This year my cousin and I (one of the cousins dropped out of the project) stumbled into the kitchen in our pajamas on Christmas Eve to try and figure out what we were going to prepare for our annual christmas concoction. We flipped through all the Bon Appétits of 2010, but could not find anything that caught our eye. Well, then it was time to face the monster: my grandmother's entire wall of cookbooks. It seems like every cookbook published within the last 60 years is piled onto that shelf. And, yes, there are many that are obscure and quite unfamiliar to my mainstream and modern palette. After about an hour of endless page skimming, my cousin found a beautiful recipe (unfortunately, without a picture) in a German kafeehaus book; our stomachs began to growl as we read the ingredients aloud. My grandmother, hearing from the other room, immediately approved, yet this was partly because of her 100% German heritage. My cousin and I somehow got the 1988 Cadillac through the snow to get the ingredients we needed and, right after the Christmas celebration the next morning, we began to whisk.
Adapted from Kaffeehaus by Rick Rodgers
3 ounces high-quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped (I used Scharffen Berger)
1 1/4 cups (5 ounces) sliced natural or blanched almonds
1/3 cup dried bread crumbs
7 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar, divided
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 ounces high quality bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
2 large eggs, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons heavy cream, optional
1/2 cup sliced natural or blanched almonds, toasted (I used sliced and DID NOT toast them because it actually created a great consistency)
Time to Whisk
Position a rack in the center of the oven; heat to 350°F. Lightly butter the inside of a 9-inch springform pan. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment or wax paper. Dust with flour and tap out the excess.
Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler over hot, not simmering, water. You can also do it in a microwave at medium power. Cool slightly.
In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the almonds and the bread crumbs until the almonds are chopped into a fine powder, but not oily.
Beat the yolks and 1/4 cup of the sugar in a large bowl with a handheld electric mixer on high speed until thick and pale yellow, about 3 minutes. Beat in the chocolate, vanilla and almond extract.
Using clean beaters, beat the whites in a large bowl until they form soft peaks. Gradually beat in the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar until the peak are stiff and shiny. Stir about a quarter of the whites into the chocolate batter to lighten, then fold in the remaining whites, using a rubber spatula. In two additions, fold in the nuts. Spread the batter evenly into the pan.
Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 35 minutes. Cool on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the inside of the pan to release the cake, then remove the sides of the pan. Invert into the rack, and remove the paper. Cool completely.
Melt the chocolate in the top part of a double boiler.
Whisk the eggs and sugar in a medium heat-proof bowl. Place over a saucepan of barely simmering water (the water shouldn't touch the bottom of the bowl). Whisk gently until the eggs are very hot (a thermometer will read 170°F). This step took quite a while and a lot of patience, so don't assume your thermometer is broke... this is tedious. Remove from the heat. Stir in the chocolate. Using a handheld electric mixer on high speed, beat until completely cooled, about 5 minutes. One tablespoon at a time, beat in the butter, incorporating the first addition before adding another. Add the vanilla and almond extract. If the icing seems thick, beat in the heavy cream.
If needed, trim the top of the cake to level it with a long serrated knife. Cut the cake horizontally into 2 equal layers. Dab a tablespoon of the icing in the center of your serving plate. Place the bottom layer on the round. Spread with 1/2 cup of the icing, then top with the other layer. Spread the top of the cake with a generous 1/2 cup of icing. Use the remaining icing to frost the sides of the cake, then smooth the top. Lift the cake with one hand, and use your other hand to press the almonds onto the sides of the cake. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. DO AHEAD: Can be made up to 1 day ahead and stored under a cake dome in the refrigerator.
IN LOVING MEMORY OF MY GRANDFATHER, WHO MADE PAST TRADITIONS AND FUTURE GATHERINGS POSSIBLE. HE WAS A BIG DESSERT LOVER AND ALWAYS PROMOTED AND PRAISED ANY KIND OF KITCHEN PROJECT.