IT'S SUNDAY morning, you're at home, didn't go to the beach for the holiday, you've frittered away a day of the long weekend, sections of the paper are scattered all about, and now you're determined not to waste the two days you have left before returning to the office.
Bake a cake. Or, if sufficiently inspired, bake two cakes. You have a choice of three. Have one for dessert tonight, another to nibble on all day Labor Day. The supermarket chains are open today for any ingredients you're missing, except bourbon (dark rum or scotch can substitute in a pinch).
These cakes have only one thing in common--they're great. They certainly don't look alike--one is thin with a fine polished appearance, one is tall and white and drippy, and one's a caramel-colored crusty loaf. One has the elegant finesse of a fine French coffee buttercream, one has the bold flavors of coconut, raisin and fine bourbon, and one has no frosting at all, just a drizzle of brown sugar glaze.
The first recipe, and the most difficult to execute, is for a dacquoise. French in origin, and the most beautifully subtle and elegant of cakes, it demands a lot of care in its preparation, but is certainly worth the effort. The cake has two crunchy and chewy toasted hazelnut-flavored meringues spread with a fine mocha buttercream and glazed with chocolate. It is light yet rich, smooth yet textured, never heavy--rather it floats until it dissolves into a memory.
Next is the Glenna McGinnis Lane Cake--I have met only one person who didn't like this cake, but such is life. It is a towering edifice, four layers high, attesting to the fine tradition of southern baking. The layers are iced, frosted and filled with a wonderful custard-like mixture flavored with raisins, coconut, bourbon and pecans. The appearance is just slightly unfinished, for the filling is meant to drip down the sides of the cake before setting.
If the title of the third, Don Farmer's Apple Cake, seems a little ordinary, don't be deceived. It is chewy and custardy in texture, rich with the flavor of apples and the spiciness of cinnamon and nutmeg. DACQUOISE (Makes a 9-inch cake)
It is very important that the quantities in this recipe be followed exactly. For the layers: 3 1/2 ounces blanched hazelnuts (if unavailable, substitute all blanched almonds)* 3 1/2 ounces blanched almonds* 1 cup sugar plus 2 tablespoons, plus an additional 1/4 cup sugar 1 tablespoon plus 2 1/4 teaspoons cornstarch 7 egg whites at room temperature Pinch salt 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar 2 teaspoons vanilla 1/8 teaspoon almond extract For the buttercream: 3/4 cup milk 1 1/4 cups confectioners' sugar 3 extra-large egg yolks 3 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature 3 tablespoons powdered espresso 1 tablespoon warm water For the icing: 6 ounces semisweet chocolate 1/2 cup sour cream
To make the layers, grind the nuts into very small pieces, then shake in a strainer to remove the powdery nuts. Spread the small pebble-like pieces on a baking sheet and toast in a 350-degree oven until golden. Set aside to cool.
Combine the nuts with the 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar and sieve the cornstarch over them, mixing the two gently together. Refrigerate.
Beat the egg whites in an electric mixer until foamy, then add the salt and cream of tartar and beat at medium high speed until the consistency of mayonnaise forms. While still beating, gradually sprinkle in the 1/4 cup sugar. Finally add the vanilla and almond extracts and beat until a fine shiny meringue forms, one that is stiff but not dry.
Remove the nuts from the refrigerator and sprinkle over the meringue. Fold gently together until just combined.
Draw three 9 1/2-inch circles on pieces of parchment paper. Place paper on a baking sheet. Place the nutted meringue in a pastry bag fitted with a large plain tube. Pipe the meringue into the circles in spiral design, starting at the center. As the meringue is piped onto the paper there should be no pressure on the mixture causing it to deflate. Hold the bag about an inch above the surface and let the meringue fall gently into place.
Bake at 275 degrees for 1 hour 15 minutes, until firm and nicely browned. Once baked, cool, peel off parchment, and refrigerate or freeze until needed.
To make the buttercream, bring the milk to a boil, then set aside. Place the sugar and egg yolks in a bowl and beat until combined. Gradually add the milk. Transfer this egg mixture to a saucepan and cook over medium low heat until the mixture thickly coats a wooden spoon. Transfer to an electric mixer and beat at medium high speed, slowly adding a little piece of the softened butter at a time. When all the butter has been incorporated and the batter is smooth, combine the coffee with the water and beat into the buttercream.
To make the icing, melt the chocolate over a low flame. Add the sour cream and stir until smooth.
To assemble the dacquoise, spread the buttercream between the two layers and around the sides. Cover the top with the chocolate icing. Refrigerate for 30 minutes. Sprinkle confectioners' sugar over the top of the cake and refrigerate for at least two more hours before serving. Cake may be frozen like this for up to a month.
*Note: If blanched hazelnuts or almonds are not available, to blanch nuts, place them into boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and plunge immediately into iced water. To remove skins, place in a sieve and shake, or rub nuts with a kitchen towel. GLENNA MCGINNIS LANE CAKE (Makes a 4-layer cake) For the cake: 1 cup butter plus enough for pans 2 cups sugar 1 teaspoon vanilla 3 1/4 cups sifted all purpose flour 3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon salt 1 cup milk 8 egg whites For the frosting: 12 egg yolks 1 3/4 cups sugar 1/2 teaspoon salt 3/4 cup unsalted butter 1/2 cup fine bourbon whiskey 1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped toasted pecans 1 1/2 cups grated or shredded fresh coconut, or 3 1/2-ounce can sweetened flaked coconut 1 1/2 cups chopped raisins
Line four 9-inch cake pans with parchment and grease the sides lightly with butter. Cream the 1 cup butter until light, then gradually beat in the sugar. Beat in the vanilla. Sift the dry ingredients together, then add alternately to the butter mixture with the milk. Do not overmix. Beat the egg whites until stiff but not dry and fold into the batter. Spread the batter evenly between the four prepared cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees until the cake is done and feels light and springy when pressed in the center, about 25 minutes. Cool 5 to 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cake rack to complete the cooling. Meanwhile, prepare the frosting.
Place the egg yolks, sugar, salt and butter in the top of a double boiler set over simmering water. Cook stirring constantly until the sugar dissolves and the butter melts and the mixture begins to thicken like a rich custard. It should lightly coat the back of a wooden spoon. Remove from the heat and stir in the remaining ingredients. Cool completely, the mixture will thicken slightly, but still remain thin and drippy.
Spread the well-cooled frosting between the layers of the cake, then the top and sides. DON FARMER'S APPLE CAKE (Makes a 9-inch cake) For the cake: 1 1/2 cups vegetable oil 2 cups sugar 3 eggs 3 cups flour 1 teapoons baking soda 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg 1/2 teaspoon salt 3 cups diced tart raw apples 1 cup black walnuts or pecans, broken into pieces 2 teaspoons vanilla For the glaze: 2 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons brown sugar 2 tablespoons granulated sugar 2 tablespoons cream mixed with 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
Combine the oil and sugar in an electric mixer and mix well. Beat in the eggs. Sift the flour, soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt together, then sift over the beaten liquid ingredients and combine well. Add the apples, nuts and vanilla and mix well.
Pour the batter into a 9-inch tube pan and bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 hours, or until the cake tests done when a toothpick is inserted into the center. Remove from the oven and let the cake rest in the pan while you prepare the glaze.
For the glaze, combine all the ingredients in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute. Turn the cake out onto a rack, spoon the glaze over the warm cake and let cool completely.