Don't worry -- I did go see my wonderful mom on Mother's Day and take her a special gift. But (despite the fact that Mother's Day is now over), I also thought it would be nice to brag on her here a bit and show you the decadent birthday cake she made me. I've loved reading blog posts all over the internet about why others' mothers were so great. Now it's my turn!
Why do I love my mom?
1. She made me this cake. Enough said (but you know I'll say more)! This three-layer dessert was a masterpiece of toasted almond, slightly tart cherry, and light-as-a-feather buttercream. Many joyous exclamations were uttered while we plowed through our three-story pieces.
2. She went back to college with four kids (insert appropriate gasp!) in the 80's to earn her nursing degree. Even with four kids, she managed to graduate magna cum laude from UNCC's nursing program.
3. She sews: she has created special quilts for me and my siblings, as well as other family members. She also makes clothes for my niece and nephews. Look for a picture of my quilt at the end of this post!
4. She taught me how to cook. It was under her auspices that I made my first Chocolate Sheet Cake, my first pan of Oven Baked Macaroni, and she is always on-call for cooking emergencies. As I mention on my About page, she is my main culinary influence, and I learn new things from her every meal.
5. She (and my little brother -- Hi, Alex!) hung out with me for 3-4 hours while waiting for Pioneer Woman to sign our books last week. More on the Pioneer Woman booksigning later!
6. She's beautiful.
7. She crafts: lately, her creative craft has been homemade chalkboards from antique or recycled frames. See her handiwork at her Etsy store, Posh Pilfer.
8. She decorates. She and my dad have single-handedly (well, double-handedly, I guess) renovated and redecorated their home to be a gorgeous oasis. Once again, photo evidence at the bottom of this post!
9. She cares about her children. A few years ago, she wrote each one of us poems. Every April Fools' Day, she makes my little brother a wacky meal to celebrate. She has bandaged wounds, baked cakes, worked hard, and sacrificed to make us happy.
10. She rose above a difficult childhood to become an amazing mother of 5 children.
...And did I mention that she made me this cake? This heavenly confection is truly a "special occasion" cake: it's expensive, it's time consuming and involved, and it's positively dreamy. If you want to feel like you've been transported to an almond-cherry cloud of joy, you should invest in some fancy Italian cherries and make this baby. It was the grand finale to a fantastic birthday meal, which I'll share with you soon!
Toasted Almond Cake with Mascarpone Cream and Amarena Cherries
Recipe by: Gina DePalma
Yields: 12-16 servings
2 cups almond flour
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (not self-rising)
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 can or tube (7 to 8 ounces) almond paste, cut into small chunks
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
6 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup whole milk, at room temperature
1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
Finely grated lemon zest (from 1 lemon, about 2 teaspoons)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Mascarpone and Amarena Cherry Filling Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups mascarpone
1 cup heavy cream
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped
2 tablespoons kirsch or grappa
1 cup amarena cherries in syrup, well drained and coarsely chopped
3/4 cup cherry jam
1 cup sugar
4 large egg whites, at room temperature
24 tablespoons (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
4 teaspoons vanilla extract
Note: Amarena cherries are a sweet-sour varietal from Northern Italy. DePalma uses Agrimontana's and also recommends those from Fabbri, available at Amazon.com. Almond flour is available on Amazon.com and at specialty grocers. This recipe is for a classic, one-tiered layer cake.
To make cake: Adjust 2 oven racks to divide oven into thirds. Preheat oven to 350°. Grease 3 (9" x 2") round cake pans. Line bottoms with parchment paper; grease paper and dust pans with flour, tapping out excess. Spread almond flour on a rimmed baking sheet and bake until toasted, stirring once, 8 to 10 minutes. Let cool.
In a large bowl, whisk together almond flour, all-purpose flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda; set aside. Combine sugar and almond paste in a food processor and blend until almond paste is finely ground, with the texture of fine sand.
In a stand mixer with paddle attachment, combine almond paste mixture and butter. Beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally. Beat in eggs one at a time until well blended. With mixer on low speed, beat in milk, Amaretto, lemon zest, and vanilla until well blended. Beat in flour mixture, scraping bowl. Beat on medium speed until well blended, about 30 seconds. Divide batter among prepared pans and spread evenly. Stagger pans on 2 racks in oven so pans are not directly above one another. Bake 30 to 40 minutes, rotating pans halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted in center of cakes comes out clean. Let cool in pans 10 minutes. Run a knife around sides of pans and turn cakes out onto wire racks. Remove parchment paper and flip again; cool completely.
To make filling: In a stand mixer with whisk attachment, combine mascarpone, heavy cream, sugar, vanilla bean seeds, and 1 tablespoon kirsch or grappa. With mixer on low speed at first and increasing to medium, beat just until firm peaks form; do not over beat. Fold in cherries. Refrigerate 30 minutes. In a bowl, stir together cherry jam and remaining 1 tablespoon kirsch or grappa.
To make buttercream icing: Combine sugar and 1/2 cup water in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to dissolve sugar. Boil without stirring until syrup reaches 240° on a digital thermometer, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, in a stand mixer with whisk attachment, beat egg whites on medium-high speed until soft peaks form. With mixer on medium speed, gradually pour in hot syrup in a thin stream; avoid pouring syrup on whisk. Increase speed to medium-high and beat until stiff peaks form and mixture is cool, about 8 minutes. Reduce speed to medium and add butter 1 tablespoon at a time, beating after each addition. (If at any time buttercream appears curdled, beat on high until smooth, then reduce speed to medium and continue beating in butter.) Once all butter is added, beat on high speed until buttercream is smooth and fluffy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla.
To assemble cake: Spread 1 side of 2 of the cake layers with jam and let stand 10 minutes, so cakes absorb some of jam. Place 1 cake layer, jam-side up on cake stand or plate. Spread with half of mascarpone filling. Top with second cake layer, jam-side up. Spread with remaining filling. Top with third cake layer, top-side up. Frost cake with about 1 cup buttercream to crumb coat cake; refrigerate 1 hour. Frost cake with remaining buttercream. Serve immediately or refrigerate; if refrigerated, let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
Note: My mother's cake is decorated with marshmallow fondant flowers in various shades of pink.
Clockwise from upper left:My mom, my dad, and the family toy poodle, Abbey; the quilt mom made for me; mom's redecorated bedroom; Mom on Christmas morning, 2007.
Happy (late) Mother's Day!