Lesson of the week 1: I don't like chestnuts.
Lesson of the week 2: This cake is so good, it doesn't even matter. Chestnut schmesnut!
Lesson of the week 3: E and J VS brandy is VILE stuff.
This week's TWD assignment (yes, I'm gonna try to follow the calendar) is easily the most expensive thing I've made in awhile. In addition to a full pound of butter and then some, a jar of cinnamon sticks, a quart of cream and 20 ounces of chocolate, this little 9-inch package also required seeking out and purchasing a jar of peeled chestnuts and a can of creme de marrons, an ingredient that is apparently ubiquitous in France but hard as aych to find in the U. S. Fellow TWD blogger Katya--the selector of this week's recipe--was kind enough to mail moi a can of the stuff from her megametropolis home, but since we had so little time between the announcement of the week's selection and the time I needed to make it, I ordered a can online to the tune of $13. I don't even wanna total up the rest.
That said, it was fun and tasty. I wasn't sold on the creme de marrons as is, but it works in the cake. The cake is a caramel chestnut layer, soaked with brandy syrup, torted and filled with a caramel milk chocolate ganached and enrobed in chocolate glaze. The layers are supposed to be sprinkled with chopped chestnuts but I only remembered to do that on one layer. I made the ganache on Thursday night and chilled it, baked the cake Friday morning, filled and chilled and then glazed Friday night and took it out of the fridge on Saturday morning to serve at a late luncheon Saturday. It was a big hit with my guests.
The recipe made a lot of batter. You really do need a pan that is a full 2" high. Even with the proper sized pan, I had to let mine bake an extra 15 minutes to cook in the middle. The top edges got a bit dry, but the syrup later cured that.
It's MUCH easier to level and torte cold cake. After letting it cool off completely in the pan, I wrapped the cake within an inch of its life in Saran Wrap and stashed it in the fridge for the day.
Torted cake! My cake fell a bit in the middle--a consequence of opening the oven door before it was done in the middle--so I had to do some trimming of the top layer, as you can see in the lefthand corner.
So I didn't have any brandy about the house, right--just some minibottles of cognac. In the interest of not being pretentious, I went out and got a bottle of E&J and for some reason decided to taste test it against some Remy VSOP cognac. Um yeah. I don't know WTF I was thinking. THAT STUFF WILL KILL YOU. It was like drinking motor oil spiked with shards of glass. No WAY I could pass that on to my guests. A little Remy it is, then.
Along the lines of "not thinking," I somehow did not have the common flipping cake sense to take the ganache out of the fridge long before I was going to use it, so there were interminable waits for it to soften up enough to spread on the cognac-soaked cake.
I had never had chestnuts before making this cake. They simply Are Not Done in the South--we are pecan and walnut enthusiasts, especially at holiday time. So I was totally! psyched! to finally try this seasonal item that shows up in all the Christmas carols and whatnot. And...I have to say I was thoroughly unimpressed. Johnny Mathis, WTF? I hated the soft, crumbly texture (nuts should be crisp, darnit!) and the taste wasn't anything to write home about either. I had consulted a colleague, a fellow native Southerner who has been up in this part of the country for a much longer time, and his summation was "they're...alright, I guess. I wouldn't give up my pecans for them." This is entirely accurate.
I forgot to put the chestnuts on the bottom layer, but it was just as well.
I was also less than impressed with the glaze recipe. It took forever for it to thicken up, and then it went from "too thin" to "spread" in mere seconds. Instead of a nice shiny glaze I got icing, icing that was too chocolately to smooth effectively and that didn't really shine. I have a better glaze recipe that I've been using for sometime; that's probably what I'd go with next time. I did have fun dusting my chestnuts--at least something is shiny.
Nevertheless, my friends and I each had big hunks of cake after lunch, and they took big swaths of it home. The cake is really fantastic. It's fluffy and cakey, which is what I like. Nice and simple and comforting yet sort of elegant. I wouldn't make it all that frequently because of cost, but I definitely would look into making it again, especially for get-togethers. Being able to do components ahead of time really helps.