“This is Shikha.”
“Oh, you are the one who bakes the cakes.”
This was the exchange that went down at my college graduation when I met my friend’s dad. It’s not the weirdest introduction I’ve ever received (that would go to “Oh you cook? That’s DOPE.”), but it is just as accurate. And honestly, it’s even a compliment.
Because that was what I was known for in college – baking the cakes. For everyone. Any friend birthday between sophomore and senior year of college, I gotchu. Blue velvet, chocolate chip, apple-cinnamon – I loved being able to feed my best friends and make their birthdays that much sweeter.
In adult real life, the birthday cake has fallen out of touch. Friends live all over the world, so intimate frosting-laden gatherings are fewer. Sugar gets replaced by shots, which get replaced by hangovers.
But for the special friends who live within slice radius, I’m bringing back the birthday cake, and this double decker cake in particular – a light chocolate soufflé base, dense vanilla pastry cream layer, and crunchy candied almonds on top.
Each layer is handmade, but unlike the traditional frosted cakes, this can be all done in a day. Because unlike college, we can’t really skip work to cook for hours on end, and Cook From Home isn’t quite an official thing (yet). Also, nobody really likes a buttload of frosting, so vanilla-flecked pastry cream is a much better alternative.
Hai, I’m Shikha. I’m the one who bakes the cakes. And I hope you enjoy this one.
- 7 ounces dark chocolate, chopped
- 6 Tbsp butter, cut into pieces
- 4 egg yolks
- 7 egg whites
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 1.5 cups Whipping cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- 3 tbsp cornstarch
- 4 tbsp sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 vanilla bean, seeds scraped out
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 6 ounces peeled, slivered almonds
- For the Cake:
- Line an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray the sides. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
- In a double boiler, melt the chocolate and butter until it is smooth. Let it cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the yolks on medium-high until they are thick and pale. Once the chocolate is cool, add the yolks, stirring until well combined.
- Make sure the bowl is CLEAN and DRY and add the egg whites. Beat on medium-low until they are frothy, then add a third of the 1/3 cup sugar. Increase the speed to medium and mix until slightly larger in volume – add the second third of sugar. Once the mixture has soft peaks, add the final third of sugar and keep beating until peaks are glossy.
- Fold about 1 cup of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture until just incorporated. Gently fold in the rest of the whites until combined (see photos).
- Pour 2/3 into the prepared pan – you’ll have leftover, so you can bake it in another pan or save for a later use. Bake for 25 minutes or until the center comes out completely clean.
- Let the cake cool completely. I put mine in the fridge for 30 minutes or so make sure it doesn’t break.
- For the Pastry Cream:
- Mix the egg yolks, cornstarch, 4 Tbsp sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add 1 cup of the whipping cream to and mix until there are no lumps.
- Put the remaining 1/2 cup cream in a large pot and bring to a simmer. Add the vanilla beans and bring to almost a boil.
- Temper the hot cream into the yolk mixture and put everything back into the pot. Bring to a simmer over LOW heat – this happens fast. Whisk constantly until the mixture becomes very thick, about 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat and keep in the fridge until it is room temperature. Whisk it every 5 minutes or so to prevent a skin from forming.
- For the Candied Almonds:
- Lay a Silpat on a baking sheet and set aside.
- Put the 1/2 cup sugar in a heavy-bottomed pot and add just enough water so that it is moist.
- Bring to a boil over medium heat and let it cook until it turns a light caramel color.
- Add the slivered almonds and turn the heat to low. Stir with a wooden spoon until the nuts are evenly coated.
- Remove from heat and dump everything onto the prepared pan, spreading it with the spoon so it is in an even layer. Let it cool before breaking into shards.
- To Assemble:
- Flip the cake onto the serving plate/platter – the bottom will now be the top.
- Fold a long strip of parchment paper horizontally into thirds and wrap it around the cake, securing it with a string (don’t use a rubber band – it will be too tight and break your cake).
- Using a spatula, pour the pastry cream onto the cake and smoothen it out. Refrigerate the cake for at least 2-3 hours.
- Before serving, break the candied almonds into shards and decorate the top.