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Win Valentine's Day by Baking this Champagne Cake

Katherine Guzman | February 11, 2014 | Story Ingredient

This Friday is Valentine's day and what better gesture of love then to slave in the kitchen for a few hours to present a home-made gift to your loved one? (Just make sure to clean the dishes after.) This week's recipe comes from Valerie Gordon's cookbook, Sweet, released last fall. Gordon, a former San Franciscan, started Valerie's Confections in Los Angeles in 2004, inspired by the petit fours and pastries from famous Bay Area bakeries like Fantasia's and Tassajara that she'd visit as a young girl. She even includes a recipe for the historic (and much-loved) Blum's Coffee Crunch Cake, once served at Fantasia bakery, in the book

This cake is a slight departure from a traditional Champagne cake, which "usually includes Champagne in the cake batter in lieu of cream or water," the book explains, "the cake in this recipe isn’t made with Champagne, but the ganache is." There's no reason you can't drink Champagne with this—heck, you could drink some while your cooking too!

Champagne Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake; serves 8 to 12

Golden Butter Cake (recipe follows)
1/2 recipe (1 1/2 cups/13.5 ounces) Champagne Ganache (recipe follows)
1 recipe Milk Chocolate Glaze (recipe follows)
1 sheet 23-karat edible gold (optional)

Golden Butter Cake:
3 1/4 cups (16.25 ounces) all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
3 3/4 sticks (15 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 cups (14 ounces) sugar
6 large eggs
1/3 cup (2.66 ounces) crème fraîche or sour cream
1 1/2 tablespoons vanilla extract

1. Position a rack in the center of the oven and heat the oven to 350° F. Coat the bottoms and sides of three 9-by-2-inch round cake pans with nonstick baking spray or butter and line with parchment circles.

2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.

3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or in a large bowl, using a handheld mixer), cream the butter, corn syrup, and sugar on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes.

4. Whisk together the eggs, crème fraîche, and vanilla in a small bowl, then pour the mixture into the creamed butter and beat until smooth. Scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and the paddle and mix for 30 seconds. With the mixer on low speed, add the dry ingredients in two batches, mixing for 30 seconds after each addition. Scrape the bowl again and mix for 15 seconds.

5. Divide the batter among the prepared cake pans, spreading it evenly. Bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the cakes and bake for an additional 10 to 12 minutes, until the cakes appear firm and have a matte finish and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let the cakes cool completely in the pans on cooling racks.

6. Wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and refrigerate until you are ready to assemble the cake.

Champagne Ganache:
Makes 3 cups

1 tablespoon powdered gelatin
3 tablespoons cold water
2/3 cup (5.33 ounces) Champagne or sparkling wine
2 tablespoons Cognac or other brandy
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup (2 ounces) heavy cream
3 tablespoons light corn syrup
2 cups (11 ounces) 38% milk chocolate chips, fèves, or chopped 38% milk chocolate, melted
2 ounces 61% bittersweet chocolate, chopped and melted
9 tablespoons (4.5 ounces) unsalted butter, softened

Tip: Chill the Champagne before uncorking it. Opening a bottle of room-temperature Champagne is dangerous, as the cork is likely to explode out of the bottle.

1. Sprinkle the gelatin over the cold water in a small bowl. Let sit for 10 minutes, until the gelatin softens.

2. Meanwhile, pour the Champagne, Cognac, and vanilla into a measuring cup.

3. Combine the melted chocolates in a medium bowl. Pour the cream and corn syrup over the chocolates and, using a small silicone spatula, stir the mixture in one direction, concentrating on the center, until the ganache is smooth and glistening.

4. Slowly pour the Champagne into the ganache, whisking constantly (if you add the Champagne too quickly, the ganache will separate). Add the butter and stir until it is completely melted, about 1 minute. Put the ganache in the coolest part of your kitchen and let set, stirring occasionally, until spreadable, for about 1 hour before using.

5. Leftover ganache can be covered and refrigerated for up to 2 weeks. Let the ganache come to room temperature (do not try to rush the process—firm chilled ganache is likely to separate and become grainy when beaten). Then put it in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a large bowl, and use a handheld mixer) and whip on medium-low speed until the ganache forms soft peaks. Chill for 10 to 15 minutes, then spread it with an offset spatula.

Milk Chocolate Glaze
Makes just under 2 cups

1 3/4 cups (9.5 ounces) 38% milk chocolate chips, fèves, or chopped 38% milk chocolate
3/4 cup (6 ounces) heavy cream
2 teaspoons corn syrup
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, diced and softened

1. Put the milk chocolate into a medium bowl. Heat the heavy cream and corn syrup in a small saucepan over medium heat just until it boils. Pour the cream over the chocolate and let sit for 1 minute.

2. Using a small spatula, begin stirring the mixture in one direction, concentrating on the center, until it is smooth and glistening. Add the butter and stir until it is completely melted, about 1 minute. Pour the glaze into a 2-cup measuring cup or a small pitcher. Let cool to 90° to 95°F before using, monitoring the temperature with a candy or instant-read thermometer.

3. Leftover glaze can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks. To use leftover chilled glaze, gently melt it in the top of a double boiler or in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water, stirring occasionally.

To Assemble:

1. Transfer one cake layer, top side down, to a serving plate. Using an offset spatula, spread about 3/4 cup of ganache over the top. Place the second cake layer on top, top side down, and spread another layer of ganache over it. Place the last inverted cake layer on top. Using your hands, press down gently to even the layers.

2. Using an offset spatula, smooth the “seams” of the cake. You want the ganache to completely fill the spaces between the layers; concave areas will be very noticeable under the glaze. Refrigerate the cake, uncovered, until very cold, about 2 hours.

3. Set the chilled cake on a cooling rack and set the rack on a baking sheet to catch the glaze drippings. Pour the glaze over the top of the cake, starting at the edges and then moving to the center. Pick up the rack and bang it against the baking sheet to even out the glaze. If you missed a spot or two, move the rack with the cake aside and, using a bench scraper, collect the glaze from the pan and pour it back into the measuring cup. Place the rack back on the baking sheet and pour the glaze over the bare spots.

4. Allow the glaze to set completely, 10 to 15 minutes, before moving the cake. The glaze should be firm to the touch. Or, if your kitchen is warm, move the rack into the refrigerator until the glaze becomes firm, just a few minutes.

5. Run a hot offset spatula under the bottom of the cake to release it from the rack and transfer to a serving plate.

6. If you’d like to gild the lily, using a very small brush, lift a section of gold leaf off the sheet and gently lay it on the firm glaze. The gold will immediately stick to the glaze. Repeat with more gold leaf.

Excerpted from Sweet by Valerie Gordon (Artisan Books) Copyright © 2013. Photographs by Peden and Munk

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