AUNT SASSY CAKE
Lovely, this cake is simply lovely. The recipe comes from Baked Explorations by pastry chefs Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. This is not a cake for beginners, but I have some useful comments so if you are thinking of making this lovely American classic it is doable, provided you follow the instructions and leave the experimentation for another occasion. If you have to shell the pistachios you may want to give it an extra day. In any case, give this cake two days.
Chances are you will not find shelled pistachios and you will have to do the job yourself. I have seen people advising to pound on the nuts in a plastic bag to break up the shells. This results in a lot of crushed nutmeat, and while picking out the nuts among the debris, there is a good chance bits of hard shells will get mixed into the nutmeats. Trust me on this, I have a walnut tree and I tried every possible shortcuts to make the cracking go faster and the one by one method still supersedes all others. Two thirds of the pistachio nuts are splitting already so are easy to shell. The tougher ones just need a hit with a meat tenderizer and these too will crack open. Hit the nuts one by one and the quality of your shelled pistachios will be excellent.
If you have no access to fresh unsalted pistachios, get the raw salted type. You can rub the shelled nuts into a clean tea towel and then pour it into a sieve, one of those large plastic types with the large holes. When you shake the sieve side to side the tiny bits will fall though the holes along with most of the salt. Some salt will remain, so do not add salt to the cake batter. The lightly salted pistachio decoration will provide a pleasant contrast to the honey buttercream. The only unpleasantness is the feeling of salt on the fingers.
This entire cake is based on chemical reactions so it is imperative to diligently follow the instructions. Any deviation could result in a disaster or in dense, thin cake layers and shelling a pound of pistachio nuts is not something you will want to do for awhile. I used three disposable 8 inch aluminum round food containers. I read a suggestion to bake only two layers, I disagree; two layers even if baked in 9-inch cake pans would be too cakey. However the three cake layers with the honey buttercream in between are in perfect balance.
1 cup shelled pistachios
2-1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
3/4 tsp salt, only if using unsalted nuts
1-1/2 cups ice cold water
1/2 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1-3/4 cups sugar
1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1 batch of honey buttercream
1/3 to1/2 cup shelled pistachios for decoration
• Shelling the pistachios takes time, so don’t start on the cake until the pistachios are ready.
• Preheat the oven to 325F.
• Add a tray of ice to 1-1/2 cups of cold water and place it in the fridge for use later.
• Line the bottom of three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment paper.
• Spray the paper and the sides generously with cooking spray and set aside.
• Pulse the pistachios in the food processor, until they are coarsely chopped.
• Add two tablespoons of chopped pistachios to a large mixing bowl and set it aside.
• Process the rest of the pistachios until very fine. Add the finely chopped pistachios to the rough chopped pistachios in the bowl.
• Sift the cake flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda.
• Add salt only if using unsalted nuts.
• Whisk ingredients to combine and set aside.
• In a separate bowl, cream the butter and the shortening. It is imperative to use soft butter and shortening.
• Add the sugar and vanilla and beat for 3 minutes until light and fluffy.
• Add the whole egg and mix to combine.
• Remove the ice water from the fridge.
• Scoop out the ice and discard the ice water that is over 1-1/2 cups.
• Set the beater to low and start adding the flour 1/3 at the time and the ice water [1/3 at a time].
• Scrape down the sides as needed and beat until flour and ice water are fully incorporated. Do not overbeat.
• In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites and cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Not too soft, just before hard peaks form.
• Use a rubber spatula to fold the egg whites into the batter.
• Divide the batter among the 3 pans and bake for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.
• Transfer the cakes [still in the pans] to a wire rack and cool to room temperature.
• Lightly wrap the cakes still in the baking pans and place them in the fridge for at least 2 hours or overnight.
• Take the cakes out for icing one at a time.
• Remove cake from pan and slice off the rounded dome on the top.
• Pull off the parchment and place on a serving plate.
• Spread evenly with a layer of honey buttercream.
• Repeat with the remaining layers.
• Arrange the cake layers in the following order:
• 1st layer – cut side down, 2nd layer – cut side down, 3rd layer – cut side up
• Spread a layer of honey buttercream on the sides and place in the fridge to chill for an hour.
• Remove from the fridge and finish icing the cake.
• Chill for a couple of hours and decorate the top and the base with pistachio.• For the most delicate crumb and for optimum serving potential, take the fully chilled cake and let it sit at room temperature for 1 hour. [The authors advised two hours, but I found that after two hours at room temperature the texture of the cake was a little crumbly and the honey buttercream became too soft to handle.]
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