daring bakers: almond gateau with praline buttercream


another month and another daring bakers challenge. chosen by chris from mele cotte (it means baked apples in case you’re wondering) this month we’ve all been baking nut gateaux with praline buttercream.

swiss buttercream to be more precise. uh oh, that was not a good thing to see – last time a recipe called for a meringue buttercream (which used a similar technique to this swiss buttercream) i had a disaster and had to use an alternative icing. however, i decided this was an opportunity to get it right so i planned a day of baking and got stuck in.

this is a complex recipe which has many different components:

  • nut genoise – i chose almonds and orange as my flavouring, rather than the suggested hazelnuts and lemon
  • sugar syrup – i flavoured this with orange flower water
  • whipped cream
  • praline buttercream – again i used almonds to flavour my praline
  • fruit glaze – i used raspberry jam
  • chocolate ganache

so, how did i get on?

almond genoise - this was flavourless and dry, really not what i expect from a cake that uses a large amount of ground nuts in the mix. it was easy enough to make though and had a small crumb which meant it was easy to use and didn’t break when i was cutting and assembling the layers.

praline buttercream – i used almonds for my praline, which came out really well. the praline was then blitzed in a food processor and added to the swiss buttercream which worked! hurrah! i added rum to this and the result was gorgeous – light, fluffy alcoholic buttercream flecked with crunchy praline. i’m not sure what it would have been like without the booze though – probably too sweet.


chocolate ganache – building on the orange zest in the cake i chose an orange and geranium dark chocolate which made a rich, slightly bitter ganache. i thought this contrasted well with the sweetness of the buttercream but, as ever, david thought a sweeter ganache would have been a better option.

the final verdict:

would i have tried this recipe if it hadn't been part of the daring bakers challenge? no. i love cakes made with ground nuts (see here for a current favourite) but the thought of messing with the simple flavours by adding a rich buttercream and ganache would have put me off. the buttercream was also intimidating given my previous failure.

would i try this recipe again in the future? no. the cake and all its many components actually worked well together but was nothing more than a rich decadent multi-layered cake. the subtleties of the nut genoise and its orange flavour was completely lost, and without this, i don’t think there is any point in making this recipe. however, having cracked the buttercream and made a killer ganache i am interested in trying other versions of this type of multi-layered cake.


almond gateau with praline buttercream* (serves 8-10)

almond genoise

100g ground almonds

95g plain flour, unsifted

1 tablespoons corn flour

3 large egg yolks

100g sugar, divided into 75g and 25g

½ teaspoon vanilla extract

1 teaspoon grated

orange zest

3 egg whites

25g warm clarified butter

position rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 180c. grease and flour a 7-8 inch round cake tin with removable base.

mix together the ground almonds, plain flour and corn flour. set aside.

put the egg yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer and beat until thick and light in colour (this takes 3-4 minutes on med-high speed). beating in between each addition, add 75g sugar, a tablespoon at a time. when finished, the mixture should be ribbony. blend in the vanilla and orange zest. set aside.

place the egg whites into a large clean bowl whisk until you get soft peaks. increase the mixer to med-high speed and slowly add the remaining 25g sugar. continue to beat for another seconds. add the yolk mixture to the whites and whisk for 1 minute.

pour the warm butter into a small glass and set aside. add the flour and nut mix to the egg mixtures, 2 tablespoons at a time, folding it carefully after each addition. work quickly and carefully as to not deflate the mixture. when all but about 2 tablespoons of nut mixture remains, quickly pour the warm butter over the batter. add the remaining nut mixture and fold the batter to incorporate.

with a rubber spatula, transfer the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the surface with the spatula or back of a spoon. if any melted butter remains at the bottom of the bowl, do not add it to the batter! it will impede the cake rising while baking.

tap the pan on the counter to remove air bubbles and bake in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. you’ll know the cake is ready when it is springy to the touch and separates itself from the side of the pan. remove from the oven and allow to stand for 5 minutes. invert onto a cake rack and allow the cake to cool completely.

if not using the cake right away, wrap thoroughly in plastic wrap, then in a plastic bag, then in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. if freezing, wrap in foil, then the bag and use within 2-3 months.

sugar syrup

½ a cup of water

50 caster sugar

1 tablespoon orange flower water

in a small but heavy saucepan, bring the water and sugar to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes. remove from heat and add the orange flower water. cool slightly before using on the cake. this can be made in advance.

swiss buttercream

2 large egg whites

75g sugar

165g unsalted butter, slightly firm

2 tablespoons rum

½ teaspoon vanilla

place the egg whites in a glass bowl and beat until the whites are foamy and they begin to thicken (just before the soft peak stage). set the bowl over a saucepan filled with about 2 inches of simmering water, making sure the bowl is not touching the water. then, whisk in the sugar by adding 1-2 tablespoons at a time. continue beating for 2-3 minutes or until the whites are warm (about 120 degrees) and the sugar is dissolved. the mixture should look thick and like whipped marshmallows. remove the bowl from the pan and beat the egg white mixture on med-high until it is a thick, cool meringue. this will take c5 minutes, do not overbeat. set aside.

place the butter in a separate clean mixing bowl and, using a mixer, cream the butter at medium speed for 40-60 seconds, or until smooth and creamy. do not overbeat or the butter will become too soft.

on med-low speed, blend the meringue into the butter, about 1-2 tablespoons at a time. add the rum and vanilla and mix for 30-45 seconds longer, until thick and creamy.

refrigerate 10-15 minutes before using.

troubleshooting the buttercream:

  • my buttercream won’t come together! reheat the buttercream briefly over simmering water for about 5 seconds, stirring with a wooden spoon. be careful and do not overbeat. the mixture will look curdled with some liquid at the bottom of the bowl. return the bowl to the mixer and whip on medium speed just until the cream comes back together.
  • my buttercream is too soft! chill the buttercream in the fridge for about 10 minutes and rewhip. if that doesn’t work, cream an additional 2-4 tablespoons of butter in a small bowl (make sure the butter is not as soft as the original amount) then, on a low speed, quickly add the creamed butter to the buttercream, 1 tablespoon at a time.

refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 5 days, or it can be frozen for up to 6 months. if freezing, thaw in the fridge overnight or at room temperature for several hours. to bring it back to a workable state you will need to let it warm, out of the fridge for an hour or so, and then whisk with your mixer until you get a light fluffy texture. the buttercream might split, releasing it’s liquid, but it will be fine – just keep whisking!

praline brittle – see here

praline buttercream

1 recipe swiss buttercream

25g praline brittle, blitzed to a fine powder

1 tablespoon rum

mix the praline powder into the buttercream. whip briefly on med-low speed to combine then add the rum.

jam glaze

100g jam

1 teaspoon. water

in a small, yet heavy saucepan, bring the water and jam to a slow boil and simmer for 2-3 minutes. if the mixture begins to stick to the bottom of the saucepan, add water as needed. remove from the heat and push the mixture through a sieve to remove any seeds etc. which you can then discard. with a pastry brush, apply the glaze onto the cake while the cake is still warm. if the glaze is too thick, thin to a preferred consistency with drops of water.

ganache glaze (make this when you are assembling the cake)

75g dark chocolate

150ml double cream

½ a tablespoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon rum

½ a teaspoon vanilla

½ a teaspoon hot water, if needed

mix the vanilla and rum together and set aside. break the chocolate into small pieces and blitz in a food processor until finely chopped. place in a bowl and set aside.

heat the cream and maple syrup in a saucepan, on low, until it reaches a gentle boil then pour it over the chocolate. leave for one minute, then slowly stir until the chocolate is melted and incorporated into the cream. add the rum and vanilla mixture. if the surface seems oily, add ½ a teaspoon hot water. the glaze will thicken, but should still be pourable. if it doesn’t thicken, refrigerate for about 5 minutes, but make sure it doesn’t get too cold!

assembling the cake

80ml double cream, whipped to soft peaks

cut a cardboard disk slightly smaller than the cake. divide the cake into three layers and place the first layer top-side down on the disk. using a pastry brush, moisten the layer with 2 tablespoons of warm sugar syrup. measure out 1/3 of the praline buttercream and set aside.

spread the bottom layer of cake with half the remaining buttercream. cover with half the whipped cream, leaving a ¼ inch border around the edge of the cake. place the middle layer of cake over the first, brush with sugar syrup, spread with the remaining buttercream and cover with the remaining whipped cream.

moisten the cut side of the third layer with additional sugar syrup and place cut side down on the cake. gently, press the sides of the cake to align the layers. refrigerate to chill for at least 30 minutes.

lift the cake by sliding your palm under the cardboard. holding a serrated or very sharp night with an 8-ich blade held parallel to the sides of the cake, trim the sides so that they are perfectly straight (i didn’t need to do this). then cut a slight bevel round the edge of the top cake to help the glaze drip over the edge. brush the top and sides of the cake with warm jam glaze, sealing the cut areas completely. chill while you prepare the ganache.

remove the cake from the fridge and put it on a rack whichhas been placed over something which will catch the ganache drippings. with a metal spatula in hand, and holding the saucepan about ten inches above the cake, pour the ganache onto the cake’s centre. move the spatula over the top of the ganache about 4 times to get a smooth and mirror-like appearance. the ganache should cover the top and run down the sides of the cake. when the ganache has been poured and is coating the cake, lift one side of the rack and bang it once on the counter to help spread the ganache evenly and break any air bubbles. (work fast before setting starts.) patch any bare spots on the sides with a smaller spatula, but do not touch the top after the “bang”. let the cake stand at least 15 minutes to set after glazing.

decorate the cake with the remaining buttercream. refrigerate uncovered for 3-4 hours to allow the cake to set. remove the cake from the refrigerator at least 3 hours before serving. leftover cake can be covered with foil and kept in the fridge for up to five days.

*based on a recipe from great cakes by carol walter