Sunday, March 7, 2010

Roasted Pecan Cake with Caramel Orange Marmalade and Burnt Orange Buttercream

This week's Sweet Melissa Sundays pick is Roasted Pecan Cake with Caramel Orange Marmalade and Burnt Orange Buttercream. I know you're thinking "good grief, whose idea was it to make such a high maintenance dessert?"

Umm, that would be me.

Unlike the times I've gotten to pick the recipe for Craving Ellie in My Belly, I didn't choose something easy and popular like granola or grilled cheese. It's like I was challenging myself to see how few of my fellow SMS bakers would be able to play along with me this week.

I'm going to be straight with you. This cake was a lot of work. I made it over a three day period. You can make it in one day, but if you have a life and only one dishwasher, I suggest you do it over two days.
These are the dishes that couldn't go in the dishwasher. 

I started with the orange marmalade filling. It was super easy, and I tucked the saucepan in the fridge until I had time to continue.

A few days later, I rushed home from work and toasted the pecans and started separating eggs (eggs separate better when they are cold, but whip better when they are at room temperature). I was watching House, and it was hard to focus on the recipe with the doctors throwing out possibilities for the mysterious ailment that was killing their patient.

Once I pulsed the pecans and sugar in the food processor, I melted and browned the butter. I browned it past the point that Melissa tells us to take if off the heat because the flavor is so good when the butter is well browned. Then I strained out all the bitter black solids and added the butter to the pecan and sugar mixture, which I had transferred to a bowl. Toasted pecans and browned butter smells better to me than any substance on earth, and I wanted to eat it out of the bowl. But I resisted.

Next, I whipped a dozen egg whites until soft peaks formed, added some sugar, and whipped to the point where the eggs held stiff peaks. I folded the egg whites in to the pecan mixture and divided it between two prepared cake pans. I followed Melissa's advice and spun the cake pans on the counter to level them off. DON'T DO THIS! It piled the batter up against the sides of the pans, and I didn't catch it, so my layers ended up higher on the sides than in the center.

Once the cake cooled, I made the buttercream. It starts with reducing orange juice until it caramelizes. 3/4 of a cup of orange juice netted about 2 tablespoons of reduced caramelized orange juice, which I don't think was enough to flavor the buttercream. If you make this cake, double the orange juice. The buttercream did break as the book said it would, but it came together. When I tasted it, I wasn't impressed. It tasted just like butter, not like burnt orange.

The broken buttercream, before it came together

Once assembled, I completely forgot to finish the cake with toasted pecans, which would have helped cut the butteriness of the frosting and dominant marmalade flavor.

All in all, this was popular at work, but I was disappointed. It was a lot of work for a cake that didn't live up to the allure of its name. I loved the toasted pecans and browned butter (not a big surprise if you saw these cookies), but I found the orange marmalade too sweet and too marmalade-y. If I make this cake again, I'll fill it with orange curd instead of the marmalade. It would be more work, but a superior cake.

Roasted Pecan Cake with Caramel Orange Marmalade and Burnt Orange Buttercream
Printable Recipe

I made this cake for my friend Brandon's wedding, which was held in Virginia, at the beautiful farm where she grew up. She and I used to ride horses together, and Brandon loved to tell me of the adventures she'd had on her pony Irving back when she was a child--how they'd just take off for hours without a saddle or a plan.

When Brandon asked me to make her wedding cake, I wanted the decoration to capture the farm I imagined in my mind. She had a whimsical horsey cake topper that I embellished with fondant daisies. I decorated the rest of the cake to look like green pastures filled with lots of clover and lots of love. I only wish her pony could have had a slice.

Makes one 9-inch cake

1 2/3 cups coarsely chopped pecan pieces, toasted and cooled (see Note)
2 cups sugar
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
12 large egg whites, at room temperature

1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
3 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1 cup orange marmalade

3/4 cup fresh orange juice (I suggest doubling the juice, it really cooks down a lot)
2/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons sugar
1/4 cup water
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup pecan pieces, toasted


Position a rack in the center of your oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. butter and flour two 9 x 2-inch round cake pans. Line each pan with a 9-inch round of parchment paper.

  1. In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade, combine the pecans with 2/3 cup of the sugar and pulse grind until it is a coarse flour. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the all-purpose flour, an additional 2/3 cup of the sugar, the baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine.
  2. Have ready a fine-meshed strainer. In a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, brown the butter over medium heat. (The butter will melt first, and then the milk solids will settle to the bottom. After a little while, the milk solids will start to turn golden.) When the milk solids have reached a nutty brown color, immediately remove from the heat.
  3. Using the fine-meshed strainer, strain the butter into the flour mixture. Stir to combine. Discard the butter solids. Stir in the vanilla.
  4. In the very clean bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the very clean whip attachment, beat the egg whites on medium-high speed until they hold soft peaks. In a slow steady stream, with the mixer on medium speed, add the remaining 2/3 cup of the sugar and increase the speed back to high. Beat until there are firm--not dry--glossy peaks of meringue.
  5. Using a rubber spatula, briskly fold in one-third of the meringue mixture into the batter to lighten it. Add the remaining meringue and gently fold it in until just combined.
  6. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans. Spin the pans to level the batter. Bake for 25 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove to a wire rack to cool in the pans for 20 minutes before turning the layers out onto the rack. Cool completely before filling or frosting.
  1. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, heat the sugar with the water until amber in color, like clover honey. Immediately remove from heat and stir in the orange juice to stop the cooking.
  2. Add the marmalade and stir to combine. Set aside to cool.
The marmalade may be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

  1. In a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, reduce the orange juice until it is syrupy and just starts to caramelize (it turns brown). Watch it closely; don't let it burn! Add a splash of water to the caramel orange syrup to stop the cooking. Set aside to cool.
  2. In another small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the 2/3 cup of the sugar and water and cook to 240 degrees on a candy thermometer, about 7 minutes. 
  3. Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whip attachment, beat the egg whites on high speed until they hold soft peaks. Slowly add the 3 tablespoons sugar and beat until there are medium-stiff peaks of meringue.
  4. When the sugar syrup reaches 240 degrees, decrease the speed of the mixer to medium, and immediately but slowly pour the hot liquid sugar in a steady stream down the side of the bowl and into the meringue. (Or, if the syrup is not yet 240 degrees when the meringue is ready, turn off the mixer until it is. Then turn the mixer to medium and add the syrup.) Beat together until stiff glossy peaks form.
  5. With the mixer still on medium, add the butter in pieces to the meringue. The mixture will break, but just keep beating and it will come together beautifully. Add the vanilla and reserved caramel orange syrup and mix to combine.
If using the buttercream immediately, set aside at room temperature. If not, refrigerate in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. If the buttercream has been chilling, let it reach room temperature before beating it in the electric mixer. The buttercream will break, but then it will come together beautifully.

  1. See How to Assemble a Layer Cake (below) for instructions on how to fill and frost a split layer cake. You will split each cake layer in half, and spread one-third of the marmalade over each of the interior layers.
  2. After frosting the cake, gently press the toasted pecans against the sides of the cake with your fingers.
This cake keeps very well, in a cake saver in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The cake should come to room temperature before serving.

Assembling a layer cake seems as though it would be pretty straight forward, but there are a few tips I use so that my results look consistent and professional.

First, the filling:  Before you assemble your cake, be sure that your fillings are at the appropriate temperature. Fruit curds should be cold. Ganache fillings, buttercreams, and frostings should be at room temperature.

Next, the cake:  The layer cake recipes in this book are made up of two separate layers. Before you do anything, use a serrated knife to trim off any excess cake that has domed or risen up, and make your layers as flat and even as possible. Give the scraps to your kids or save them for something like trifle.

For fillings that are looser in texture, such as lemon curd, or fillings that taste best in smaller amounts, such as raspberry preserves, you want more layers holding less filling. Therefore, you will need to split each trimmed cake layer in half. This can be done with a long serrated bread knife. If you're good, you can cut the layer without measuring and do so evenly. If you're not sure how good you are, you can use a ruler to measure and toothpicks to mark the center of the layer every 3 inches or so all around. Once you've marked the center all around, lay your knife above the toothpicks and cut through the layer as you turn the cake, always staying on top of the toothpicks and cutting until you have cut the layer completely in half. Don't separate the halves yet. Repeat with your second layer.

While the cakes halves are still together, take a finger full of frosting and mark a vertical smear down the side of the cake, anywhere, from top to bottom, so that later you can line up the layers where they belong.

Slide each of the top layers onto a separate flat plate, or paper plate, and set aside.

Cut four strips of wax or parchment paper about 12 inches long by 3 inches wide. Place the bottom half of a cake layer cut side up on your serving plate. Tuck the wax paper under the edges of your cake on all sides. Later, after frosting the cake, you can pull away the strips to reveal a nice clean serving plate.

Using a metal offset spatula, spread the filling across the top of the layer but leave about 1/2 inch uncovered around the outside edges. (This leaves room for the filling to be squished down but to stay inside the cake.)

Place the matching half of the bottom layer over it cut side down. Spread filling over the trimmed top, leaving a 1/2 inch around the edges uncovered. (You know--squish room.)

Now place the reserved top half of the second layer trimmed side down on the second layer of filling. Spread it with filling, again leaving 1/2 inch around the edges uncovered.

Place the matching half of the second cake cut side down on top of the third layer of filling.

Using your hands, press gently on the center of the top layer to join the layers together. If you have the time, refrigerate the filled layer cake for at least 1 hour. Chilling will make the cake easier to frost.

You are going to frost your layer cake in two steps. The first step will be a crumb coat, which will keep most of the unsightly crumbs from ruining your finished frosting. To do this, simply apply a light, even layer of frosting on all sides of the cake. (Really, it doesn't matter what it looks like; it will be underneath the final frosting.) Place the cake in the refrigerator to chill for a good 30 minutes.

After the crumb coat has chilled, smooth on your final layer of frosting. It does take a lot of time to get it really smooth and perfect, so I prefer to make the frosting all swirly and peaked--it looks way more delicious this way as well.

If you must travel with your cake, finish it the night before, and refrigerate it overnight. Your layer cake will will be a lot happier on the trip, and have the best odds of getting to the party in one piece.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the nuts in a single layer on a cookie sheet. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until lightly golden and you can smell them. Remove to a wire rack to cool.


Candy Girl said...

Thanks for hosting this week! This was one of the recipes I was anxious to try and honestly, if someone had not picked it, I probably would have never made it. I've only made the cake at this point and haven'd decide how I'm going to finish it yet!

Your cake looks beautiful and delicious. Thanks again!

Jessica said...

I think it's wonderful that you picked one of the layer cake recipes. When I was in SMS I always wished that we were baking more of the fun layer cakes. This one sounds like a lot of work, but it sounds like it's worth it to me. I love the idea for the orange curd. And the wedding cake you made sounds amazing! I want to see pictures!

Gabe's Girl said...

This sounds like my kind of cake! I really want to try it. I know it is a lot of work, but it looks worth it!

Flourchild said...

Yum your cake looks soo good. Sorry I could not join. My life has been crazy and my kitchen is getting ready for new it was not the right time for me. Thank you for hosting this week!

Julie said...

Thanks for hosting this week. Your cake is beautiful! Due to my expanding waistline, I am trying to cut back on baking. :)

margot said...

Leslie, I always love the recipes that challenge me. In fact, I considered make this one even more challenging by making the marmalade myself, but then reality hit. I just finished putting my cake together and can't wait to try the finished product!

Your cake looks wonderful and I'm glad it was a hit at work. Sorry your pick was slightly disappointing.

Hanaâ said...

Your cake looks beautiful, despite it not being a huge hit with you personally. I love browned butter too. The smell is amazing and those caramelized (not burned) milk solids are delicious on a piece of bread (I hope my hubby's not reading this; he'd freak out!!!). Sorry I didn't bake with you this week due to a nut allergy as well as making my wedding anniversary cake (which was a 2 day process but well worth effort). I'll be posting it either today or tomorrow. Have a great week, Leslie!!!

Tracey said...

Thanks for hosting this week Leslie! I wish that I (a) hadn't just made a layer cake last weekend and (b) liked nuts so I could have made this recipe the way it was written. Instead, I went with cupcakes and a simple whipped cream frosting. They were yummy though not very true to the recipe. Your cake looks wonderful! I'm sorry to hear it was disappointing for you but glad it was a hit at work!

Baking is my Zen...sweet nibbles for the soul said...

Hi Leslie,

Wonderful job on your cake. Kudos for wanting to do challenging cakes. It's good to push the envelope.

The cake is a classy cake. The flavor profiles lend it so. I switched from orange to peach marmalade and peach nectar from orange juice because I am not a fan of orange marmalade. It came out great. Buttercream was delightful.

Great blog post and photos.

Till next Sunday,

Susan said...

Thanks for hosting this week. Sorry I couldn't play along with you. Your cake looks great.

Hornedfroggy of My Baking Heart said...

Beautiful photo of the cake! :) Loved the taste of this one...

TeaLady said...

Cake looks and sounds delicious.. Sorry it didn't hit the spot.

Tessa said...

Thanks for hosting this week! It was my first bake with SMS, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Your cake looks beautiful even if it didn't quite live up to your expectations!

Nina said...

Thanks for hosting this week! Sorry, my frosting was just not very well for some reason, but I enjoyed making it!

spike. said...

Looks gorgeous- sorry it didn't live up to the looks and the amount of work. I was all prepared to make this but got distracted by some good weather and played outside instead of doing my baking home work.

Sweet and Savory said...

Thanks for hosting.. I did not make this for a reason, I am guessing almost no one else has. My husband is a celiac and the one kind of cake or cookie, he does not like is the kind that has any hint of meringue. With all those whites, I am sure that this would have been wasted. I bake for him and for company. I don't dare bake for myself, except a bit of chocolate here and there.

I think it was a great choice even though I opted out.

k.a.r.e.n said...

You definitely picked a crazy recipe for your first but it looks gorgeous!

Mimi said...

The cake looks and sounds delicious. Sorry it didn't hit the mark with you.

Kayte said...

That cakes looks so wonderful...I thought when I saw it that it looked and sounded really great. Then I saw how many days this took you, glanced over the directions (b/c I don't want to linger and talk myself into this) and thought, "I will just have to look and drool." Wonderful job. Love the kitchen sink shot...looks that way around here occasionally, too.

Diana's Cocina said...

This looks wondeful. i would love to just lick the plate. LOL!

Bits of Taste said...

This is simply delicious and beautiful.

Anonymous said...

Hi there :) Your cake looks amazing and after having a ton of oranges and orange marmalade left over from th latest Daring Baker's challenge (plus a ton of egg whites after making Crack, this couldn't be a more perfect cake to tackle.

That said, I have a question. The amount of egg whites in the buttercream is not listed. Is it 3..4..5? LOL I'd be more than grateful if you could let me know :) Thank you in advance :)

Anonymous said...

Also, I just noticed - the amount of butter in the buttercream is also missing! Could i bother you for that also? :D

Leslie said...

Oops! Thanks for pointing this out. Both have been fixed.