She may not be the bell of the ball…

Let me start out with a disclaimer. What I am about to show you is not pretty. (If you want to see pretty, you’ll have to avert your eyes.. maybe in this direction, or perhaps here). Oh all right, I’m making it out to be worse than it is.. we’re not talking murder scene here, it’s just not a pretty cake, and I am a pretty cake type of girl. Oh well.

So here’s the story. I made this cake to celebrate my grandfather’s 89th birthday. He is an especially awesome grandpa, so I wanted to make something especially awesome for dessert. Inspired by the Daring Bakers March challenge, I wanted to make cake and it had to be special. I loved Dorie Greenspan’s Perfect Party Cake, which was the recipe for the DB March challenge, but I had already made it three times in the past three weeks and was looking forward to trying something new.

I ruled out a buttercream frosted cake, since my grandpa doesn’t care for the stuff. Instead, I planned to use the ricotta mousse that I threw together as a filling for the DBs cake when I made it in March. (It’s really pretty great, it’s so, so, easy to make and keeps cakes layers incredibly moist. It’s also such a nice alternative to a mouthful of butter, in my opinion). I also knew that I wanted to incorporate some kind of nut, either hazelnut or almond, into the cakes somehow. I had been eying the Hazelnut Brown Butter cake that Deb at Smitten Kitchen loved so much for a couple of weeks and thought about making that but…. I wanted to make a layer cake and the hazelnut brown butter cake seemed like it might be a bit heavy to layer up. As you can see, I have the potential to be cripplingly indecisive in the kitchen.

My next thought was almond. I like almond, my grandpa likes almond, I have almonds. There we go. I briefly considered just making an almond brown butter cake, but I just didn’t feel like messing with a meringue, so I set my sights on something a bit simpler. Finally, I remembered an almond breakfast cake I had seen a while back at Alpineberry and decided to use that as the base recipe. Well, a few changes later and here’s what I ended up making:

Almond and Blood Orange Brown Butter Cake with Ricotta Mousse and Lemon Curd

Well, now that I spell it out, it seems kind of ridiculous! I think I’ll work on figuring out a better name for this cake. The components are:

  • Two split layers of Almond and Blood Orange Brown Butter Cake (made with Mary’s recipe, but substituting brown butter and blood orange juice for the cream)
  • Ricotta Mousse (studded with dark chocolate) and Lemon Curd between the layers, and Ricotta Mousse on top.

The recipe is below, but I would like to tweak the cake recipe a bit more before I would completely recommend it. I think the brown butter made it a bit heavy, and although my family loved it, I was hoping for something a little bit more delicate in texture.

Almond and Blood Orange Cake
(makes two 9-inch round layers)

2 cups (4 sticks) butter (like I said, I think this was too much!)
½ cup fresh squeezed blood orange juice
2 cup granulated sugar
6 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cups almond meal (finely ground almonds)
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
large pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter two 9-inch round cake pans. Line with a parchment circles and butter the paper.

Brown the butter: Melt the butter in a small saucepan and keep cooking it over medium low heat until it begins to brown and smell nutty. Remove from the heat and pour into a measuring cup. You should have about 1 ½ cups. Let cool slightly and add in the orange juice.

In a large bowl, mix the butter/orange juice mixture and sugar with a wooden spoon. Mix in eggs (3 at a time). Mix in vanilla extract.

Add the almond meal, flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until the dry ingredients are just incorporated.

Pour the batter into your prepared pans. Bake at 350F for about 35 minutes or until your cake tester comes out clean and the cakes springs back when lightly touched.

 

Ricotta Mousse
(this is kind of an approximate recipe that can definitely be toyed with)

1 pint of heavy or whipping cream
1 cup (or so) of good fresh ricotta
2 tablespoons confectioners sugar (or more or less to taste)
1 tsp vanilla extract (or to taste)
finely grated rind of one lemon
1/2 C finely chopped dark chocolate (optional)

Beat the ricotta with the lemon rind until it has softened up.  Set aside.  Combine the cream, confectioners sugar, and vanilla extract in a large bowl.  Whip the cream until it has somewhat stiff peaks.  Fold the cream into the ricotta.  If you’d like to add the dark chocolate (I did, it reminded me of stracitella and the insides of cannoli), now’s the time.  I would suggest leaving 1/4 of the mousse chocolate-free and using that for the top of the cake.

*Depending on how dry your ricotta is (some of the really good stuff is pretty solid), you can add a bit of the unwhipped cream before beating it to help it loosen up.

Lemon Curd
I used this recipe, and it’s wonderful with or without the almonds.  For the record, I made it both ways and preferred it without almonds in this cake.

To Assemble the Cake:

Split the cooled layers with a good serrated bread knife.  Line a cake plate with four pieces of parchent to keep the plate clean.  Place the bottom layer of the cake on the plate, spread on 1/3 of the lemon curd, and then 1/4 of the ricotta mousse (if it’s easier for you to just dollop the ricotta on and then smush it down with the next layer, you can do that too).  Continue with the rest of the layers, saving the flattest layer for the top.  Cover the top layer with ricotta mousse however you’d like (I just spread it on but you could definitely pipe it on an maybe make it look a little bit nicer than my cake did).

Enjoy!

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