This post is part of my personal challenge to bake my way through all the challenges of the Great British Bake Off. The challenge below is the signature challenge for week four (dessert week) of series three: a three-layer torte cake.
Cream-based desserts always have my heart – notwithstanding the danger all this dairy fat doubtless poses to said heart. A trickle of liquid cream or dollop of the airily whipped variety – or even, dare I say, a pump of aerosol-whipped foam from a ‘squirty cream’ can – rarely fails to perfect a baked good or even a simple piece of baked or poached fruit.
Anecdote: I once bought a can of squirty cream for a Wimbledon Finals viewing party (yes, very bourgeois) from Tesco (actually, from the Tesco in Wimbledon itself!) and the woman at the cashier rang through my summer-standard purchases – Pimms, strawberries, napkins – without comment. When she came to the can of cream, she picked it up, waggled her eyebrows, and rasped out (Marsha-from-Spaced-style) “Are you going to be having play-time when you get back?” followed by a hearty chuckle. Even if I actually preferred the sugary, airy taste of the canned stuff to the voluptuous purity of hand-whipped double cream, the memory of this moment would be enough to put me off any purchases of aerosol cream for fear of another such encounter.
There is nothing fake or sugary about this cream torte. The almond cake which forms the foundation is somewhat austere on its own: dense but not particularly sweet, and quite dry. The orange liqueur-spiked syrup it’s brushed with adds some flavour and moisture, but the purpose of the cake is to provide a contrast to the extremely creamy strawberry and orange liqueur mousse which fills the middle. With 500ml – half a litre – of double cream providing body to the mousse, the cake needs structure and a little dryness to hold it together and provide a textural contrast to all that soft, voluptuous sweetness.
There are a number of steps, and skills, associated with making this cake (you can see why it was a suitable challenge on Bake Off). There’s the baking of the sponge and the making and setting of the filling, which involves gelatine. (Most of the gelatine you can buy off the shelf in the UK is beef rather than pork gelatine, so bear that in mind if you want to serve this cake – or even just the mousse – to someone with medical or cultural dietary restrictions. I have not tested this with vegetarian gelatine and would suggest following the packet instructions if you want to try this as it works slightly differently). Fortunately both can be done ahead of time. The assembled cake and mousse structure then has to chill for a good amount of time in the fridge – if not, you will have sponges floating on a strawberry-cream slop. Not very appetising, and I can imagine it must have been a struggle for the Bake Off contestants to set a gelatine-based mousse in time. (Incidentally, this cake is a good test of faith, inasmuch as you have to believe that you will pass through the ‘cakes-on-slop’ phase to get to the ‘elegant Mitteleuropa cream torte’ stage when shoving it in the fridge to set).
If it really all does seem like too much work for a summer’s day – and with so little of summer left I won’t blame you – do try making just the mousse, which is pure and delicate and delicious – it melts delicately on the tongue and tastes like a child’s memory of strawberries and cream. As a bonus, you won’t need to turn the oven on.
The almond cake I made is an amalgam and extensive adaptation of several recipes I found online; the syrup and mousse are based on a recipe for Erdbeeroberstorte from Rick Rodgers’ magnificent book Kaffeehaus, which is well worth a look at if you love cream-based desserts, which are also so beloved in Central Europe. The instructions given to the bakers was to make a three-layer cake, but this did not require three layers of sponge, simply that the entire piece be composed of three layers – in this case two of sponge and one of mousse; the tortes themselves should not contain any flour. Strictly speaking, also, the instructions in the challenge did suggest that the bakers should not using leavening agents in their cakes – with all the rise coming from well-whipped egg yolks and whites – but as all their torte recipes on the BBC website include baking powder, I took the same liberty of sidestepping this instruction.
Full recipe below the break, as always.
Strawberry almond cake cream torte
Syrup and mousse stages adapted from Kaffeehaus, by Rick Rodgers
For the cake
- 6 large eggs
- 150g caster sugar
- 215g ground almonds
- 1.5 tsp baking powder
- pinch salt
- 1 tsp white wine vinegar
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
For the syrup
- 80ml water
- 90ml Cointreau or other orange liqueur, or orange juice if you prefer
- 3 TBS caster sugar
- Preheat the oven to 170C. Lightly grease two 23cm springform cake tins and line the bottoms of the tins
- Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a large bowl until the mixture is thick, moussey in texture and pale yellow in colour, and can form a ribbon: when you lift the whisk/beaters over the mixture and move them over the batter, the mixture that comes off the whisk will form a thick ribbon that sits on top of the remaining mixture.
- Fold the almonds and baking powder into the egg yolk mixture.
- In a very clean bowl, with absolutely no traces of grease, beat the egg whites, starting on low speed and gradually increasing the speed. When the whites are foamy, add the pinch of salt and white wine vinegar. Continue beating until you have fairly stiff, glossy peaks.
- Fold the egg whites gently into the yolk-almond mixture. Start by whisking in a large dollop of egg whites firmly into the mixture to loosen it, and then proceed more gently with the remainder of the egg whites, avoiding knocking out as much air as possible.
- Divide the mixture between the two springform pans as evenly as possible, and smooth the top. Bake for 35 minutes, until a skewer comes out of the centre cleanly, the cake is gently browned at the edges and the sides are pulling away from the tin. Allow to cool.
- While baking, make the syrup. Bring the water and sugar to the boil together in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar. It should thicken but only slightly. Remove from the heat and stir in the liqueur or juice. Let cool.
- Once the cake and syrup are cooler (they don’t need to be ice cold, just room temperature), brush half the syrup over each cake. Flip the cakes over and brush with the remaining syrup. Set aside to cool down completely.
For the strawberry-orange mousse filling
- 12g sachet gelatine powder (or enough gelatine to set 570ml according to your packet/brand)
- 80ml water
- 380g fresh strawberries
- 160g caster sugar
- 1 TBS lemon juice
- 1 TBS Cointreau or orange liqueur of your choice
- 500ml double cream
- Start by hulling the strawberries, which strictly speaking means removing the green leafy top and centre of the strawberry by angling your knife into the top of a strawberry in a circular motion, rather than slicing straight down a few millimetres below the top. While the latter is quicker, the former method is much less wasteful and actually removes the hull and I think it’s worth doing it properly for this recipe (if just slicing up strawberries for my morning cereal I do the quick method).
- Sprinkle the gelatine powder over the water in a small bowl (the water does not need to be hot for this).
- Puree the strawberries in a blender or food processor to make 250ml of puree (to avoid too much waste I blended in batches, as the quantity of puree could depend on the juiciness of your berries. Set aside any excess strawberries to decorate the cake later).
- Place the puree in a medium saucepan with the softened gelatine, the sugar and the lemon juice over a medium-low heat, stirring, until the gelatine is dissolved. This will take around two minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the orange liqueur.
- Pour the mixture into a large bowl and let cool, stirring often, until cool and thickened, but not set. You can do this by setting the bowl in a larger bowl of ice water or by setting it in the fridge for a bit, not forgetting to stir it. I did the latter because my old freezer could not make ice.
- Beat the double cream to stiff peaks. Mix about a quarter of it into the puree to loosen it, then fold in the remaining cream.
- Line the bottom of a clean, closed (clipped) 23cm springform pan with clingfilm or baking paper. Place one cake in the bottom of this prepared pan.
- Gently pour over the cooled, thickened strawberry puree (mixed with the whipped cream as above). No matter how cooled, it will probably look pretty liquid and sloppy and horrible. Feel free to have a little cry as you top it with the second cake, cover the top with clingfilm and set in the fridge to chill, for at least four hours and preferably 8 or overnight.
- 6-8 small strawberries, to decorate
- 200ml double cream
- Remove the cake from the fridge. The mousse should have set and be firm (while still retaining its delicate, airy texture). Run a warmed palette knife around the edges of the cake to loosen any mousse from the sides and unclip the springform. Remove the sides.
- Rinse your palette knife with hot water and dry it. Gently smoothen the edges of the the mousse, which will probably have spread a little beyond the diameter of the cakes, easing your palette knife and applying a little pressure to push the mousse against the sides. You may need to rinse your knife with hot water and dry it periodically while doing this.
- Once tidied, invert your cake onto your chosen serving platter or cake stand so that the bottom of the springform pan is on the top. It does require a little bravery to do this, but it’s a kind of everyday bravery we can achieve. Hold the cake firmly in your hand, hand spread out to support the bottom; with your other hand, invert the cake stand on top of the cake. Hold this structure firmly between both hands and flip the stand right way up. You did it! Gently-gently ease off the bottom of the pan and the clingfilm or baking paper.
- Whip the double cream until it forms fairly firm, soft, but still ever-so-slightly floppy peaks. Smooth over the top of the cake using a palette knife. Decorate as you wish with your strawberries: I halved them and lined the outside of the cake, but you could cover your cake in halves, or slice them up as you wish. I was surprised that the strawberries did not bleed their juice onto the cream but there is a risk of this happening, so only add the strawberries just before serving.
- Eat and enjoy.