Jan 30, 2011
There is a cake under all that greenery--a Christmas Cradle Cake. I had planned to make the cranberry cheesecake for our family's Christmas dinner dessert, but I made it ahead of time for an office potluck. Not wanting to repeat, I looked at the list of upcoming cakes and decided the Cradle Cake was a likely prospect. And so it was.
This cake has two distinct parts: the soft, tender buttermilk cake inside and the crisp, pecan-chocolate-egg white dacquoise on the outside. If you're smarter than I am, you already know that the word "dacquoise" comes from the French town Dax, the home of the famous "Dax spa" and of lovely meringue cakes. Those Daxians apparently like the sybaritic life.
My daughter Liz was home for Christmas, and she suggested that we divide up the components: she would do the dacquoise because that was the interesting part of the cake while I would do the boring part. She had never made a meringue before, so I kept checking on her progress..
Egg whites beat until glossy? Check.
Pecan mixture carefully folded in? Check.
Egg white mixture spread into pan so that it forms a rectangular hollow? Check.
Meanwhile I was making the cake batter. But as we put the cake in the oven, and I began putting things away, I realized that there was no half-stick of butter on the counter to put in the refrigerator. And that meant ... that I had added the butter twice. And that meant that the cake that was supposed to have 4 tablespoons of butter now had 8 tablespoons.
"Well, I hate to say it, Mom," said my daughter, "but that's what you get for back-seat baking. If you'd focused on your own part instead of hovering over me, that never would have happened." Hmmph. Back-seat baking indeed.
I had hopes that the butter incident wouldn't adversely affect the cake, but no such luck. The cake sank down in the pan and a small testing bite revealed that the cake had a heavy, lumpen quality that wasn't going to impress anyone. Proof positive that there can indeed be too much of a good thing. We had plenty of ingredients and enough time, so we started over. This time, the chastened chief baker stayed focused on her own job. We also put the first attempt out in the back yard for the birds and squirrels. They seemed quite jolly about it. I almost expected them to burst into song.
No problems at all the second time around. The cake didn't sink. We unmolded it without incident. The sous chef decided it looked boring and needed considerable spiffing up to make it worthy of its status as Christmas dessert.
My so-called assistant decorated the cake with stripes of chocolate drizzle glaze, and decorated the sides of the platter with various holiday greens. Then she decided that even the side greens and the drizzle weren't festive enough, so she added more on the top of the cake itself. Finally, she pronounced it gala enough for the occasion.
I personally loved the simple but flavorful buttermilk cake that is the backbone of this dessert; others preferred the taste of the dacquoise. In the end, it's the combination of creamy and crunchy, mellow and complex, that makes this cake so special.
Liz: "The outside crunchy part is really good. The cake itself is more boring."
Danny: "Aren't we supposed to say things that will sound good in print? This pleases my palate."
Lisa: "I really like this cake. I know I'm supposed to say something witty but I can't think of anything."
Jim: "I hate to say this, but the outside part with chocolate and pecans is really good."
Posted by Marie at 12:01 AM