“The secrets inside her mind are like flowers in a garden at night time, filling the darkness with perfume.” – Fumiko Enchi
A Fig and Almond Layer Cake. For times of sheer sorrow and self. Gluten-free. Still as good. It’s a cake that’s a little kinder. A little lighter. A little better for everyone. But nonetheless, still cake. In all its salacious exaltation. It’s a situation of six jaconde sponge cake layers. The use of jaconde instead of regular cake, a total saving grace. It’s feather-light. Aerated and almond flavoured. There’s a vanilla bean amaretto simple syrup to soak too. And a smothering of fig jam between. A sweetly scented orange blossom ricotta swiss meringue buttercream coats the entire cake. Kept thin, to reveal each solitary layer. The use of ricotta, a new incorporation I can’t be without. I don’t want to be without. And then there’s a dark chocolate drippy glaze to adorn. It’s total sacrilege to do the cake without it. Please, do the glaze. It’s a dream kind of cake.
FIG AND ALMOND LAYER CAKE
the jaconde sponge:
80 g confectioner’s sugar, 4 large eggs, seeds from 1 vanilla bean pod, 140 g almond meal, 50 g gluten-free all-purpose flour, 1 tsp. baking powder, ¼ tsp. salt, 30 g unsalted butter (melted), 4 egg whites, 65 g granulated sugar
Pre-heat the oven to 190 c (375 f). Grease and line 3 x 18 cm (7 inch) cake pans. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk together the confectioner’s sugar, whole eggs and vanilla bean seeds until the mixture reaches ribbon stage, it should be thick, glossy and when the whisk is lifted, the mixture should hold its form then flow like lava. Sift in the almond meal, flour, baking powder and salt, then gently fold the mixture together until just combined. Pour in the melted butter and stir until evenly combined. Set aside.
Next, in a new, clean-bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk the egg whites on medium speed until they form soft peaks. With the mixer still running, pour in the sugar, in a steady stream. Increase the speed to medium-high and continue to beat until the mixture is glossy and stiff peaks are just beginning to form. Be careful not to over whisk, you want a texture that’s firm but loose enough to be able to be folded throughout the batter.
Fold in half of the egg whites into the bowl with the batter until it has loosened. Fold in the remaining half of the egg whites, being careful not to over-mix, until just combined. Divide the mixture evenly between the prepared cake pans, then, use a rubber spatula to smooth out the tops. Bake, for 7 to 10 minutes, or until the cakes spring back when lightly pressed and a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Let the cakes cool in their tins for 15 minutes before inverting out and onto a wire rack. Let cool completely before carefully slicing each layer in half, to form six cake layers, if desired.
the amaretto syrup:
80 ml amaretto liqueur, 120 ml water, 100 g granulated sugar
To make the amaretto syrup, combine the amaretto, water and sugar into a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Heat, stirring often, until the sugar is dissolved. Increase the heat to medium and let the mixture come to a light simmer. Let the syrup simmer out for about 5 minutes, or until slightly reduced. Remove from the heat and let cool slightly before using a pastry brush to brush each cake layer with a little of the syrup.
the orange blossom ricotta swiss meringue buttercream
180 g egg whites, 210 g granulated sugar, 350 g unsalted butter (very soft at room temperature), 100 g ricotta (at room temperature), 1 ½ tsp. orange blossom water, ½ tsp. vanilla bean extract, 1/8 tsp. salt
Next, make the orange blossom ricotta swiss meringue buttercream. Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk to gently combine then place the bowl over the top of a saucepan filled with barely simmering water and on medium-low heat. Do not let the base of the bowl touch the water. Heat, whisking often, until the egg white and sugar mixture reaches a temperature of 70 C (160 f) on a candy thermometer. The sugar should be completely dissolved and the mixture hot to the touch. Once at temperature, remove the bowl from the heat and set it on the base of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.
Whisk, on medium-high speed, for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the mixture holds stiff peaks. The bowl should no longer be hot to the touch and the meringue should be glossy and cool. Pause mixing and swap out the whisk attachment for the beater attachment.
Add in the butter, a tablespoon at a time, until it is all incorporated. Add in the ricotta, orange blossom water, vanilla bean extract and salt. Increase the mixer speed to high and continue to beat until the buttercream is thick and silky smooth, 5 more minutes. Set aside for assembly.
the dark chocolate glaze:
100 g dark chocolate (finely chopped), 60 g unsalted butter
Place the finely chopped dark chocolate and butter into a small saucepan set over medium-low heat. Heat, stirring often, until melted and smooth. Remove from the heat and let the mixture cool to room temperature (about 30 c (90f)) before using on the cake.
250 g fig jam
Place the first cake layer, cut side facing up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Place about 3 tablespoons of the buttercream over the top, then, use an offset spatula to spread until smooth. Spread a generous tablespoon of the fig jam over the top of the buttercream. Gently press on the next cake layer then spread over the buttercream and the fig jam. Repeat this layering process until all the cake layers have been used up, making sure to end with a cake layer cut side facing down. Thinly spread the remaining buttercream over the top and sides of the cake to coat. Set the cake in the refrigerator to chill until firm, 30 to 40 minutes. Once firm, remove the cake from the refrigerator and pour the dark chocolate glaze over the top of the cake, using an offset spatula to push it down the sides to form a dripping effect. Set the cake in the refrigerator to chill until the glaze is firm before slicing and serving.