Inspired by Kissimmee bakers David and Elaine Duran who are competing on TLC’s “Next Great Baker,” I dug into the Tribune family recipe archive for an old show-stopping favorite. The recipe appeared in a piece written in 1995 by William Rice. It was a fall preholiday column, but let's face it: Chocolate is good 365 days a year. The recipe was developed by Margaret Lastick, a granddaugher of a Viennese baker who worked at the court of Emperor Franz Josef.
She created the cake in 1993 to make a higher, more striking cheesecake. She placed a cheesecake on a pedestal of chocolate cake with a layer of caramel-walnut sauce in between, a coating of buttercream and a chocolate topping.
MARGARET LASTICK'S HOLIDAY CAKE
10 to 12 servings
For the chocolate cake:
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sour milk (see note) or buttermilk
3/4 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 scant cup cake flour
For the pumkin cheesecake:
2 pounds cream cheese, softened
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup canned or cooked and pured pumpkin
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
For the buttercream frosting
1 2/3 cups granulated sugar
8 large egg whites
3 cups (6 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into tablespoons and softened
1 tablespoon brandy, such as Cognac
1 teaspoon vanilla
For the caramel-walnut sauce
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup light corn syrup
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup whipping cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup chopped walnuts
For the ganache
3 3/4 cups sweet chocolate
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1. For the chocolate cake, Heat an oven to 350F. Butter sides and bottom of one 8-inch, round layer cake pan. Sprinkle lightly with flour; tap out excess. Thoroughly combine 1/2 cup sugar, cocoa, baking soda and salt in a medium bowl. Add 1/4 cup sour milk, corn syrup and vanilla and mix until liquid ingredients are absorbed. Set aside. Cream remaining sugar and butter with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg, mixing well. Sift flour 3 times. Add half the flour to the egg mixture, then 1/4 cup milk, the remaining flour and remaining milk, mixing well after each addition. Thoroughly blend in the chocolate mixture, using a rubber spatula. Pour batter into prepared pan and rotate the pan until it is evenly distributed. Bake in the center of the oven until a wooden toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 25 to 35 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes, then invert onto a wire rack. Cool completely. Leave the oven on.
2. For the pumpkin cheesecake, mix cream cheese and sugar until smooth. Add eggs, one at a time, then add vanilla, pumpkin, cornstarch and spices and mix thoroughly. Grease an 8-inch, round pan lightly and line it with parchment or waxed paper. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and rotate the pan until it is evenly distributed. Place the round pan in a larger pan and pour hot water into the larger pan until it comes half way up the sides of the round pan. Bake in this water bath at 350 degrees for 1 hour and 45 minutes, or until the top is set but still shakes slightly when the pan is moved. Remove the cheesecake from the water bath and place on a rack until completely cool. Freeze the cake in the pan until firm, at least 2 hours.
3. For the buttercream frosting, combine the sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small pan with a heavy bottom, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Heat to a boil, then continue boiling until the syrup registers 242F (soft ball stage) on a candy thermometer. As it cooks, brush down any sugar crystals from the sides of the pan with a pastry brush dipped in water. Meanwhile, beat the egg whites in a large mixer bowl until light and fluffy. When the syrup reaches 242F, gradually add it to the beaten egg whites and continue beating, slowly increasing the speed to high. Beat in the butter, a little at a time, until smooth, fluffy and of spreading consistency. Beat in the brandy and vanilla.
4. To make the caramel-walnut sauce, combine the sugar, corn syrup, milk, whipping cream, butter and salt in a small pan with a heavy bottom and stir over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Stop stirring and cook until syrup has thickened and turns a caramel color (110F on the candy thermometer). Add the chopped walnuts and pour the mixture onto a sheet pan to cool.
5. To make the ganache, chop the chocolate into small pieces and place in a bowl with the corn syrup. Heat the milk and cream together in a small saucepan and add to the chocolate. Mix until melted and smooth. Keep warm.
6. To assemble the cake, cut the devil's food cake layer in half crosswise. Wrap one half and freeze it for another time. Place the remaining chocolate cake layer on a flat plate or cake stand. Scrape the cooled caramel-walnut sauce onto the cake and smooth it.
7. Remove the cheescake from the freezer, place the pan on a medium burner for 30 seconds, then invert it on top of the chocolate cake. Frost the top and sides of this two-layer creation with the buttercream frosting. Refrigerate for 45 minutes.
8. Remove the cake from the refrigerator and pour the slightly warm ganache over the top of the cake. Smooth ganache over cake top with a spatula. Do not allow any ganache to drip down the sides of the cake. Any missed spots on the sides of the cake can be patched with buttercream by using the (cleaned) spatula.
9. Decorate with chocolate leaves and sugared grapes.
- To sour milk, put 1 12 teaspoons fresh lemon juice in a 1-cup measure. Add fresh milk to bring the level to 3/4 cup. Leave until clabbered, about 15 minutes.
- Buy silk grape leaves at a crafts store or florist. Melt 4 ounces of semisweet chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot but not boiling water. Brush onto leaves. After the chocolate has hardened, peel off the leaves.
- To sugar grapes, beat an egg white only until frothy, then brush a bunch of green grapes with the egg white. Sprinkle the grapes with granulated sugar.
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