Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Leaning Tower of Deliciousness

When I was 8 years old my family visited Pisa, Italy. We saw the Leaning Tower and my sister and father actually went all the way up (I don't know if they even allow people on it anymore). I was terrified of slipping, sliding, and falling off the edge, so my feet stayed firmly on the level ground, but the sight was impressive enough from terra firma. How could something so tall lean so precariously without toppling over?

I was reminded of that sight when I made my daughter's birthday cake. She'd selected the Maple Walnut cake from Sky High - Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes, my new go-to cake book. On the day of her birthday I made the cake and all the layers turned out beautifully, releasing nicely from their pans. I let them cool while I put together dinner. Everyone enjoyed the dinner and then started hovering around the cake prep area, as if their presence would aid in the cake construction.

As I put together the frosting I knew trouble was ahead. I had a very soft, whipped cream cheese base, to which I was to add melted butter and maple syrup. Maybe it would magically firm up as I added the butter? Maybe?? No. Common sense was right - it was very thin and drippy.

Looking at the frosting I was fairly sure that it would set up if I chilled it. But I had the birthday girl giving me hungry Bambi eyes. She didn't want to wait till the day after her birthday for her birthday cake. So, against the wisdom of common sense, I went ahead and slathered the cake with the runny frosting and piled up the layers. I tried to get a quick photo of the cake before cutting it, but it wouldn't cooperate. The layers were slipping and sliding over each other like a dog on roller skates. I kept turning the cake plate, trying to find one angle that didn't look disastrous. The whole thing was leaning, leaning, leaning. I gave up and sliced up pieces, the top layer breaking in half with the strain.

Was the birthday girl saddened? Not at all. The cake was delicious. We all marveled that a cake with a cup of chopped nuts in it could be so light, fluffy, and moist. And, I was right. The next morning, the extra frosting I'd put in the fridge was just right.

The moral of the story? As always, it's all about the timing. Don't leave it till the last minute. And if it tilts at an alarming angle, just remember - who would be able to recall that tower in Pisa if it wasn't leaning?

Leaning Tower of Maple Walnut Deliciousness
- adapted from Sky High - Irresistible Triple-Layer Cakes

1-1/3 cup walnut halves (make sure they're fresh!)
3 cups cake flour
1-1/4 cups packed light brown sugar
2-1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1-3/4 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt
1-1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1-1/2 cups pure maple syrup, preferably light amber
1 whole egg
1 egg yolk
1 cup milk
Maple Cream Frosting
(recipe follows)

1- Preheat the oven to 350 deg. F. Butter three 8-inch round cake pans. Line the bottom of each with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper. Set the pans aside.

2- Spread the walnuts out on a small baking sheet and toast in the oven until fragrant and lightly toasted, 7 to 10 minutes. Let them cool. Leave the oven on. When the nuts are cool, set aside 1/3 cup pretty halves for garnish and finely chop the remaining 1 cup.

3- In a large mixer bowl, combine the chopped walnuts, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt. With the mixer on low, blend well. Add the butter and maple syrup and beat until blended. Increase the speed to medium and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, about 2 minutes.

4- In a medium bowl, whisk together the whole egg, egg yolk, and milk. Add this milk mixture to the batter in 2 or 3 additions. Add at low speed to avoid spattering, then increase to medium speed. Scrape down the sides of the bowl after each addition. Beat until well blended.

5- Divide the batter among the three prepared pans. Bake for 32 to 35 minutes, or until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let he cakes cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto wire racks, gently peel off the parchment paper, and let cool completely.

6- To assemble the cake, place one cake layer, flat side up, on a cake stand or serving plate. Spread about 2/3 cup of frosting over the layer, spreading it evenly right to the edge. Repeat with the second layer and another 2/3 cup frosting. Set the third layer on top and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting, swirling the frosting decoratively with an offset palette knife or the back of a spoon. Garnish with the reserved toasted walnut halves.

Maple Cream Frosting
- (makes about 4 cups)

2 sticks (8 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup maple syrup
12 oz cream cheese, at room temperature
6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted after measuring

1- Place the butter in a wide medium saucepan and melt over low heat. Add the maple syrup, raise the heat to medium-low, and boil for 5 minutes, stirring frequently so the syrup does not burn.

2- Pour the hot maple butter into a heatproof bowl and let cool to room temperature.

3- Place the cream cheese in a large mixing bowl and beat will with an electric mixer to lighten. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar and beat until smooth. Scrape down the bowl well and continue to beat until light and fluffy. Add the maple butter and mix until completely blended. If the frosting is not stiff enough, you can either add more powdered sugar, or chill it in the fridge for 2 hours.

* The photo of the Leaning Tower is from the Wikepedia post about it.


Melinda said...

Oh, so funny, so sad, and so delicious looking!
I've had to hold layers together with bamboo skewers so they would slide into the abyss/floor. Cream cheese frosting is the worst slippie-sliddie frosting.
But that cake looks really good, no matter what!
Happy Birthday to Serena! xx

LizNoVeggieGirl said...

I LOVE Pisa! Haven't been back since 2003 though - I miss it :(

No worries! That creation is the epitome of serendipity, I say.

Abby said...

I think the dripping frosting looks pretty!

I was in Pisa a few years back. And yes, you can still climb to the top, but I didn't because it was ridiculously expensive to do so!

How To Eat A Cupcake said...

I've had problems with a LOT of the frosting recipes in that book. They're usually way too soft to spread!! And the pictures are so misleading!

Valerie Harrison (bellini) said...

When I was a young thing of 18 I visited Pisa and was able to walk up. I have photos with my 80's hair and clothes of course. The cake I am positive was delicious. The fact that it was already leaning made me want to just have my fork ready.

Unknown said...

Ha! It looks yummy and you ended up getting a good pic!

Anonymous said...

Well at least it still tasted great :)

Anonymous said...

What a great story. I always thought it was my inexperience in making cakes that caused them to be lopsided. I somehow realized too that cakes were meant to be eaten and were not meant to be architectural wonders so it didn't matter if they were a bit lopsided.

grace said...

honestly, i can't think of a time when i made a layer cake that wasn't off-kilter at least a little. this looks and sounds like a heavenly treat. note to self: visit pisa.

Anonymous said...

Oh gosh that drippy photo of the cake looks positively scrumptious!

Dolce said...

The main issue is : was it good? If it was, then it's not to be remembered with its leaning way but by its great taste!

Debbie said...

Oh I just hate it when a recipe does not work out no matter how close me follow it! Regardless, the cake still looked good and the frosting looked tasty!!!!

Barbara said...

Funny posting. The leaning tower actually looks like a delcious cake! You just couldn't ask the birthday girl to wait...she didn't care what it looked like. Only that you made it for her and it tasted great. WE'RE the ones who want it to look pretty too!

The Blonde Duck said...

I think it looks even better! It's got so much of a fun look!

Maria said...

I love that it has character.

Elle said...

Love walnuts, so I probably wouldn't care if it was leaning either. You are so lucky to have been to Italy when you were young! I made a chocolate cake for a party a year ago and the ganache icing did the same thing...I kept scooping it from the bottom pool and troweling it on the sides as it dessert time it was OK...if you didn't look too closely.

CookiePie said...

I love it! That cake sounds soooo delicious - maple walnut is such a perfect combo! My birthday is in 2 weeks, if you want to try making it again... ;)

NKP said...

It comes with its own dipping sauce! ;-)
I love all the great maple flavour in there - delish!

eatme_delicious said...

I made this cake not too long too! I hate when the cake layers slide all over the place, especially when I'm bringing the cake somewhere and have just finished putting it together. Your cake looks delicious! Who would care if it didn't look perfect when it's so yummy!

Jannett said...

As long as the birthday girl was happy is really all that matters. The cake looks delicious. :)

kickpleat said...

A drippy leaning cake is still cake! It looks delicious regardless. I love the maple walnut combo. It wins me over every time.

Lien said...

What a wonderful cake, leaning or nut...uh not. Patience is hard when there are puppy eyes around you waiting for a bite. I turned a warm apple/blackberry pie out once... not a good idea, like the waters in Venice... everywhere.
You can still climb the tower in small groups with a guide, just dig deep in your pockets. It won't fall anymore after the restoration (they even managed to get it more upright than it was... right kind of frosting I guess... uh concrete I mean)

LyB said...

Doesn't this kind of thing always happen when you're making a cake for someone's birthday? I had the same slip-slidding kind of problem when I made my hub's birthday cake this year. I'm bookmarking this for next year, he loves maple and really doesn't mind a lopsided cake. :)

june2 said...

I love that last photo! It's totally classic.