Nutty Ganache Cake

This cake is easy.

You probably don’t believe me because there’s a tiny voice in your head sputtering: False! Cakes are difficult! It’s in their nature! But if you hear that voice (dear readers!), feel free shout it down. Because I do not lie. This cake is easy.

This cake is, in fact, just three elements. And none of them take more than a half hour of actual work to produce. There’s a sponge, a dark chocolate ganache, and a thinner, runnier white chocolate ganache. The sponge doesn’t need to be split, because you bake it on a jelly roll pan and then just cut it in half. And the decoration consists of — well — splatter-painting.

I don’t really like to talk about my pastry failures. It’s a thing about which I am more than a bit sensitive. But just to give you some context: I had planned to make a batch of éclairs this weekend for a friend’s baby shower; and they went horribly, horribly wrong. I needed to do something quick to make up for it. I needed a tasty, foolproof substitute. And so this here — this is the dessert I made.

Because — and you can say it with me now! — this cake is easy.

The Sponge (taken, with significant modification, from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything):
1 cup AP White Flour (cake flour will work, too — but it’s optional)
1 cup Granulated Sugar
5 Eggs, separated
3 tbsp Frangelico (or whatever nut liqueur you want), plus another 3 tbsp for moistening the sponge later
1 tsp Vanilla
.25 tsp Salt

The Bittersweet Ganache:
450 grams Bittersweet Chocolate, chopped fine (of the best quality you can afford. I use Valrhona 70%)
2 cups Heavy Cream
2 tbsp Frangelico (or — again — whatever nut liqueur you want)

The Topping:
280 grams White Chocolate, chopped fine (again — the good stuff!)
1 cup Heavy Cream
.5 cup Blanched Almonds, toasted and chopped

To Make the sponge: Preheat your oven to 350F. Grease a jelly roll pan with vegetable oil or butter, and line it with parchment. Then sift the flour and salt together into a small bowl.

In a medium-sized bowl, beat the egg yolks until they go from vivid to pale yellow. Then add half of the sugar, the vanilla, and the Frangelico, and continue to beat until all the ingredients are thoroughly combined.

In another bowl, whisk your egg whites (preferably with an electric whisk on high) until they go foamy. Then add the other half of the sugar, and continue whisking until they form soft peaks (don’t let them dry out).

To the bowl with the egg yolks, add a spoonful of the whites, and stir vigorously to lighten. Gently fold in a third of the remaining whites, and repeat twice more until all the whites are integrated. Then, do the same with the dry ingredients: a third at a time, fold the flour-salt mixture into your batter, being gentle but thorough and making sure that it is fully integrated.

Pour the finished batter onto your jelly roll pan. Spread evenly across the surface, making sure to get the batter into the corners. Then bake for about 30 minutes — or until a knife stuck into the center comes out clean.

When the sponge comes out of the oven, let it cool on the pan for about five minutes, then flip it onto a cooling rack, peel off the parchment, and let it come to room temperature.

To Make the bittersweet ganache: Add the chopped chocolate and the Frangelico to a mixing bowl. In a small saucepan over a medium flame, heat the cream until it comes to a boil. Pour the boiling cream over the chocolate, and allow it to sit for five minutes. Then stir vigorously. The chocolate will melt into the cream, forming a thick liquid ganache.

Refrigerate the ganache for 1-2 hours, checking on it every half hour to see if it has come to the right consistency. You will know that it is ready when it begins to resemble frosting — thick enough to hold its shape, but not yet fully set.

To make the white chocolate topping: For this step, wait until the cake is trimmed and frosted, and in the refrigerator chilling. Then follow the directions laid out above for the bittersweet ganache. When your one cup of cream comes to a boil, pour it over the chopped white chocolate, let stand for five minutes, then stir vigorously. The mixture will be thinner than the dark chocolate version. Refrigerate, and when it is the consistency of a thick, pourable paste (1 to 1.5 hours), you’ll know that it’s ready.

Putting it all together: Using a bread knife, cut the sponge into two equal halves. Stack them, and trim them to form an even rectangle. If you find that the sponge is of a slightly uneven thickness, feel free to shave it with your bread knife such that one half of the cake sits flat on the other.

Unstack the two halves of the sponge and moisten their interior-facing parts with the remainder of the Frangelico. Spread about half of the bittersweet ganache between them (you want a fairly thick middle layer), and then re-set the top sponge on the bottom. Use the rest of the ganache to frost the top and sides of the cake. The nature of ganache is that it will never be perfectly even, but with some patience, you can get it pretty smooth.

Refrigerate the cake until the ganache has fully set. Then take it back out and drizzle it, in a tight grid pattern, with the white chocolate topping (a squeeze bottle helps immensely in this). Scatter an even layer of toasted almonds on top of the white chocolate. Repeat — drizzling in a grid pattern and scattering the nuts — then finish with one final round of drizzling.

Refrigerate the cake until you’re ready to eat it. Then serve in small slices (a little goes a long way!) with the remaining white chocolate topping on the side.

Enjoy!

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