a birthday celebration

a potluck luncheon was organised for the birthdays of my father-in-law and his twin brother, and it was suggested that i might bring a birthday cake. of course, the father-in-law doesn't really care for sweets, and didn't have any solid ideas what his brother might like. "chocolate, probably. everyone likes chocolate, right?" all right, chocolate.

with a fair number of people expected to attend, i toyed with making two cakes, but then thought, what about one big cake, and then some truffles besides? for the cake, i was tempted by a praline cake in judith olney's entertainments, but wasn't sure i wanted meringue. but i really liked the idea of the praline buttercream filling, which used up the yolk components of all the egg whites used in the meringue. i investigated smitten kitchen, and was really loving the idea of the brown butter hazelnut cake. when i read the recipe, i thought, "hey, that's a financier, i've made a financier before." and a financier is another way to use up a ton of egg whites (or have a lot of yolks leftover for a rich buttercream). so i dug up my old financier recipe, and compared and contrasted the two so i could steal bits of each, and swapped out almonds/hazelnuts for pecans.

pecan financier with praline buttercream and bittersweet ganache

3/4 cup butter (i used 1/2 cup unsalted, 1/4 cup salted, because that's what i had)
1 vanilla bean
1 cup pecans, toasted and cooled.
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 cup cake flour
8 egg whites

bring the egg whites to room temperature.

butter & flour a 10" springform pan, and line the bottom with greased & floured waxed paper.

melt the butter over medium heat. cut the vanilla bean in half, scrape the seeds into the butter, and add the pod as well. cook the butter until it foams and starts to brown. it will smell lovely. remove from heat and allow to cool.

put the pecans and 1 cup sugar in the food processor (you will have to go in batches if yours is as small as mine) and pulse until ground to a powder. combine with flour.

beat the egg whites until they start to form peaks. gradually add the remaining sugar as you continue beating till stiff peaks form. i always do this by hand in a copper bowl; if the whites are room temperature, they're surprisingly easy to do in a copper bowl, and it's easier to see exactly what stage they're at.

alternately fold the pecan mixture and butter into the egg whites, a bit at a time, beginning & ending with the pecan mixture.

pour into prepared pan, gently smoothing the top. bake at 350f for 50-60 minutes. cool 5 minutes before unmolding and cooling thoroughly on a rack.

once cold, slice horizontally into 2 layers, and spread each with a thin layer of ganache. spread the bottom layer with praline buttercream on top of the ganache, chill till manageable, then flip the top layer ganache-side-down onto the buttercream. chill well, then spread ganache over all.

praline buttercream
1 3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans
8 egg yolks
1 cup unsalted butter, soft

it's best to have the eggs and butter thoroughly at room temperature.

combine 1 cup sugar with the water over medium heat; cook without stirring into a deep amber. remove from heat, add the pecans, swirl to combine, and dump out on a greased cookie sheet. when completely cool (i stuck the pan in the freezer to speed things up), grind to a powder.

beat the egg yolks and 3/4 cup sugar together until thick and pale.

beat the butter separately until also thick and pale. then, beat the egg mixture into the butter, then stir in the praline.

1 lb dark chocolate
1 cup 35% cream

if you are using chocolate in block form, chop or grate it.

bring cream to a boil, pour over chocolate. stir gently till melted and consistent.

so that's the cake. as for the truffles, the dark are done, the white are being difficult.


  1. I would love to eat this. How did you make the chocolate leaves?

  2. just melt some chocolate, paint thickly on the back of rose leaves, wait for it to harden, and peel the leaves off! rose leaves are good because they're a nice shape, sturdy and flexible, and non-toxic. and you want to paint the chocolate onto the back so that the veins stand out nicely.