Easter Sunday I took a “me day”. I’d just returned from visiting family for three days (and was promptly swiped by a drunk driver as soon as we arrived home…that’s another blog post for another day…we’re fine). I needed a break and wasn’t up to a long day of Easter Brunch and Easter dinner with two families of in-laws. So, with the husband and son off to do their familial duties, I sat around cruising the internet for food ideas. (Sing with me…”these are a few of my favorite things…”) What I lingered upon was this post http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/14/prantls-torte-cake-almond_n_5133580.html?utm_hp_ref=fb&src=sp&comm_ref=false proclaiming “The Greatest Cake America Has Ever Made”. I always approach such hyperbole with a healthy dose of skepticism. At first glance, this cake did look delicious. As I read the article, I became convinced that this cake might actually be good.
My next step was to examine the recipe. There was a link to the PBS station that posted a recipe for this cake– Burnt Almond Torte http://www.pbs.org/food/recipes/burnt-almond-torte/. It didn’t claim to be THE recipe from Prantl’s Bakery in Pittsburgh, but it did claim to be a recipe for the cake. Immediately, I saw problems. The recipe on the PBS website was rife with everything to confuse: the measurements sometimes used ounces, sometimes cups/spoons; each part of the cake (frosting, filling, cake, almond crunch) was separate–which is good, but for the sake of gathering ingredients, it didn’t make it easy to figure out sum totals without doing some math (sugar + sugar + sugar = I will need this much sugar); and the directions were AWFUL–even an experienced cook/baker like me, couldn’t figure it out. So I quickly abandoned this recipe and went in search of another. I knew the key components: White layer cake (layers varied), pastry cream, frosting, candied, toasted almonds. Some recipes used milk, some half and half. Some made cake from scratch, some used a mix. Each buttercream frosting recipe was different. ( I don’t like buttercream. That would have to go. ) I was undaunted. I wanted that cake.
After about thirty minutes I’d decided on a recipe I found on someone’s blog: http://www.potsandpins.com/blog/2013/12/burnt-almond-torte.html The recipe seemed spot-on. The directions were clear. The pictures were nice. A few tweaks and this cake would be mine. As with any great sojourn, I headed to the mountain top to consult with the master…Martha Stewart. The MS website did not have a recipe for this cake. What it did have was a beyond delicious recipe for pastry cream http://www.marthastewart.com/343977/pastry-cream. Now to tackle that pesky frosting problem. Whipped cream? No…”war frosting”!! WTH is “war frosting” you ask? It is my name for the kind of faux buttercream that became popular during the lean times of WWII. It also goes by other names: “Heritage”, “Boiled”, “Flour”, “Cooked Flour”, “Gravy” or “Cloudburst” frosting. I love this frosting. It is buttery, creamy, light, sweet but not achingly so, and so darn easy to make. For help with this I went to a new favorite guru, Joe Pastry http://www.joepastry.com/2011/heritage-a-k-a-boiled-a-k-a-flour-a-k-a-cooked-flour-a-k-a-gravy-a-k-a-cloudburst-frosting/ It is apparently also called “mock buttercream” , but I find this term insulting. It is so much better than “real” buttercream. Perhaps it should be called “alternative buttercream”, “beta buttercream” or “buttercream II”.
So I was armed and dangerous. I shopped for the ingredients and then found an excuse to make the cake. My father-in-law’s birthday was two days away! America’s best Grandpa deserved America’s best cake.
I followed the instructions via the Pots and Pins lady. First made MS’s pastry cream. Then I made the boxed white cake. While the cake baked, I made the BEST (aka mock) buttercream. While the cake cooled, I made the almonds. It took a while. I have a tiny kitchen and a limited number of hands and tools. But I was pleased with the entire process and all of the components were delicious separately. I was giddy to assemble the torte and take the symphony of flavors all together. I was glad that I decided to make the cake the night before and assemble it the next day. I made some other dishes in preparation for my FIL’s birthday brunch and I was exhausted. I recommend this tactic. It is a labor intensive dessert and you’ll feel much better about it if the work and the reward have some daylight between them.
I made the cake with two 8″ rounds that I split in half to create four layers. When it came time to assemble, the pastry cream and the frosting was set on the counter for a bit to get to spreadable consistency. A half powered zap in the microwave for short (about :20 second intervals) also works. My cake/torte wasn’t looking too pretty. The too cold pastry cream initially tore a layer. I also tore another layer on my own. I over zapped the buttercream, so it was uneven and spread over the cake/torte messily. This is where candied almonds save the day. The boy and I tossed these all over the cake and the result was a beauty hiding all the blemishes. Toasted, candied almonds are the BB cream of cakes!!
Everyone loved the cake. I’d show you a picture, but the cake is gone. Seriously. We all had a piece (4), the husband had another (1), I sent FIL home with (2) slices, husband snuck another (1), I had another piece after dinner (1), quarantined a piece for a friend (1) and two pieces are hidden to be devoured later today. (The pic above is not the cake I made.) So the cake serves at least 12 or three adults four times in 24hrs…lol. I will make this cake again. I also have leftover almonds and buttercream. I might repurpose those on french toast (YUM!)
Yes. There is an easier way. Prantl’s Bakery does offer mail order if you don’t live near Pittsburgh. It is expensive and when I checked on April 21st, they indicated I could have delivery on or around June 9th. I was not willing to wait that long and I was up to the challenge of making the cake. And I learned so much along the way. If you’re not into baking or learning feel free to order. Spoiler alert (literally): the cake you get delivered WILL NOT be as good as the bakery cake b/c they have to use stable ingredients to travel safely. And it darn sure won’t be as good as my cake (just sayin’). http://www.prantlsbakery.com/order-online/shop/
Now, finally, is it the “Best Cake America Has Ever Made”? No. In part because “America” doesn’t make cakes. This country has a beautiful melange of people who bring cultures and recipes from all over the world and WE make great food. “Best” is in the mouth of the beholder. I loved this cake. For now, it is my best. I look forward to this cake being trumped.