I like chocolate, but I am not a chocoholic (as my daughter and many of my friends might dub themselves). But this cake took me over the top. It is ecstasy personified. And those enjoying my first (successful) attempt at making it were all “women of a certain age” – thus, the above “that-time-of-life” naming.
The occasion: a two-in-oner. First, five of us (Leslie, Lesley, Judy, Dolores and myself) have been meeting fairly regularly to work through a book by Natalie Reid, a friend and member/workshop leader at International Women’s Writing Guild summer conferences that most of us have attended for several years. The book is The Spiritual Alchemist: Working with the Voice of Your Soul, and it offers writing and other exercises to help the reader along this path. Natalie defines a spiritual alchemist as “a person who seeks spiritual direction, spiritual connection, and spiritual growth by embarking on a fearless, joyful, and lifelong path to self-knowledge.” It seems that part of our group’s alchemy includes food for the soul as well, literally. There’s always a nice spread of mostly healthy, usually gluten-free snacks on hand (both Judy and Leslie can’t do gluten) to bolster the body along with whatever each of us might define as her “soul.”
Secondly, we decided to belatedly celebrate Dolores’ birthday with a cake, which I volunteered to bake since I’d recently been intrigued by several recipes in Gesine Bullock-Prado’s memoir, My Life from Scratch: A Sweet Journey of Starting Over, One Cake at a Time (Broadway Books, 2009). After graduating from law school, Bullock-Prado spent several years in Hollywood working for/with her sister (that would be Oscar-winning Sandra Bullock) as president of her company – reviewing contracts, sitting through creative meetings and lunches and all the rigamarole involved in ensuring that scripts get reviewed, films made and more. When her mind began to wander while performing these important tasks… and her mother passed away… she realized she needed to get away from the glitz and fakery of the entertainment capital and follow her own sweet path. She and her husband moved to Vermont, opened a bakery and, voilà, happiness! (Since then, she’s also published a couple cookbooks, one of which – Sugar Baby (Abrams, 2011) – now rests on a bookshelf in my kitchen.)
Bullock-Prado’s cake (encompassing both cake & icing) came down to her from her mother, who called it “the Orgasm Cake”. In the bakery, however, she didn’t call it by her mom’s label. When the it opened, word had gotten around that her sister would be helping out, so lines were out the door and down the block with folks waiting to get in. Therefore, when her aunt provided the recipe to the new owner, she sent along a note saying that she understood she might “not be able to call the pecan chocolate torte ‘the Orgasm Cake’ if you are selling at the store – you might end up with another line out the front door like at the opening!” So it was re-named Helga’s Cake, honoring Gesine’s/Sandra’s mother.
In the end, Leslie (at whose house we meet) and I opted for a full luncheon meal. My reminder e-mail about our gathering said, “Come hungry.” Leslie created a huge, amazing salad along with a fig-based dressing (I’m hoping she provides that recipe to me, perhaps as a “guest blogger” for inclusion as a post on KitchenCauldron), as well providing other sustenance. All in all, a wonderful afternoon – and we never did get around to the meditation and writing this time. We simply ate and talked and ate and laughed and ate. And Dolores blew out a single candle on her cake and opened a few gifts.
I suggest that you might want to view the video on Gesine Bullock-Prado’s blogsite to see how she puts together her cake. Here’s how I concocted my version:
- I made the cake pretty much as directed in the book, except I toasted the pecans first for deeper flavor. (Note: in the book, the author suggests using three cake pans, minimum 1½ inch depth, but in the video she uses “cake rings” – which I never would’ve imagined, so check it out!).
- The frosting portion of the recipe is my own. Bullock-Prado’s buttercream recipe includes egg yolks that aren’t necessarily processed with enough heat to kill bad bacteria if the eggs contain any. I know this is generally not a problem since the incidence of such bacteria is rare nowadays, but I never take that chance with my concoctions.
- I’d never made chocolate ganache before, although I’ve read plenty of recipes for it. I flicked through a few of them before starting on this cake and based my version pretty much on one in The Moosewood Book of Desserts by the Moosewood Collective (Clarkson Potter, 1997). How I deviated from the Moosewood ganache? I used two types of chocolate instead of one; I didn’t have as much heavy cream left as they required for their recipe, so I used less and added in the coffee; and I added vanilla powder.
As for the magic, why, chocolate is love. Certainly, there was plenty of love and friendship at our Spiritual Alchemy gathering yesterday. And lots of love of cake.
That’s my story behind this luscious dessert, with thanks to Gesine Bullock-Prado for her creative inspiration. Make the cake! Buy her books, if so inclined. And here’s to the occasional decadent treat in this sweet life of ours…
POST-MENOPAUSAL ORGASM CAKE
Yield: 8 to 12 servings, depending upon consumers’ appetites for decadence
- 12 ounces pecans
- 1 cup sugar, ½ cup at a time
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 whole eggs; plus 8 large eggs, separated
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
for frosting between layers
- 16 oz. mascarpone cheese (it’s like cream cheese, only sweeter)
- 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- ⅔ cup cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon vanilla powder
- 7 to 8 tablespoons butter, softened
- at least ¼ cup heavy cream (more might be needed)
- up to 1 teaspoon Roasted Saigon Cinnamon (or regular cinnamon)
for ganache drizzled topping
- 4 ounces bittersweet chocolate
- 5 ounces semi-sweet chocolate
- 1⅓ cup heavy cream
- ⅛ cup strong hazelnut coffee (or regular coffee, if preferred)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla powder
Note: I baked the layers the night before frosting, covering tops of cooled cakes on individual plates with a sheet of waxed paper, then putting plastic wrap loosely over each cake/plate (but covering everything). This meant I didn’t have to find room in my refrigerator for an entire 3-layer cake, which would be required since part of the filling includes mascarpone cheese.
- Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Lightly grease (I use butter) three 8-inch round cake pans (mine might’ve been 9-inch – I didn’t measure!). Line the bottoms with parchment paper and lightly grease the papers.
- Spread the pecans out in a large (preferably 12”- to allow as close to a single layer as possible) frying pan over a medium-hot heat, allowing to “toast” until they exude a “nutty” aroma. This should take very little time, no more than 3-4 minutes. You might want to stir them about at least one during the process, ensuring you do not burn them.
- In a food processor, grind toasted pecans with ½ cup of the sugar plus the salt, until they turn into a fine meal.
- Add the 8 egg yolks, the whole eggs, vanilla and baking powder. Blend until it becomes a smooth paste.
- Whip the egg whites on high in the bowl of an electric mixer using whisk attachment. Just as they begin to gain volume and look white and fluffy (not chunky), add remaining ½ cup sugar gradually (in a slow stream). Continue to whisk on high until whites are shiny and hold a stiff peak.
- Transfer pecan paste to a large mixing bowl and stir a heaping spoonful of egg whites to lighten batter.
- Gently fold remaining egg whites into mixture until well incorporated (try not to disturb integrity of the aerated eggs).
- Divide batter between the three pans.
- Bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until cake springs back when touched (I also used a toothpick to check it). Mine took only 30 or 35 minutes.
- Allow to cool completely on wire racks before you release from pan.
for frosting between layers
- In a large mixing bowl, beat together all ingredients – but adding heavy cream in small doses, to ensure you get desired consistency, which is a sort-of heavenly-almost-mousse-like quality.
- Frost between layers (not the top! that gets the ganache!), making sure to spread frosting all the way to edges.
- Set cake aside, awaiting ganache.
for ganache drizzled topping
- Place a metal or glass bowl over a pot of water that’s been brought to a boil then heat reduced to a steady simmer. Make sure there’s not so much water in the pot that it will touch a bowl that will be placed over it. (Note: if you have one, you can use a double boiler instead – I own a double boiler but actually prefer the bowl method.)
- Place a metal or glass bowl over the pot and put chocolate in the bowl. Allow it to melt, stirring often to prevent it from burning (nothing will take out a burnt flavor).
- Meanwhile, pour the heavy cream into a medium-size sauce pan and stir in the vanilla powder. Bring to a simmer. Do not allow it to boil.
- When the chocolate is completely melted, remove from the heat and stir into heavy cream. Keep stirring until completely incorporated.
- Remove from heat to a wire rack or trivet. Allow to cool to a consistency where it is still pourable but not super-hot (so that it will drizzle onto the cake but doesn’t permeate and make it soggy). If necessary, after it cools a little on the counter, place it in the refrigerator to quicken the process.
- Pour the ganache over the top layer, allowing it to drip along the sides. (It’s possible you might not need all of it. In that case, refrigerate remainings in a small container and you’ve got a slightly-soft, homemade candy bar next day; or re-heat it and add to milk as it heats up, for a rich cup of hot chocolate!)
- Refrigerate the cake until about half hour or an hour before serving (for best slicing), at which time you should expect groans of orgasmic delight as cake consumers indulge.