Chocolate Glazed Marzipan Cake with Cognac Soaked Apricots
We all need a few cakes in our repertoire to rely on for special occasions and this one fits the bill. This cake was created for my cousin Rachel Jackson’s high school graduation, but it would work well for important birthdays, anniversaries and other significant times of life. It is elegant, sophisticated and actually improves in texture and flavor if made one or two days in advance. It features almond paste in the batter, which is added for flavor and moistness; minced apricots are soaked in cognac and folded into the cake along with bittersweet chocolate shavings. The top is covered with a layer of marzipan and then glazed with chocolate ganache. It is a showstopper. Rachel’s father, Larry, actually proclaimed that even if I never created another dessert in my entire life, that I had justified my existence with the invention of this cake!
(The pic above and below show ganache as the filling. I actually prefer it with apricot as a filling as described in the recipe below. Look to the image below to see the apricot and marzipan roses. Directions are given for the apricot roses.)
Serves 12 to 14
1 1/2 cups Dark Chocolate Ganache, fluid and ready to pour, made with Valrhona Equitoriale (55%) or Valrhona Caraque (56%)
4 ounces Marzipan
1 cup minced dried Blenheim apricots
½ cup cognac
3/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups toasted, blanched, sliced almonds
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 ounce bulk piece of semisweet chocolate such as Valrhona Equitoriale (55%)
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
6 1/2 ounces almond paste, crumbled into pieces
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon almond extract
5 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons cognac
Filling & Topping:
1 cup 100% apricot fruit spread
18 apricot halves
For the Cake: Combine apricots and cognac in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat; remove from heat and let sit 10 minutes. Alternately, combine in microwaveable bowl and heat on high power for 1 to 2 minutes or until very hot. Remove from microwave and let sit 10 minutes. Set aside. In either case, take care to not allow the liquor to ignite.
Position rack in middle of oven. Preheat oven to 325˚ F. Coat two 8-inch by 2-inch round cake pans with nonstick spray, line bottoms with parchment rounds, then spray parchment.
Place flour, almonds and salt in bowl of food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process until almonds are ground to a very fine meal; set aside. Grate the chocolate using the largest holes on a hand box grater; set aside.
Beat butter until creamy with flat paddle on medium-high speed, about 1 minute. Add the almond paste and beat until combined. Add sugar gradually and continue to beat, about 3 minutes at medium-high speed, until very light and fluffy. Beat in the vanilla and almond extracts. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add flour mixture and pulse the mixer on and off taking care not to over mix. Fold in shaved chocolate and apricots with any liquid with a few broad strokes. Divide batter evenly in pans and smooth tops with offset spatula.
Bake for about 20 minutes or until a toothpick shows a few moist crumbs when removed. The cake will be tinged with light golden brown around the top and edges and will have begun to come away from the sides of the pan. Cool pans on racks for 5 minutes. Unmold, peel off parchment, and place directly on racks to cool completely. Trim layers to be level, if necessary. Layers are ready to fill and frost. Alternatively, place layers on cardboards and double wrap in plastic wrap; store at room temperature if assembling within 24 hours.
For the Syrup: Combine water and sugar in a small pot. Stir to wet sugar. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Cook until sugar dissolves, swirling pot once or twice. Remove from heat, cool to room temperature and stir in cognac.
For the Assembly: Have all components ready to use. Place one cake layer, bottom side down, on a cardboard round of the same size and place on cake turntable. Brush with half the syrup, then spread apricot-spread evenly over cake. Top with second cake layer, bottom side up, brush with remaining syrup. Brush all exposed surfaces with a thin layer of apricot spread. Roll out marzipan on work surface lightly dusted with confectioners’ sugar or cornstarch to a thickness of ¼-inch. Using cake pan as a guide, cut out an 8-inch circle. Place marzipan circle on top of cake. Chill briefly until apricot spread is no longer too sticky. Place cake on rack set over a clean pan. Pour all of the liquid ganache over center of cake; it will spread out and begin to drip down sides. Gently facilitate this process with an icing spatula, covering entire cake. Any excess ganache that drips down to pan can be re-used. Chill briefly to set ganache, about 1 hour or up to 1 day.
For the Apricot Roses: Halve each apricot if necessary. You want round, solid “halves”. Place between two pieces of parchment paper and flatten lightly with a rolling pin. Take one half and roll it tightly into a rose “center”. Use additional halves, wrapped around the center, each overlapping the one before, to make “petals”. Depending on size of apricots, you might have to trim the halves; always make sure a rounded un-cut edge is towards the top to form the rounded petal shape. Keep adding petals until rose is the size you want. You might only need 4 or 5 total per rose. Use a pointed end toothpick to hold them together if they are unfurling. You do need to press the petals together firmly to adhere. Store in airtight container up to 1 days.
For the Decoration: Place cake on display plate. Arrange a few apricot roses here and there, if desired. Cake may be served immediately or refrigerated in airtight container up to 2 days. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Tip: There are several key components to this recipe: the almonds, almond paste, apricots, apricot spread, chocolate and cognac. The almonds ground for the batter must be blanched or they will darken the color of the cake and also make the cake a bit drier. Sliced almonds give the proper measurement. I use American Almond brand almond paste for the cake batter, for its superior flavor and texture. Do not substitute any pre-made marzipan for this step or the almond paste that comes in a tube often found in the supermarket; the texture and flavor are radically different in each case than the almond paste that I do suggest. Dried apricots come from various sources as well, typically Turkey and California. I highly recommend Blenheim California apricots. They have an intense flavor and vivid, bold color. The cognac that you choose to plump the apricots with should be one that you like to drink as is. The cake layers are filled with an apricot spread, which is 100% fruit, as opposed to a jam or preserve, which are laden with sugar; we are using the spread for added flavor and moistness, not sweetness. Fruit spreads can be found near jams and jellies in the supermarket. These are not the same as spreads made with sugar alternatives.
Here is a picture of my cousin’s cake that started the obsession: