But don’t overmix the frosting, because the butter and chocolate will start to separate if you do.
Assemble your masterpiece! Place one cake layer on your serving plate (mine being my ultra glamorous plastic cake caddy), and slide strips of waxed paper under the edges of the cake so the frosting goes all over them instead of all over the serving plate. Using a serrated bread knife, trim the top of the cake layer to level it out. Brush the top generously with simple syrup, and then spread with 1/2 c. raspberry preserves and about 2/3 c. chocolate buttercream, leaving a 1/4 inch border around edges of cake. Repeat with second cake layer, then top with final cake layer. Trim the top of the cake and brush with simple syrup.
Frost a very thin layer of chocolate buttercream over top and sides of cake for your crumb coat. Refrigerate cake for 30 minutes until crumb coat is set. Remove cake from fridge and apply a more generous frosting layer, adding decorations as you see fit. Carefully remove the strips of waxed paper from under the cake and marvel at your beautifully tidy creation. Refrigerate cake until ready to eat, and remove from fridge about 1 hour before serving. Serves about 16-20 people. Enjoy!